Our little secret SPEAKING OUT AGAINST SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND ASSAULT IN SCHOOLS
DRAFT PUBLICATION MOCK-UP
Dear Readers “Our little secret” is a story about a girl who speaks out against sexual harassment and assault in her school. It is a fiction story, which means that the characters in the story are not real people, but it is based on very real, and very horrifying, true stories and extensive research. Sexual harassment, abuse and assault (of both girls and boys) in schools are widespread. Their effects are profound and often devastating, ruining the lives of individuals and negatively affecting schooling as a whole. The Department of Education, the South African Council of Educators, and many other organisations are striving to root abusive educators out of the schooling system. They are also attempting to foster a culture of gender equality and of respect for the individual in schools. This task, however, is the responsibility of each and every one of us; learners, teachers and parents. Only by working together, being vigilant, and developing strong school structures will we be able to protect our learners and ensure that our schools are places of safety.
“Our little secret” is remarkable in that it has been produced almost entirely by young women learners. They created the characters and developed the story. They also produced most of the illustrations that you will see throughout the publication.
Cover illustration by Masana Ndhambi
THE ILLUSTRATION TEAM Back row: Makhawukana Shivambu (17), Joy Manganyi (17), and Lindiwe Chabalala (18). Front row: Rishongile Maluleke (15), Faith Ngobeni (15), and Masana Ndhambi (16).
THE STORY DEVELOPMENT TEAM From left: Refilwe Malatji (15), Millet Nkanyane (14) (top), Alleta Kgaogelo (16) (bottom), and Martha Mahlatji (17).
LEAD ILLUSTRATOR America Mailula ART FACILITATOR Kathy Coates
Chomma, did you see how my man scored that goal?
Olebaxha! Why are you thinking about a virgin schoolboy? He’s got no cash! Think triple C, baby!
Look at your so-called man, walking with that cheap brat. I’m sure she’s halfway through the Bible already!
Very funny! I got 96%. Good, hey? Ja, well, I’ve got an English test tomorrow and I need your help. Hey, you know I don’t mind helping, but I’ve got a lot of housework, and a Maths assignment.
Wena, you’re always busy! Can’t I help you with some of your chores? No, I’m used to it. All right, I’ll see you tomorrow. -❦At home, Kefentsˇe changes into her old work clothes and starts her daily chores. First, she waters and weeds the vegetable patch Kefe, enough already! I’m sure you got 110% as usual.
Tshere, guess how much I got in English.
Illustration by: America Mailula
Meet some of the characters...
Character icons by Kathy Coates
Ill: Mosana Ndhambi
and picks some beans and spinach for the evening meal. Since her stepfather lost his steady job almost a year ago the vegetable garden has become the family’s main source of food. Next she puts the two 20 litre plastic bottles in the wheelbarrow and shouts for her half sisters Dineo and Kidi to join her. This is the little girls’ favourite time of the day; they help push the wheelbarrow up the hill and then, when they reach the top, they jump inside and stretch out their arms, pretending that they are flying down the street. When they get back home, Ma-Maleka, without saying a word, takes the axe and her kgane and sets off to collect firewood. Shame, thinks Kefentsˇe, she always looks so tired these days, and she is so quiet and inside herself. Kefentsˇe has one more chore to do before she can start her studies. She has to clean and polish the red concrete floor of the rondavel they use as their sitting room. The scent of the homemade wax and the
rhythmic, circular motion reminds her of happier times when she and Mama lived with Gogo. She had time to play then, and time for stories - Gogo’s magic stories about monsters and naughty animals. But then Gogo died - she had been sick for a long time - and Mama married Ra-Maleka. It was okay at first. He was strict, for sure, but Mama seemed happy. Then the children came. A girl. Ra-Maleka said they must try again, for a boy. Another girl. There was shouting at night and Mama cried a lot. Then Mpho arrived and Ra-Maleka was satisfied. For a while, there was joy in the family. RaMaleka arrived home with sweets for the children and new clothes for his wife.
sun at the roadside with the other men, hoping a bakkie will stop and pick them up for a day’s work. He is so frustrated, and always angry, shouting at the smallest things. And now he has started drinking and things have become worse. He calls Mama terrible names and he beats her for no reason. Mama doesn’t complain; she just grows quieter and smaller. Every school day she goes to the primary school to sell sweets, to make a little money in case Papa comes home empty-handed. Deep in her thoughts, Kefentsˇe doesn’t hear her stepfather arrive.
Then he lost his job as a driver for a construction company. Fulltime jobs are hard to find so he has to take piece-jobs. Waiting in the Ill: America Mailula
Papa! You’ve never said that before. You know I love school and ... Listen, girlie. I don’t have money to pay for your dreams of university and suchlike. If at all, I’ll rather pay for Mpho; at least he will take forward the Maleka family name. But, Papa, Ms Seanego says that with my marks I will get a scholarship, and ... O se ke wa ntena1, Kefentsˇe. I’m not paying and that’s final. Now go and help your lazy mother. I want food!
Yes, my girl. Thobela, Papa. Where is your mother? I am hungry!
Thobela Sebata. Food is not yet ready. Sorry! Be ke sa ile go stoka1, so I came home late. That’s not your job! O swanetsˇe go sˇala le motse2 like every woman does. Wena Kefentsˇe? Papa? Bring me something to drink and come take off my boots. Kefentsˇe takes him a calabash of motogo and knees to unlace his boots. He drinks deeply from the calabash and sighs with satisfaction. Thinking that his mood is changing for the better, Kefentsˇe starts talking to him about school.
I went to buy sweets for selling. You should look after my house.
Ill: Lindiwe Chabalala
Just at that moment, Ma-Maleka walks into the yard carrying a bundle of firewood on her head. She props its against the low wall and hurries across to her husband. She kneels in front of him and greets him.
Papa, I got 96% for my English test today. And you know, the examinations will be starting soon, and the school fees...
Kefentsˇe’s stomach is knotted and her knees feel weak. Tears fill her eyes. She can’t believe it. Her stepfather has made excuses before about not having money to pay school fees. But this is the first time that he’s said outright that he’s not going to pay. The exams are starting in a few weeks time, and she knows that if she hasn’t paid her fees she won’t get her results, and then she won’t be able to go up to the next grade2.
Agh, now you’re starting again!
Suddenly she is angry. This isn’t fair. She is the best student at school - all the
But, Papa, the exams... Hey! I’ve told you before, I am not interested in your schoolwork. You’re not a little girl any more. You are old enough to go out and work, or even get married.
Don’t make me angry. This is not correct. According to the South African Schools Act, a learner cannot be denied her results because of non-payment of school fees. If parents have genuine problems paying for school fees they can apply to the School Governing Body for an exemption. 1 2
My girl, there is nothing I can do. We don’t have money... But he wastes money on drink, Mama!
What the hell! ’Skies, Sebata. She doesn’t know what she’s saying... Thula, woman! Where’s my food? Mama, the water is boiling. Can I pour some mealie meal? Only now the water is boiling! Since you’re so slow, let me give you something to hurry you up...
Ill: Makhawukana Shivamba
Early the following morning, as usual, Tshereletsˇo is waiting for Kefentsˇe at the gate to her yard. He waves to her little sisters who are sitting next to one of the rondavels, but they just stare back at him. That’s strange, he thinks, they usually run to the fence to greet him, and to ask him for sweets. Then he sees Kefentsˇe. She walks up to the girls and kneels down to tell them something. They seem sad. Then she turns and walks towards the gate. Something is wrong; she’s stiff, walking like an old person. She doesn’t look at Tshereletsˇo when she greets him.
I’m okay. It’s nothing to worry about. I just fell yesterday and hurt my shoulder. It’s more than that. I can see you’re down. What happened? Oh, Tshere... I don’t know what I’m going to do! Papa is refusing to pay my school fees. He says I am old enough to get a job, or get married! What! But you’re going to university. You’re getting a scholarship. You told me... Dreams, Tshere, just dreams. Kefe, you can’t give up. I’ll speak to my parents and ... No, you mustn’t! If Papa finds out I asked someone else for money... But there must be something we can do. -❦-
Dumela, Tshere. Kefe, what’s the matter? Are you hurt? Let me carry your bag.
They arrive at school and Tshereletsˇo is quickly surrounded by other boys. He is one of the best soccer players in the 4
Ill: Joy Manganyi
teachers tell her so. She looks after his children. She cleans and fetches water and looks after the vegetable garden. It’s just not fair! Mama must speak to him.
school and everyone wants to be his friend. Kefentsˇe goes straight to one of the classrooms and starts working on her Maths assignment. After the beating she and her mother got from her stepfather last night there was no way that she could do any homework. Kefentsˇe works through both breaks, but she knows that she isn’t going to finish in time. Tshereletsˇo comes looking for her at second break, but she tells him to leave her alone. She feels sick; she has never been late or not completed her homework before. And Mr Pootona isn’t the sort of teacher to let such a thing pass. He is the Deputy Principal and the strictest teacher in the whole school. He knows how to make a person feel embarrassed. By the time the last period of the day comes around - Maths with Mr Pootona Kefentsˇe is a nervous wreck. Fortunately, he only asks for the homework at the end of the period, saying that anyone who has not finished the work is to come to his office and give reasons. Kefentsˇe’s heart is beating like a drum. What is she going to tell him? She can’t tell him what really happened; that would be too embarrassing. As she walks slowly to his office, she fights to keep the tears from bursting from her eyes. 5
She knocks softly and waits. There’s no reply. She knocks again, louder. Just as she’s about to turn and walk away Mr Pootona opens the door, irritation written on his face. Inside, sitting casually, her short skirt showing her long legs, is Portia Mathekga or Posh, as she is better known.
Meneer, I... I’m so sorry. I have nearly finished. I will bring it tomorrow, I promise. Well, Kefentsˇe, you’re the last person I would expect to see in my office. Kgane le wena wa jola?1 No, Meneer! It’s all the chores at home, Meneer. I have to clean the house, fetch water, look after the vegetable garden, and care for my little sisters and brother... Where is your mother? She is busy collecting wood, selling sweets. She hardly has time to do housework. I see... So there are financial problems at home, hey? I also see from the school records that you haven’t paid your school fees yet. Yes, Meneer. My stepfather lost his job last year December. He does some piecework, but the money is little. Even the money my Mom gets is not enough. I’m so worried, Meneer, that I won’t get my results... I see... You know, Kefe, you are such an excellent student, we can’t let a little R100 stand in your way.
Ill: Rishongile Maluleke
Yes, Kefentsˇe. What do you want? It’s about my homework, Meneer. You said if we hadn’t finished... Ha! You see, Sir. Even your crack student didn’t finish. Be quiet Portia! Come in Kefentsˇe. Can I tell you again why I didn’t finish my homework, Sir? Hai, Portia! I know your excuses. Now just get out of my office! I’ll talk to Kefentsˇe alone. Whatever... Passop, Kefe. He’s got a big stick. Ha-ha!
What do you mean, Meneer?
Maybe you also have time for boys.
I mean I can make the problem go away. I am Deputy Principal after all. Would you like me to do that, Kefentsˇe? You mean I don’t have to pay school fees and I still get my results and everything? Yes, Kefentsˇe. And another thing, are you coming on the school Science Trip next week? I want to, Meneer, but we don’t have money... Well, you will be my special guest. Would you like that? Oh, yes, Meneer. Thank you! You’re so kind. Just don’t go telling anyone, okay! It will be our little secret.
And I’m going on the Science Trip! Tshere, do you know how much this means to me? I didn’t even dream about it because I knew we couldn’t afford. You’ve lost me. How...? I can’t tell you. It’s Top Secret. Kefe, stop fooling around! What do you mean you can’t tell me? Don’t you trust me?
Kefentsˇe walks out into the schoolyard feeling like a huge weight has been lifted from her shoulders. She has a big smile on her face and she feels like shouting for joy. Tshereletsˇo is more than a little surprised to see her so happy; she was so down this morning.
I do, it’s just that he said I mustn’t tell anyone - it’s “our little secret” he said. Kefe, this is sounding weird. Who...? Relax! It’s just Mr Pootona. He says that he’ll sort out the problem of the school fees and the science trip because I’m such an excellent student. Well... that’s great, but don’t you think it’s a bit strange? I mean... Why? I am an excellent student and he’s just trying to help. But Kefe, why did he say you must keep it secret? Somehow I don’t trust him. What does he want from you? Nothing! You see, he was right; I should never have told you! Kefe, I was only trying to ... I’m not talking about it any more. Anyway, why aren’t you at soccer practice? I told you, we’ve got a big match tomorrow and the coach said we must rest today. Well then, you should be resting, not hassling me with your stupid questions. Bye!
You won’t believe it! I don’t have to worry about my school fees any more! I can write the exams and I’ll get my results! Tshere, I’m so happy! But I thought you said... Ill: Faith Ngobeni
CHAPTER 3 The following morning, Saturday, Kefentsˇe is up before the sun so that she can finish all her chores early and go and watch Tshereletsˇo playing soccer. She had quickly forgiven him for questioning her yesterday; she knows that he was only trying to be helpful. She is so happy she doesn’t want to worry about anything - not even what her stepfather will say when he finds out that the school fees are covered, and that she will be going up to the next grade. Today is a big day for Tsˇwelopele High. It’s their home game against Matebane Secondary, and no school soccer fixture attracts more community interest. The game has already started by the time Kefentsˇe arrives at the field. At half-time there’s still no score. But soon after the whistle for the second half the Matebane Secondary striker scores a lucky goal. Motivated by this success, the visitors pile on the pressure and retain possession of the ball for most of the rest of the game. With just two minutes left on the clock Motsepe High is awarded a penalty on the 7
Ill: Lindiwe Chabalala
halfway line. The whole team moves forward into an attacking position. The crowd is hushed. The home team start dribbling and passing the ball forward, taking every precaution not to loose possession. All of a sudden Tshereletsˇo bursts forward and away from his mark. He sprints through the opposing team like a flash of lightening. All the other players seem frozen; the only things moving are Tshereletsˇo
and the ball arching slowly through the air towards the goalmouth. As the ball descends, seeming to pick up speed as is does so, two defenders and the goalkeeper spring into action. Suddenly Tshereletsˇo is not running any more, he’s flying. He has leaped into the air to meet the ball. Two of the defenders and the goalie also take to the air, but they have left it too late. Tshereletsˇo just nicks the ball with his head, but it’s enough and it flies through the goalposts. The referee blows for the goal, and then again for the end of the match. The home crowd goes wild. They didn’t win, but at least they didn’t lose. All the students from the high school rush onto the pitch and carry their team around the field in a chaotic victory lap. Kefentsˇe pushes her way through the mass of shouting and dancing bodies looking for Tshereletsˇo. She finds him surrounded by his teammates and their girlfriends, dancing and shouting, “Tshere! Tshere!”.
When Tshereletsˇo sees her he rushes over and grabs her and tries to kiss her. Kefentsˇe is so embarrassed, and angry. How dare he pick me up like that in front of everyone and kiss me, she thinks, and without even asking! She turns on her heels and marches out of the crowd of dancing students. Behind her she hears one of the other players say, “Leave her, Tshere. Here’s Ribs. Come She’s hot for you, on, Kefe. mpintse yam!” Don’t I deserve a kiss?
It’s a very sheepish Tshereletsˇo who arrives at Kefentsˇe’s gate later that afternoon. He has brought a couple of cool drinks and he begs her to come for a walk with him. Kefe, I’m sorry about this morning. Everything was so crazy... I was made Man of the Match, and the guys, you know, they expect me to, well, to be like them... Tshere! Stop it! Put me down!
Here’s Ribs. She’s hot for you, mpintse yam!
I thought you were different. Kefe, you don’t understand. I’m under pressure, man! All the guys have girlfriends. They think I’m stupid! Well, they’re right. You are stupid! But Kefe, I’m serious... I really want you as a girlfriend. I’ve always loved you. Eish, Tshere! You’ve always been special to me... but I’m not yet ready for a relationship. Why not? A ke nyake go swara lotto1 while I’m still at school. I want to focus on my studies; otherwise my dreams will be shattered. Mina andifuni kudlala nga we. I just want your love. Besides, love is not sex. I’ll think about it. Okay?
I don’t want to fall pregnant. I don’t want to use you. 1
Ill: America Mailula
CHAPTER 4 On Monday morning, as Kefentsˇe and Tshereletsˇo walk into the schoolyard together, some boys start chanting “Tshere! Tshere!” Students quickly surround them, wanting to congratulate Tshereletsˇo. He takes Kefentsˇe’s hand, wanting her to stay with him, but she pulls away. Across the schoolyard, in their usual place under the Marula tree, Minky, Ribs and Posh (the MRP Chicks as they call themselves) note the hero’s arrival with interest. Hey, chomza, look who just arrived with the Virgin Mary. That bitch! She’s trying to steal my man! What does he see in her? She looks like a nun in that long dress! At break, Kefentsˇe decides to remain in the classroom. She takes out a book and tries to read, but although her eyes move down the page her thoughts are on Tshereletsˇo’s proposal. Suddenly she gets the feeling that someone is watching her. She looks up and sees Mr Pootona at the door. Good morning, Meneer. 9
Why aren’t you outside with your friends? I don’t... I was doing some homework, Meneer. Come to my office. I want to talk to you about something.
Quiet, girl! I just want to see what you’re hiding under that long skirt of yours. But, Sir. You can’t! Quiet! I’m just taking what I paid for.
Coming, Sir. What do you mean? Kefentsˇe follows Mr Pootona down the corridor to his office. He opens the door and tells her to go inside. He takes off his jacket and hangs it behind the door, and then he walks to his desk and sits down. He calls Kefentsˇe to come around the desk, as if he wants to show her something. She stops at the corner of the desk. “Come closer,” he says, moving some papers with his left hand. Looking at the papers on the desk, Kefentsˇe steps forward until she is practically standing between his legs. “That’s better,” he says. Suddenly Kefentsˇe’s body goes rigid; Mr Pootona has put his hand up under her skirt and he is squeezing the soft flesh at the top of her thigh. For a split second she just stands there too shocked to move. Then she jumps back and tries to move away, but Mr Pootona has grabbed hold of her skirt and is holding it tight. What are you doing, Sir? Ill: America Mailula
What do you think, girlie? Do you think I’m paying your school fees for mahala? But... I thought you were helping me because of my marks. I am. A girl like you can go far, Kefentsˇe. But you need to learn the ways of the world.
Ribs is coming up to him, pulling her short skirt even higher. “Come home with me, baby. I’ll show you what you’re missing!” Tshereletsˇo turns and runs down the road, followed by the laughter of the three girls.
Kefe! Kefe! Why didn’t you wait for me? What’s wrong? Nothing. It’s just... I’ve got a lot of work at home. Are you okay? You look worried. Naa, a ke worried. I’m fine. Go for practice, I’ll see you in the morning.
The school bell rings for the end of break. Mr Pootona stands. You can go now. But don’t even think of telling anyone about our little arrangement.
Okay, sharp! Kefentsˇe is worried, very worried. A man she thought she could trust, a man she thought was kind, a man she thought appreciated her achievements - the Deputy Principal of her school - touched her where no one has ever touched her before. She feels invaded, used... and trapped. On the one side is her stepfather who refuses to pay her school fees, and who wants her to leave school and get a job. On the other side is her teacher who has paid her school fees, and who now expects things in return - sex things. She wants to scream; it’s so unfair. All she wants to do is to study, to get a good education, to make something of herself. Why are these men being so horrible to her?
Mr Pootona takes a R20 note from his wallet and slips it into the breast pocket of Kefentsˇe’s shirt. She’s so shocked she hardly realises what he’s doing. Here, get yourself a cool drink. -❦After school, Tshereletsˇo waits for Kefentsˇe at the school gate. He hasn’t seen her since they arrived at school this morning. The MRP Chicks are crossing the yard towards him. “Your little virgin has gone, lover boy,” says Ribs. “She ran off home as soon as the bell went,” says Posh. Tshereletsˇo is surprised. He and Kefentsˇe always walk home together.
Kefentsˇe hasn’t gone far and he soon catches up with her.
-❦Ill: Joy Manganyi
Ill: Makhawukana Shivambu
Later that afternoon, Kefentsˇe and her mother are working sideby-side in the vegetable garden. They are alone; the other children are playing near one of the rondavels. Mama, today I heard some girls talking... about Mr Pootona. Pootona... the deacon at church? Yes, Mama, and the Deputy Principal of my school. Yes, my child. So what did they say? They said that he touched them, Mama. Touched them! What do you mean? They said he was touching under their skirts... What? You children have no respect. Mr Pootona is a very important person. How can they tell such stories? Never talk about such things again. Understand?
CHAPTER 5 The following morning Kefentsˇe has puffy bags under her eyes. The little sleep she got was troubled by nightmares of her stepfather beating her, her mother screaming at her, and Mr Pootona molesting her. She thinks of bunking school, but can’t think how she will explain it to her mother, or to Tshereletsˇo. When Tshereletsˇo arrives he sees that she’s looking tired, but he doesn’t ask her any questions. He just takes her hand as they walk. This quiet demonstration of his caring affects Kefentsˇe deeply, and all her fears and frustrations bubble to the surface again. She starts to cry. Tshereletsˇo leads her off the road and behind some thick bushes. Kefentsˇe is trying to pull herself together. He mustn’t see me like this, she thinks. She is wiping her eyes, crying, and giggling nervously all at the same time. What is it, Kefe? Tell me. I can’t... I don’t know... I’m just feeling nervous.
folds her head against his chest. His heart feels as if it is going to burst he loves her so much. Slowly, the nervous energy drains out of them both and they relax in each other’s arms. Kefentsˇe is the first to move, breaking the spell. She reaches up and gently touches Tshereletsˇo’s cheek, thanking him with her eyes. They walk to school in silence, their fingers lightly entwined. -❦Tshereletsˇo disappoints his friends at both breaks, telling them that he has to finish some homework. He sits with Kefentsˇe in one of the classrooms. They both have books open in front of them, but neither of them is studying. They are both pretending to be relaxed, but their minds are buzzing. Tshereletsˇo is wishing he were older and had a good job so that he could marry Kefentsˇe, take her away from her stepfather, look after her, protect her, and love her forever. Kefentsˇe is trying not to think. Her mind is dull from running around and around like a mouse caught in a cage. Above all, she is trying not to think about the last period of the day Maths with Mr Pootona.
But, Mama... No buts! Just do your work. 11
Tshereletsˇo puts his arms around her and gently Ill: Rishongile Maluleke
But the last period comes, and Kefentsˇe sits at her desk in the front of the class,
her shoulders hunched, her eyes downcast, praying that she is invisible. Sir, can you tell us what’s going to happen tomorrow on the Science Trip? Didn’t you read the notice we sent to your parents, Marothi? Yes, Sir, but I’ve forgotten already, Sir... That doesn’t surprise me. Okay, in the morning we will be visiting the zoo. In the afternoon we are going to the Exhibition of School Science Projects at the City Hall. Then we are going to spend the night at a holiday resort... What about a bash, Sir? This is an educational tour, Marothi, not some concert! But, Sir, diswanetsˇe go hlakana1. I mean ke stuff sa bana2. A party has been arranged, but I will be in control. No drinking, no smoking, and no sneaking around. Your parents trust me to look after you and I have no intention of breaking that trust. Aaaa, Sir! What kind of a party is it without pluk3? ... there has to be a bash. ... it’s the stuff kids want. 3 alcohol 1 2
At last the bell goes for the end of school, and Kefentsˇe lets out a sigh of relief. But then Mr Pootona tells the class to hand in their books, and he tells Kefentsˇe to bring them to his office.
... Ummot such. ve g skin You’ y, soft silk
Kefentsˇe’s stomach heaves, and she feels as if she might mess herself right there at her desk. As the students walk past and pile their books on her desk, Kefentsˇe looks up at them, desperately hoping that someone will ask her what’s going on; why is Pootona suddenly asking you to do things for him? But no one pays her any attention. Struggling with the heavy pile of books, Kefentsˇe walks to Mr Pootona’s office. The door is open. She hesitates, looking for him. He’s not there, so she goes inside planning to leave the books on his desk and get away as quickly as possible. When she’s halfway across the room she hears the door close behind her. She stops dead. He must have been behind the door, she thinks. “Stay right there, Kefe”, he says. “Don’t move a muscle.” As quickly as it started, it stops. Mr Pootona walks around his desk and sits down. Kefentsˇe opens her eyes, but doesn’t look up at him. Her body is shaking so much she’s afraid she is going to drop the books. Ill: America Mailula
You can put those books down now. You’re a really beautiful girl, Kefe. You know that? Kefentsˇe doesn’t reply. She just stands there looking down at the floor, trying to control her shaking body. Mr Pootona laughs and stands up. C’mon girl, I’m not going to do anything to you. I was just playing with you. Aren’t you looking forward to the Science Trip tomorrow? I know I am. Mr Pootona walks her to the door. Before opening it, he puts a R20 note in her shirt pocket. Here, buy yourself something nice to eat for tomorrow.
home already because he was the first to come out of school when the bell rang. But now he’s getting impatient - the schoolyard is empty and Mr Pootona has just driven out in his old Mercedes. Only Ms Seanego’s Corolla is still parked under the trees at the side of the school. Maybe Kefentsˇe is with her, he thinks; he knows she’s her favourite teacher.
What? Are you sick? No, I... Yes, I vomited. I was feeling dizzy. Come, I’ll walk you home.
But when Ms Seanego walks out to her car alone Tshereletsˇo decides to go and look for Kefentsˇe himself. He runs around the school, checking through the classroom windows. Nothing. He’s about to leave when he hears sobbing from behind one of the classrooms. “Kefe, is that you?” he shouts as he runs around the corner. Kefentsˇe lets out a small cry, like a trapped animal.
They walk home in silence. Kefentsˇe feels bruised all over; her stomach is sore from heaving, her mouth tastes of vomit, and her thoughts are thick and slow. You must rest now. It’s your Science Trip tomorrow. You mustn’t miss that. I doubt if I’ll even go... But you must! You were so excited about going. Sometimes life is so unfair. The people you thought you could trust, just... never mind.
Outside in the corridor, the nausea rises in Kefentsˇe’s throat. She runs behind of one of the classrooms and vomits, her stomach convulsing over and over. She starts shivering again, worse than before. She can no longer keep standing. She slides to the ground, curls up like a songololo, and sobs uncontrollably.
Look; if it’s about money, I can help. No! I don’t need anybody’s money. Okay, no need to shout. I hope you go, and enjoy it, that’s all.
-❦Outside at the school gate, Tshereletsˇo is waiting. He knows Kefentsˇe hasn’t gone 13
Kefe, what happened? What’s wrong? Tshere! You frightened me. I thought it was...
CHAPTER 6 Kefentsˇe thinks long and hard before deciding to go on the school trip. She is so excited about seeing the Exhibition of School Science Projects. It’s her greatest wish that one day her own work would be chosen for such an exhibition. Nothing is going to stop her, not even Mr Pootona. Anyway, she convinces herself, she has made him understand that she’s not interested in his sick games. He said he wouldn’t do anything to her, that he had just been playing with her. She’ll keep far away from him, and there will be lots of other students around; she has nothing to worry about.
The only seat available at the back of the bus is the one next to Kefentsˇe. Posh looks down at her with disgust and is about to complain when Mr Pootona gives her one of his don’t-even-thinkabout-it looks. She drops into the seat next to Kefentsˇe and crosses her arms. Kefentsˇe turns her back and looks out of the window.
As the bus driver starts the engine, Mr Sebego walks down the aisle: “Boys together and girls together. No mixing. And only two learners to a bench.” Most of the students are already sitting with friends of their own sex - just like in class - but some of the benches have three students in them and the front rows near the teachers are empty. There is a moment of chaos as students rush to get a seat at the window or to sit next to a friend. When everyone is settled Mr Pootona tells the driver to move out. Still standing, Mr Pootona explains that he is handing out the Accommodation Register for the holiday resort. “You are all in double rondavels,” he says, “And you will share with the person sitting next to you. Fill in the register and pass it back to me.” The boys jeer, and then Posh, who suddenly realises what this means, jumps into the aisle.
But her stomach tightens, and she doesn’t look up, when she passes Mr Pootona and Mr Sebego as they tick names off the register as the students climb into the hired bus. The last to arrive is Posh. As she walks to the bus the boys lean out of the windows shouting and whistling. Posh is wearing the shortest skirt Kefentsˇe has ever seen, and a tiny boob-tube. All the boys shout for her to sit next to them, but she just laughs and walks down the aisle, strutting like a model. As she turns to walk back, Mr Pootona climbs into the bus and tells everyone to shut up and sit down. “You too, Portia,” he says.
No ways! I ain’t gonna share a room with her! Portia, this is not open for discussion. Sit down, or you can get off the bus right now! Posh sits down angrily and leans over to Kefentsˇe who is still looking out of the window. “Listen, ugly!” she says, “Just stay out of my way, okay? And keep you Bible in your bag!” Ill: Joy Manganyi
Ill: Faith Ngobeni
Kefentsˇe can’t believe her luck. She hunches her shoulders and continues to stare out of the window. She’s not going to let Posh spoil her day. -❦Kefentsˇe has a wonderful day. This is her first visit to the zoo and she is enchanted to see animals that she has only ever seen before in magazines or in textbooks. The afternoon visit to the Exhibition of School Science Projects at the City Hall is the highlight of the day for Kefentsˇe. She is enthralled to see what other students only a few years older than her have made. She is so absorbed in studying a model of DNA that she nearly misses the bus to the holiday resort. All the other students are already waiting at the bus when Mr Sebego comes back to look for her. When they arrive at the resort Mr Pootona and Mr Sebego go to the reception and come out a short while later carrying a box full of keys. Kefentsˇe stands back hoping that Posh will fetch their key, but instead she shouts at Kefentsˇe, “What are you waiting for? Get the key!” Kefentsˇe doesn’t want to go near Mr Pootona, but nor does she want Posh to make a scene. She goes and stands in the 15
queue. When it’s her turn, she puts out her hand without looking up. “Number 21 for Palesa and Kefentsˇe,” says Mr Pootona, “My lucky number!” Mr Sebego writes the number in the register. Kefentsˇe feels a shiver run down her spine as she turns and walks to where Posh is waiting impatiently. When they find their rondavel Kefentsˇe unlocks the door. Posh pushes her aside and enters first. She has a quick look around. “I’m taking this bed,” she says and walks into the small bathroom. Kefentsˇe sits on the edge of the other bed, her small bag between her feet. “You can go now,” says Posh, standing at the bathroom door with her hands on her hips. “I have to get changed. I need some privacy, you know.” Kefentsˇe is relieved to get out of the room. It is nearly dark outside. Walking around the rondavel she finds a bench next to the wall. She sits on it and leans back, feeling the warmth from the sun radiating out of the plaster. Darkness falls and lights come on all over the resort. Where Kefentsˇe is sitting
remains in shadow. She feels hidden and safe as she watches silhouettes moving in the windows of the other rondavels. Time passes and Kefentsˇe relaxes. Then the door of their rondavel opens, throwing a long rectangle of light onto the ground, and Posh shouts out her name. Close your eyes, girl, ‘coz this beauty is gonna blind you. Wow, you look so beautiful - more like a popstar! I know. I choose only the best. You can get changed now. I’m going to find the action. Don’t forget to lock, hey. And don’t touch any of my stuff! -❦Alone in the rondavel, it takes Kefentsˇe a moment to focus her eyes, and her nostrils. The room smells of musky, expensive perfume, there are clothes everywhere - on the chairs, on the floor, and across both beds - and scattered on the little dressing table are more cosmetics that she’s seen in her whole life. Kefentsˇe ignores Posh’s instruction not to touch her stuff - she has to, it’s such a mess - and starts tidying up. As she folds skirts, tops, bras, and panties, her fingers
Ill: Lindiwe Chabalala
Kefentsˇe is hot and sticky from the day and she’s looking forward to the luxury of a hot shower. The water feels so good, rushing and sparkling on her face, her breasts, her tummy, her thighs, and on the small of her back. Her skin tingles and she is aware of every nerve ending in her body. She dries herself quickly and walks into the bedroom. She wants to see what she looks like in the long mirror. She bolts the door and checks that the curtains are closed. Then she goes
Ill: Masana Ndhambi
caress the unfamiliar fabrics. As she tidies brushes, tubes, jars and bottles, she lifts them to her nose and draws in their exotic perfume. Posh’s parents must be very rich, she thinks, to give her all these beautiful things.
and stands in front of the mirror and lets the towel drop to the floor. She’s never seen herself naked in a full-length mirror before. Suddenly she thinks of Posh’s mini skirt. She glances at the door, picks up the skirt and quickly slips into it. She hardly recognises the person in the mirror. She looks good, she thinks. She tries to walk like Posh, like a model, and laughs, imagining Tshereletsˇo’s face if he could see her now ... or Mr Pootona’s! The thought makes her shudder and cover her breasts. She quickly slips out of the skirt and wraps herself in the towel. She feels guilty, and a little frightened of these unfamiliar sensations. Dinner is braaied meat and chicken, pap, rice, and potatoes, two different sauces, and lots of different salads. And then ice cream. Kefentsˇe sits with her girl friends and they all eat until their stomachs are bursting. Everybody is happy and laughing. It reminds Kefentsˇe of a wedding party. She’s so pleased she came. After dinner, the music is turned up and the dancing begins. Posh is once again the centre of attention. At least half-adozen boys dance around her, each one trying to out-dance the others. She really does look beautiful, Kefentsˇe thinks. She’s so confident and sophisticated - she should be on television.
Kefentsˇe dances a little with her girl friends, but she knows she doesn’t have the moves. Some boys ask her friends to dance, but no one asks her. She wishes Tshereletsˇo was with her. After a while she gets tired of watching and decides to go to bed. Also, she wants to be asleep before Posh gets back to their room. She gets up and slips away quietly. Only one pair of eyes watches her leave, and notes that she doesn’t return. 16
In the rondavel, Kefentsˇe changes out of her dress and underclothes, brushes her teeth, and puts on a big old T-shirt. She can’t lock the door because she has the key and Posh still needs to get in. She turns off the light and gets into bed. Lying there in the dark on the crisp, clean sheets, her mind fills with images: of Tshereletsˇo’s muscular body, of Posh dancing, of her own naked body in the mirror. As she falls asleep, she dreams that she is dancing with Tshereletsˇo, that he is kissing her and caressing her. She can feel the weight of him. She can feel him between her legs.
She just sits there wondering if this is all real. Mr Pootona laughs again as he stands up and pulls something off his penis and wraps it in a handkerchief.
Oh really? But you want me to pay your school fees, don’t you? And you accepted my money, didn’t you? And you came on this trip...
Hey, don’t make a scene now! I know you enjoyed it.
I didn’t... Look, Kefentsˇe, stop playing the innocent. It’s a simple exchange. You get what you need. I get what I want.
How could you do this to me!? Don’t be funny! Don’t pretend you didn’t agree... I did not agree!
Warm breath on her face and the sour smell of beer and sweat wake her with a jolt. There is someone on top of her, a man, and... oh my God, now he’s forcing himself into her! She opens her mouth to scream, but a heavy hand covers her face. She can’t breath. She lifts her legs to kick him off, but this only makes the thing inside her go deeper. A shooting pain tears her insides. She punches his back and tries to wriggle away as he suddenly goes rigid and jerks his hips. His hand still over her mouth, he pulls out of her and laughs softly. “You’re a frisky one,” he says, and she recognises the voice of Mr Pootona.
How could you do this to me!?
Kefentsˇe scrambles away from him and falls on the floor between the two beds. 17
Ill: America Mailula
Hey, don’t make a scene now! I know you enjoyed it.
I don’t need any of this. I just want to study. And you will study, my girl, and you will go far. Think of this as extra lessons. Ja, think of it as life skills! Here’s a R50 for you. I don’t want your money! Take it and get cleaned up before Portia comes back. And, hey, thanks for the dessert!
She feels the pain inside her, and becomes aware of the smell of him. She runs to the bathroom and locks the door as the vomit spews out of her. She tears off her T-shirt and climbs into the shower. She scrubs herself again and again, but she can’t wash away the shame; she’ll never be able to wash away the shame. “You bastard!” she screams into the jet of cold water. -❦-
With a final adjustment of his tie, Mr Pootona leaves, quietly closing the door behind him. Kefentsˇe is too shocked to move. She just sits there in the dark, shaking. Then she hears voices outside. She jumps up and runs to the window. Mr Pootona is talking to Mr Sebego; something about being lost... going into the wrong rondavel. They laugh and walk away together, Mr Pootona’s arm on Mr Sebego’s shoulder. Kefentsˇe thinks of running outside and shouting to Mr Sebego. But Mr Pootona’s words ring in her head and hold her hostage: “I know you enjoyed it”, “Don’t pretend you didn’t agree”, “You accepted my money.” Kefentsˇe lets out a strangled cry of anger and beats her fists against the wall in frustration. She can’t believe she’s been so stupid; she let herself be fooled by him.
Much later, Posh is escorted to her rondavel by a group of horny, loud and hopeful boys. She loves all the attention, even from these babies, as she calls them. You young boys can’t give me what I need. Call me when you’re working and making some money. Then we can talk. But Posh, who should we propose to if girls our own age refuse us? Primary girls, boooys! I’m not cheap. Maybe they can accept your 50 cents. Come on, Posh. Those old men only want to use you. Well, at least I earn from it. Now you toddlers get lost! Laughing, Posh closes the door and locks it. She’s far too hyped from all the dancing to sleep. She turns on the light and the first thing she notices is that
Kefentsˇe has tidied her clothes and cosmetics. Typical, she thinks, Little Miss Housewife! Then she notices that Kefentsˇe is not in her bed. The sheets are pulled back and... What’s that on the bed? Blood... and a R50 note! Shocked, and suddenly sober, she straightens up and looks at the closed bathroom door. She has a flashback of a scene very much like this one, about 18 months ago, with her in the bathroom, and her blood on the sheets. Kefe, it’s me, Portia. Are you okay? She hears a sniff from inside the bathroom, but no reply. Kefe, if something has happened, I can help. Kefe, please! Did someone force you? There’s blood on the bed... Silence. Kefe, I’m not joking. I know about this stuff. I can help. Inside the bathroom, Kefentsˇe is surprised to hear genuine concern in Posh’s voice. I’d better let her in before she makes a scene, she thinks. She reaches across and unlocks the door. 18
I’m sure you didn’t. Everyone knows you’re the Virgin Mary! I’m sorry, but you know, it’s true. I’m so stupid; I trusted him. I never thought... It was Pootona, hey?
Ill: Rishongile Maluleke
How do you know? Girl, I’ve been there! It was Pootona who got me used to it.
Posh kneels in front of Kefentsˇe, holds her face gently in her hands and tilts it up so that she can look into her eyes. Girlfriend! Kindness is the last thing Kefentsˇe expected from Posh. She curls down, hiding her face, and starts crying again. Come, Kefe. You can’t sit here in that wet towel. I’ll get you a T-shirt. I woke up and he was on top of me... forcing his thing into me. I didn’t agree... I didn’t ask for it... 19
You mean... he raped you too? I don’t know about rape. I was failing, and he offered to push up my marks. I knew what he wanted. He’s gross... but at least he’s quick! It’s easy money. I don’t want his money! He put money in my pocket... after he touched me at school. And now he’s saying I accepted it... that I agreed. I didn’t! Hey, Pootona’s clever. You’re not the only one he’s caught. What do you mean? You remember Maki? She got pregnant and left school. But don’t worry - these days he always uses a condom. And Rachel? Shame, she hanged herself. Stop! I don’t want to hear any more. Why hasn’t anyone reported him? He can’t do this!
I’ve told you; he’s a master at blackmail. What’s he got on you? It’s my school fees. My stepfather is refusing to pay. Pootona said he would help me. He said it was because I’m a good student. And this trip, he paid for it. You see; he’s too clever. Better to get used to it. Become a super-bitch like me. I can’t get used to it. It’s a sin! We must report him! No ways! Who’s going to believe me against the Great, the Honourable, the Respectable, Mr Pootona? Maybe they can believe you, but not me. Anyway, I’ve got too many other Sugar Daddies now. I don’t want to scare them all away. I didn’t agree. He tricked me. He raped me. It’s not my fault... Shh. Try to sleep now.
CHAPTER 7 Kefentsˇe does sleep, the heavy sleep of the emotionally drained. When she wakes in the morning she is still exhausted. Posh offers to bring her some breakfast, but she says she’s not hungry. Posh and Kefentsˇe are the first to get into the bus. Some of the boys ask Posh to sit
with them, but she refuses and stays with Kefentsˇe. The return trip to school is quiet; many of the students catching up on sleep they lost the night before. When the bus arrives at school Kefentsˇe tells Posh that she is going home; she is feeling sick. She waits until all the other students have gone in to assembly, and only then does she get off the bus. She is walking across the schoolyard towards the gate when Ms Seanego calls to her from the steps at the front of the school.
Ill: Lindiwe Chabalala
Kefentsˇe, where are you going? I’m going home, Mam... I’m sick. Shame, my girl. Let me give you a lift? I’m on my way out to a meeting. Thank you Mam, I can walk. Come! I want to talk to you anyway. As they walk to the old Corolla, Kefentsˇe can feel Ms Seanego looking at her, puzzled. You look down, Kefe?
It’s just a cold. I’ve been worried about you. You didn’t do well in my English test, and you’ve been looking so sad this last week. I thought, maybe, something had happened... Kefentsˇe can’t speak; she feels choked and tears well up in her eyes. She looks away. Ms Seanego can see that there’s more here than a simple cold, but she senses that now is not the time to push. She starts the car and they drive to Kefentsˇe’s home in silence. Just as Kefentsˇe is opening the door to get out, Ms Seanego puts her hand on her arm. Kefe, my girl. Bottling problems inside won’t help. It’s better to share them. Remember I’m here if you need someone to talk to.
Early in the afternoon, her mother returns with the children. Kefentsˇe gets up and starts her housework. She looks at her mother, wondering if she can tell her what happened, wondering if she will believe her. She looks so beaten down, so powerless. Kefentsˇe tries not to think about Tshereletsˇo, but the image of his face keeps coming into her mind. She dreads him finding out, seeing his disappointment. She imagines him looking down at her with disgust, shouting at her. She knows she must tell him before he hears from someone else, but she’s just not ready to talk to him yet. (She’s very grateful to Posh for her kindness, but she’s doesn’t trust her.) She knows he will come by her house later, so she tells her sisters to say that she has flu and that she’s sleeping.
-❦Kefentsˇe gets the key from its hiding place, goes to her room and curls up on the bed. She doesn’t sleep; she just lies there in the cool of the darkened room, her mind buzzing, her head throbbing. How, how, how am I going to get out of this nightmare? She wants to run away. But where will she go? How will she look after herself? How will she continue her studies? Ill: Masana Ndhambi
Tshereletsˇo does come, and he gives the girls some sweets. He also gives them a message for Kefentsˇe: that he hopes she feels better soon, and that he won’t be able to see her until Saturday. The team is leaving early tomorrow morning for a soccer tournament and only returning late in the evening. -❦The following morning, Friday, Kefentsˇe tells her mother that she is still too sick to go to school. During the course of the day, as she does the chores and watches over the children, she reaches some decisions. Her first, and strongest, decision is that Pootona must be stopped. He can’t continue to abuse his position as a teacher to blackmail and trick young girls into sex. She’s not going to run away! She’s not going to kill herself! She’s going to report him! She doesn’t know how, or to whom, but she’s going to stop him - the pig! Her second decision is that she is going to tell Tshereletsˇo everything. They have never kept secrets from one another, not since they were little children. She is very nervous about his reaction, but - she tells herself - she must trust in his love and in their long friendship.
Kefentsˇe gets up very early the next day Coming back from the toilet Ra-Maleka to finish her chores as quickly as heads straight for the cooking rondavel. possible. She wants to be free when As he passes the children he turns Tshereletsˇo comes to visit her, as she towards them, his eyes bloodshot and knows he will. She works quietly, and glazed. Then, suddenly, as if thrown by keeps the other children quiet when they an unseen force, his legs swing out get up, so as not to disturb Ra-Maleka. behind him, his head smacks against the She heard him come in late last night, side of the doorway, and he crashes to and he was making noise and knocking the ground. things over. She knows he’ll have a sore head and a bad temper when Studying! he wakes up. Are you stupid, or what? Don’t you understand? School is finished!
Kefentsˇe also knows that she’ll have to explain where she’s going with Tshereletsˇo on a Saturday morning, so she takes out some schoolbooks and makes up a story about a study group meeting. Ma-Maleka is working in the vegetable garden and Kefentsˇe is feeding Mpho his porridge when Ra-Maleka stumbles out of his room to relieve himself. His mood immediately affects all the children. Dineo and Kidi stop their skipping game and move closer to Kefentsˇe.
Ill: America Mailula
The children all jump to their feet and back away from the explosion they know is coming. Horrified, Kefentsˇe realises that her stepfather has slipped on the schoolbooks that she left on the steps of the rondavel. Slowly Ra-Maleka rolls himself into a sitting position, holding his head in both hands. He remains like this, groaning and rocking slightly, for what seems like ages. Then, slowly, he reaches out a hand and picks up one of the books. He looks at it, turns it over, and then looks up at Kefentsˇe, his eyes narrowed and his lip curled.
What?! Who paid... your mother? Ma-Maleka has heard the shouting and is already running towards them. Frightened, little Mpho runs to Kefentsˇe, who gratefully takes him in her arms; she knows her stepfather will not hit her while she’s holding his son. Woman! Did you pay your daughter’s school fees?
What did Mr Pootona say to you, girl?
I know nothing, Sebata. Ke mang, mosetsana? Ke re ke mang?1 Tell me now, before I beat it out of you!
What the hell are these books doing here?
E tswa kai, wena? From Mr Pootona, Mama. He paid for my school fees because he says I’m the best student. He even paid for my Science Trip. You told us the trip was free! Ngwana wagago o re tlisˇetsˇa madimabe3 with money from other people. I’m sorry, Papa, I lied. I didn’t want to embarrass you.
I’m sorry, Papa, I’m really sorry... I asked you... what are these books doing here?
I’m studying for the exams, Papa. Ra-Maleka stands up and walks towards Kefentsˇe. He starts tearing pages out of the book and screaming. Studying! Are you stupid, or what? I told you I’m not paying for your school fees. Don’t you understand? School is finished! Stop it! Give me my book! You don’t have to pay my school fees; they’re paid already!
ground and walks into the rondavel to get a drink of water. His head is pounding and his throat is on fire, but most of all he needs to think. What does Pootona want with this young girl? He’s heard people talk in the shebeen about how teachers can pick any girl they want. But Pootona is a deacon. O a hlompega1. Still, it’s embarrassing that another man is paying for his daughter’s school fees.
Papa? I can’t tell him the truth, thinks Kefentsˇe. Maybe I can tell Mama, but not him; he’ll kill me. What does he want, girl? Why is he paying for you? He says it’s because I am the best student, Papa. We should be proud, Sebata, to have such an important man looking after our family like this. Le bjale le tsepele dilo tsa batho!2 Get me food, woman! I don’t want to hear any more stories. Kefentsˇe, go buy me tobacco.
Ra-Maleka throws the torn book to the Who did it girl, who? Where does it come from? 3 Your child is bringing us bad luck. 1 2
He’s a respectable person. You depend on other people’s things.
CHAPTER 8 Kefentsˇe is relieved to get out of the house and away from her stepfather. And it seems the other children feel the same way because they beg to go with her. So it is a very solemn young Maleka family group that bumps into Tshereletsˇo outside the spaza shop. Tshereletsˇo is in high spirits - “Kefe! I was coming to visit you,” he says - and his cheerfulness lifts everyone’s mood. He buys sweets that they all share as they walk slowly back home. Kefentsˇe has been rehearsing what she is going to say to him, but now is not the time. Out of earshot of the other children, Kefentsˇe explains only what happened earlier that morning. She says she’s not even going to ask her parents if she can go out again today.
help her mother in the vegetable garden. For an hour or more they work in silence. As always, Kefentsˇe is amazed by her mother’s endurance. She may be small, but there is steel inside her.
Mr Pootona has been touching me at school, Mama. Hoe Kefe! O se ka ba bua jalo ka Mr Pootona1. It’s true, Mama. Since he offered to pay my school fees he has been touching me, under my skirt, and rubbing himself against me.
Kefentsˇe feels as if she is going to burst; all the information she had carefully prepared to tell Tshereletsˇo is demanding to be let out. She has to speak to someone about what happened to her. She remembers when she was younger, when it was just Mama, her and Gogo, how strong Mama always was. How she would protect her and comfort her if she got hurt. Surely that strength is still inside her somewhere.
Under your skirt! Rubbing himself...! Yes, Mama. Twice. And each time he gave me a R20. R20! He put it in my pocket, Mama. I was shocked. I didn’t accept it. Hau, Kefe. Is this true?
Mama, I need to talk to you... What is it, my child? Talking doesn’t get the work finished.
Kefentsˇe takes two R20 notes and a R50 note out of her pocket and shows her mother. And this R50? Did he give you this as well? Yes, Mama. On the school trip he came into my room while I was sleeping... and he raped me.
But I must see you tomorrow, after church. I’ve got something I have to tell you. Okay, sure. No problem.
He raped you!
Ra-Maleka has gone back to bed by the time they return. Kefentsˇe makes sure that the children all have something to do, to keep them quiet. Then she goes to 23
Ill: Makhawukana Shivambu
Don’t talk like that about Mr Pootona.
Have you told anyone about this? No, Mama. You are the first ... You mustn’t tell anyone! Mr Pootona is a big somebody; he can make trouble for us. Mama! I said he raped me! Why are you telling me to keep quiet? Kefe, my girl. I am so sorry that this thing has happened to you. But you’re a woman now, not a little girl. There’s nothing we can do. We have to accept such things. And this money... it can help us a lot. Mama! I can’t believe what you’re saying. He raped me! I’m not going to accept. I’m going to report him... to... to the police. Hau, Kefe! A poor girl like you reporting Mr Pootona to the police! There’ll be trouble. He’s a rich and important man, respectable. They won’t believe you... the money... they’ll say you asked for it. I didn’t ask for it! Don’t you believe me? He put the money in my pocket... he threw it on the bed. I don’t want his money. I just want to study and finish my schooling and... Oh, Mama. I can’t accept it. It’s a sin. Shame, my girl, I’m sorry. I know it’s hard... but you’ll get used to it. We’re women, we suffer. There’s nothing we can do.
No, Mama. I can’t get used to it. I’ve got dreams, and plans... What? You think I didn’t have dreams too? From across the yard comes a shout demanding food. Kefentsˇe sees a flash of fear cross her mother’s face as she turns and runs towards the rondavels. Her spirit is broken, thinks Kefentsˇe.
confidence. A part of her just wants to curl up in Tshereletsˇo’s arms and pretend that nothing’s changed. She goes and sits next to him, her back against the broken wall, their shoulders touching. He takes her hand and gently kisses the tips of her fingers. She closes her eyes and feels his love washing through her body.
-❦Church is out, and Tshereletsˇo and Kefentsˇe have walked to a secluded old ruin where they used to play as children. Tshereletsˇo is fooling around, throwing stones into the bushes and making Kefentsˇe jump with fright. Stop it! You’re making me scared. Sorry, I was just playing with you. Come and sit. If Kefentsˇe was nervous about talking to Tshereletsˇo yesterday, she’s ten times more nervous today. The conversation with her mother really knocked her Ill: America Mailula
Tshere, I’ve got to tell you something... something serious, and I don’t want you to say anything until I’ve finished. Okay? Kefentsˇe tells him everything from the beginning, even the parts he already knows: how her stepfather refused to pay her school fees and how he beat her and her mother; how Mr Pootona seemed so kind when he offered to solve the problem of her school fees, and when he offered to pay for the Science Trip; how he called her to his office and touched her under her skirt, and how she fought to get away from him; the R20 he put in her shirt pocket, how frightened and confused she felt; how he touched
her again, and rubbed himself against her, and how, when she refused him, he said he wasn’t going to do anything to her, he had just been playing with her; the R20 he put in her shirt pocket to buy food for the Science Trip; how she convinced herself that it would be okay to go on the trip; how she woke up to find Mr Pootona on top of her, inside her, covering her mouth, and how he said that she enjoyed it, that she agreed to it, that she accepted his money; the R50 he threw on the bed; how Pootona had laughed with Mr Sebego about going into the wrong rondavel; and how Posh had looked after her, and what she said about Pootona and other girls. She even tells him about Ms Seanego and about the conversation with her Mom. Watching Tshereletsˇo’s face as she tells him her story is like watching storm clouds gather. But when she finishes he just takes her in his arms and holds her tight, muttering, “I’m so sorry, Kefe,” again and again. Kefentsˇe is exhausted, but she’s also enormously relieved at his reaction. I want to report him.
Ill: Faith Ngobeni
You must! He can’t get away with this. They must lock him up! But I don’t know how. Mama says the police won’t believe me, because of the money... But he forced it on you. You didn’t ask for it. Have you spent any of it? No, I’ve still got it. Isn’t it supposed to be evidence or something? I don’t know. That’s why I need advice. I thought about talking to the priest, but he’s so friendly with Pootona. Then the principal. Report him to the principal. But he’s also friends with Pootona. In fact, Pootona’s the real boss of the school. I need someone I can trust. Then what about Ms Seanego? She’s junior, but she’s a fighter. Remember when she reported that teacher for coming to school drunk? I was thinking the same. I’m sure she’ll help me. I’ll speak to her tomorrow. She’s always at school early. On the walk back to Kefentsˇe’s home, Tshereletsˇo keeps mumbling, “He must suffer, the bastard!”
CHAPTER 9 Kefentsˇe and Tshereletsˇo arrive at school very early the following morning, and it’s not long before Ms Seanego drives into the schoolyard. Tshereletsˇo squeezes Kefentsˇe’s hand and she walks across to where Ms Seanego is parking her car. Mam, I need to speak to you... Ms Seanego quickly reads the scene; the sad and serious look on Kefentsˇe’s face, and Tshereletsˇo hovering in the background, obviously concerned. Sure, Kefentsˇe. Let’s sit in my car; we can talk in private. Kefentsˇe tells Ms Seanego everything, just as she told Tshereletsˇo. Can you help me, Mam? Do you believe me? Yes, I believe you, Kefe. And of course I will help you. I’m just so
sorry this has happened to you, it’s too terrible! You should have come to me earlier... I know that now, but I was too shocked, and I felt so trapped... And after he touched me the second time, when he said he wouldn’t do anything to me, I thought it was finished. I thought he understood that I’m not interested. For an educator to touch a learner, even to talk to a learner in a sexual way, is a very serious offence. But rape! That is grounds for dismissal, and you can press criminal charges as well. I just want to stop him... so he doesn’t abuse more girls. And the community must know he’s not the respectable person everyone thinks he is. I admire your courage, Kefe. And I will be with you every step of the way. But, I must tell you, it’s going to be tough; Mr Pootona is respected, and I doubt he is going to accept this without a fight.
What are we going to do, Mam? We are going to report him, Kefe. Both the Department of Education and SACE1, which is the professional organisation that registers all teachers in the country, regard any misconduct, and especially sexual offences by educators against learners, very seriously. There are procedures we have to follow in such cases. How old are you, Kefe? I turned sixteen last month. That makes a big difference. If a sexual offence is committed against a learner under the age of sixteen, we have to report it immediately to the police, to social services, and to the learner’s parents, as well as to the Department of Education and to SACE. If the learner is sixteen years or older, he or she can decide whether or not to lay a charge with the police. But as a teacher, now that I know about this, I have to report it to the Department and to SACE. It is part of our professional code of ethics to report any misconduct by another teacher. Do you understand? The South African Council of Educators 1
Ill: Masana Ndhambi
I think so. I told you what my mother said... and I’m afraid of what my stepfather will do when he finds out. I don’t know about the police... Mama said they won’t believe me because of the money. I must tell you honestly, Kefe; reporting a rape to the police can be very difficult. I know the SAPS are trying to improve, but many police officers are not fully trained to handle such cases. It can be very traumatic for the victim. Also, a criminal case needs very strong evidence. For example, a district surgeon should examine the victim as soon as possible after the rape, before washing or changing clothes, to prove that there was penetration and to look for the perpetrator’s semen. In a criminal case, the prosecution, who acts for the victim, has to prove its case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. Even with medical evidence it is difficult to prove rape, especially when money is involved. It’s so easy for the man to say that the woman agreed to have sex and then changed her mind afterwards. That’s what he said to me; he said I accepted... The Department of Education takes a different approach. There are many laws against sexual harassment and 27
abuse, but for the Department the most important is the Employment of Educators Act. Among other things, this Act says that a teacher cannot sexually harass a learner, or have a sexual relationship with a learner. If a case of sexual harassment or assault is reported, the Department investigates. If there’s enough evidence against the accused they begin a disciplinary procedure. This is similar to a court case but it’s internal, inside the Department. In such cases, the innocence or guilt of the accused is decided by what they call a balance of probabilities. What this means is that the victim needs to present a strong case, to weigh the balance on their side. The Department and SACE know that there are teachers who harass and abuse learners, and they want to root them out of the teaching profession. Is this too complicated for you? No, I’m following you, and it’s good to know all this information. I want to understand. But how do you know so much about all this? Every teacher should know about these things. In fact, if a teacher hears about or suspects any sexual abuse of a learner and does nothing about it, that teacher is guilty of
misconduct and can even be dismissed. I knew you’d be able to help me. But how do we do this report and what happens after? I can’t go into class with Mr Pootona and pretend that nothing has happened. I understand, Kefe, and I promise you that I will do everything in my power to protect you. Our first step is to report this to the principal, Mr Morovhi. He must then report the matter to his seniors in the Department, and they will begin the investigation. Are you ready, Kefe? Do you have more questions? What will happen to Mr Pootona? Kefe, if a teacher is found guilty of sexual assault of a learner he will be dismissed by the Department and struck off the register of teachers by SACE. He will never be able to teach again. But you must understand that this process will take time. It will be a long and difficult journey, especially for you. Will I have to attend his classes? Kefe, I’m sure you don’t have to attend his classes. In fact, I’m sure you can stay at home if you want to. But I also think in such disciplinary cases the teacher is suspended. We’ll have to ask Mr Morovhi.
Classes have already begun while Kefentsˇe and Ms Seanego were talking. Ms Seanego stops briefly at her classroom to give her learners some work to do before they proceed to the principal’s office. She knocks. Come in. Morning, Mr Morovhi. Yes, Ms Seanego... Kefentsˇe. What can I do for you? Sir, we’ve come to report a serious matter. Kefentsˇe sits on the edge of her chair, her hands in her lap and her eyes downcast. Ms Seanego starts explaining what Kefentsˇe has told her. When she gets to the part where Mr Pootona rubs himself against Kefentsˇe, Mr Morovhi gets up and starts walking back and forth behind his desk, disbelief on his face.
When Ms Seanego reaches the part where Mr Pootona allegedly rapes Kefentsˇe at the holiday resort, Mr Morovhi can no longer contain himself. Kefentsˇe Maleka! How dare you tell lies like this about Mr Pootona? Mr Morovhi, please! I do not believe this child is lying, and there are others who can support her story. Hey, wena! I know Mr Pootona. He’s respectable. He’s the Deputy Principal of this school. How dare you make wild accusations Mr Morovhi, based on the please. I do not believe lies of a child! this child is Mr Morovhi, lying... respectable or not,
something has to be done. We have a responsibility to report this matter. Responsibility! I have been a principal for 5 years. I’m not going to let a mafikizolo tell me how to run my school! I won’t let this matter rest here, Meneer. I’ll go to the district office, and up to the Minister if I have to! Enough! Get out of my office, both of you! Hey, wena! I know Mr Pootona. He’s respectable.
Mr Morovhi is deeply shocked by these allegations. He has known Mr Pootona for over 15 years and has the greatest respect for him. In fact, he is even rather intimidated by Mr Pootona, whom he knows is a more efficient and ambitious school manager. In the last year or so, as he gets closer to retirement, he has pretty much handed over the management of the school to Mr Pootona. Ill: America Mailula
CHAPTER 10 Kefentsˇe is shattered; she very nearly collapses as Ms Seanego helps her out of Mr Morovhi’s office. Shaking with anger herself, Ms Seanego leads Kefentsˇe to the empty staff room where she makes them both cups of hot, sweet tea. I should have expected that. These men always close ranks to protect one another. I knew he wouldn’t believe me. I’ll call the district office this afternoon, Kefe. I promise I won’t stop until they take you seriously.
I’ll go, Mam. Good girl! You’re strong, Kefe, you’ll get through this.
After waiting in the baking sun for nearly two hours Kefentsˇe is called inside by the nurse, an impatient looking woman of about 50.
-❦Thobela, Sister. There is a queue of people outside the small clinic building when Kefentsˇe arrives, mostly women, some not much older than her, carrying babies, some her mother’s age, some old grannies. She feels very conspicuous. They look at her and whisper to one another. She can imagine what they are thinking.
Mmm, nka go thusˇa kang?1 I... I need a test, Sister. Teste! Teste ya eng, wena?2 For... pregnancy, HIV, and STDs. Ga o swabe nganenyana towe!3 What did you expect? Girls like you are so easy! You let boys use you and then you run to the clinic for an abortion.
Okay... But, Kefe, now I want you to go to the clinic for tests - for pregnancy, for HIV, and for sexually transmitted diseases.
No, Sister, I’m not... You wouldn’t be here if you had been on contraception. O ngwanyana o mo bjang wo go se ke hlokomele?4
Mam! Kefe, it’s important. I know you said he used a condom, but it’s better to be safe.
But it wasn’t my fault... Kefentsˇe can’t take any more; she has no more strength to fight. She runs out past
What will I say to the nurse? You don’t have to tell them what happened. You just ask the nurse to do the tests. They can’t refuse you. Take this R50 for any charges. You can give me the change later. Okay? 29
How can I help you? Test for what? 3 You should be ashamed, girl! 4 What kind of a girl are you who doesn’t take care of herself? 1 2
Ill: Lindiwe Chabalala
Ill: Rishongile Maluleke
the passive faces waiting in the sun, and keeps on running, blindly, until the muscles in her legs are tearing and her lungs burn. She finds herself at the ruined hut, a place of sanctuary, filled with the innocent memories of childhood. Exhausted, both mentally and physically, she curls up and soon falls asleep.
higher, but she also doesn’t know what happens after that. Are you going to come back to school? I don’t think so, not yet. I’ll study at home until I know what’s happening. But it makes me more angry; it’s like I’m the one who’s done wrong, while Pootona carries on as normal.
-❦-❦Tshereletsˇo is frantic; he hasn’t seen Kefentsˇe since early this morning, but he knows something has happened. The whole school is talking about it; Mr Morovhi came to Mr Pootona’s classroom in a panic, they went outside to talk, and next thing Pootona starts shouting about his reputation. Then they both closed themselves in their offices and no one knows what’s going on. Tshereletsˇo decides to speak to Ms Seanego, but by the time he finishes classes she has already left. He sends his excuses to the coach with a teammate and runs to Kefentsˇe’s home, but her sisters haven’t seen her either. There’s only other place he can think she might be. He runs there and finds her curled up like a stray dog in a corner. Kneeling down beside her, he gently touches her shoulder. She wakes with a start, looks up at him with big eyes, and
The following morning Kefentsˇe tells her mother that she’s going to study at home, and that she will look after the children. then pulls him to her and holds him, drawing strength from him. Kefentsˇe fills him in on what has happened since this morning. When I left the clinic I just wanted to run away. I was so embarrassed. These people have got no feelings! It’s so unfair! I wish I could take you away from here. Ms Seanego said it was going to be tough, but shoo... So what happens now? We can’t just give up. I don’t know exactly. Ms Seanego said she was going to report it
Minutes after her mother leaves, Ms Seanego pulls up and hoots for Kefentsˇe to come to the car. She hasn’t got much time, so she quickly tells Kefentsˇe her news: yesterday afternoon she spoke to the district office of the Department of Education, someone in labour relations who was very helpful, he said that they take such reports very seriously. Anyway, there are two people from the district office visiting another school in the area, and he said that they will come to their school tomorrow to take an official report. Tomorrow! 30
Will you be with me? If you want me with you, I’ll be there. Listen, I must go. Are you okay with all this? Yes. This is what I want. I only hope they take me seriously, that they believe me. I’m sure these investigators will take you very seriously, Kefe. 12 o’clock at school, okay? Bye!
CHAPTER 11 Kefentsˇe arrives at school at exactly 12 o’clock. There is a white car with Department of Education markings on it parked in front of the building, and Ms Seanego is waiting on the steps. The investigators are here already. They are talking to the principal and Mr Pootona. We’ve stirred up a bees’ nest, I can tell you! Waiting in the corridor, Ms Seanego quickly tells Kefentsˇe what’s been happening: Mr Morovhi called her into his office this morning; he didn’t apologise exactly, but he explained that he had been too shocked by her report, and now that he has had time to think about it he will, of course, give Ms Seanego and Kefentsˇe his full support, and follow Department procedures to the letter. Ms Seanego smiles and says, “I’m sure he got a call from the district office”. The door to the principal’s office opens and Mr Pootona marches out, a look of pure hatred in his eyes. A few moments later the principal puts his head around the door and invites Ms Seanego and Kefentsˇe to come in. He looks grey and he’s sweating profusely. He introduces them to
Ill: Rishongile Maluleke
Yes, can you believe it! He said it usually takes weeks, sometimes even months, before they can send investigators to follow up reports. We’re very lucky that they’re in our area now and can come and take your statement right away. Take my statement. What does that mean? It means you tell them exactly what happened, just like you told me.
Ill: Lindiwe Chabalala
the two investigators, a woman and a man. The woman speaks directly to Kefentsˇe and explains what they will be doing: that based on Ms Seanego’s report they have come to do a preliminary investigation to substantiate the allegations; on the basis of this investigation they will then prepare a report which will be sent to the Head of the Department of Education in the province; if he feels that there is sufficient evidence to warrant a full investigation he may decide to suspend the alleged perpetrator; this will be followed by an in-depth investigation and a hearing (within 31 days of the suspension) and, if found guilty, the perpetrator will be disciplined.
holiday resort. And we would also like to speak to Tshereletsˇo, whom you say found you crying behind one of the classrooms. Can we speak to them? Are you okay with that?
Do you understand, Kefentsˇe? Yes, Sir, I think so. Good. Now we need you to tell us, in as much detail as possible, exactly what happened. Mr Morovhi, would you mind? No, no, not at all. I’ve got important things I must attend to. Please make yourselves at home. Kefentsˇe, I understand you would like Ms Seanego to stay?
So, how do you feel? Relieved. They’re taking me seriously, and one can see that they care. But they speak funny! Ja, they speak a legal language. They have to be very careful always to be fair, so they refer to ‘alleged’ this and ‘alleged’ that. But I agree with you, they’re very professional. I’m also feeling more confident.
Yes. The two investigators talk, and then the man gets up to ask Mr Pootona to arrange that they meet with these two potential witnesses. Kefentsˇe, I must ask you: why did you not tell us the name of the girl you shared with at the holiday resort, and the names of the other girls whom you say have been sexually abused by Mr Pootona? The girl I shared with... I know she doesn’t want to report. The other girl, I don’t know her. I can’t just give you their names. That’s very honourable of you, Kefentsˇe, but their testimony would add a lot of strength to your case. And, of course, it’s also an opportunity for them to report what this man allegedly did to them. We’re trying to encourage people to speak out. Kgomo go tsosˇwa ye o e itsosˇago1.
Yes, please. Once again, Kefentsˇe tells her story. The only difference is that this time she doesn’t give Posh’s name or the names of the other girls abused by Mr Pootona. You did well, Kefentsˇe. I know it’s difficult to have to talk about these experiences again and again. You explained everything very clearly. Now, do you understand that it is important for us to substantiate your allegations - to speak to other people who can confirm what you have told us? Yes, I understand. We would like to speak to Mr Sebego, whom you say saw Mr Pootona leaving your rondavel at the
The other investigator returns and tells his colleague that Mr Sebego is ready to be interviewed. They ask Ms Seanego and Kefentsˇe to wait outside.
Ms Seanego and Kefentsˇe go to the staff room to drink tea. Not long after, Mr Sebego walks in, in need of some tea himself.
One has to stand up to be helped. Ill: Faith Ngobeni
There is a moment of awkward silence before Ms Seanego asks him if the investigators need them to go back. No, I don’t think so. They are speaking to Tshereletsˇo at the moment. More silence, and then: I don’t know everything about this case; they didn’t give me all the details. But it‘s a very serious allegation. I did see Mr Pootona coming out of a rondavel that was not his, and I remember thinking at the time that it was rather suspicious. I’m not jumping to any conclusions; the disciplinary procedure must decide the outcome. I just want to say that I admire you both. I know it takes a lot of courage to make a report like this. Ms Seanego and Kefentsˇe go and wait in the corridor. A few minutes later the door opens and the investigator thanks Tshereletsˇo and shakes his hand. He then asks the two women to come back inside. Right, Kefentsˇe. The testimonies of Mr Sebego and of Tshereletsˇo Mogale confirm your allegations. On the basis of these interviews, we can put forward a strong case for an in33
depth investigation and for a hearing. Whether or not Mr Pootona will be suspended during the investigation is for the Head of Department to decide. How long will it take? It’s difficult to say. The Department in this province is prioritising these Section 17 cases. I hope we’ll have a decision in a week or so. And can Kefentsˇe stay at home while we’re waiting to hear? We will speak to your principal, it shouldn’t be a problem. Is that what you want to do, Kefentsˇe? Yes... Well, no. I want to come to school, but I can’t sit in his class as if nothing has happened... I understand, and I promise that we will push this case through the system as quickly as we can. Fortunately it’s the end of the year, so you won’t miss any important work. Kefentsˇe, one more thing: the other girls. I want you please to think about speaking to them. Try to convince them to testify, for their own sake as well as to strengthen your case. Will you do that? Yes, Mam.
CHAPTER 12 The next week is the longest in Kefentsˇe’s life. She tries to study for the upcoming exams, but her concentration often wanders, her mind replaying unwelcome memories of the rape. She hardly speaks to her mother - there’s nothing to say. There’s just this huge distance between them, as if they were strangers. Ra-Maleka is spending more and more time away from home looking for work, and only returns at weekends. The only light in her life is Tshereletsˇo who visits every day, filling her in on gossip from school and bringing messages of support from Ms Seanego. Whenever they get the chance, they slip away to their broken-down rondavel where they can lie in each other’s arms and talk openly. Tshereletsˇo has been doing some investigating of his own; he has found out where the girl Maki is living - in a mekhukhu area near town with her baby, estranged from her family. But Kefentsˇe insists they do nothing until they know what’s happening with the Department. She’s also been thinking about how to convince Posh to testify, but there’s no point unless the Department is going to continue with the investigation.
Ill: Makhawukana Shivambu
Some of Kefentsˇe’s girlfriends visit, wanting to know why she hasn’t been at school. She tells them that she’s having period problems and they seem to accept this excuse, quickly moving onto more interesting topics, like quizzing her about her relationship with Tshereletsˇo. Exactly a week after their meeting with the investigators - and still no news - Ms Seanego comes to see how Kefentsˇe is holding up. She encourages her to be patient; these things take time in Government departments, and they were lucky to have seen the investigators so quickly after making the report. -❦On Friday morning, while Kefentsˇe is busy revising her Human and Social Sciences syllabus, she hears urgent hooting from the road. Ms Seanego is grinning from ear to ear. The investigators are coming to the school this afternoon, and they want to see us again.
What did they say? They just said they want to meet us. But I’m sure they wouldn’t come all this way for nothing. If the case had been dropped, they would just phone. When Kefentsˇe arrives at school at 2 o’clock, the same Department of Education car is parked in the yard. Most of the students have already gone home or are playing sport. No one pays her any attention, unaware that there’s any connection between her and the people from the Department.
can hear snatches of conversation, particularly Mr Pootona’s roaring voice: “This is ridiculous! The whole community will know. It will ruin my reputation!” And later, “You’ll be sorry for this, all of you! Mark my words.” They both jump with fright as the door opens violently and Mr Pootona storms out. Seeing them he stops, and shaking his fist shouts, “You’ll pay for this!” spit flying from his lips. You’ll pay for this!
She finds Ms Seanego waiting in the corridor outside the principal’s office. She’s no longer smiling but looks anxious, and immediately infects Kefentsˇe with the same emotion. “Listen!” she says. Through the principal’s door they Ill: America Mailula
Inside the office, and after asking a shrivelled looking Mr Morovhi to excuse them, the two investigators apologise for Mr Pootona’s outburst. They explain that they have just handed him a Charge Sheet laying out the allegations against him, and suspending him pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing. So, how have you been, Kefentsˇe? Up and down... but okay. The waiting was hard. I’m glad it’s over. It’s not over yet, I’m afraid. The hardest part is still to come, the hearing. Do you know about court cases, have you seen them on television? Not really, Mam, only a little. Okay, no problem. A hearing is a disciplinary procedure where the Department of Education charges one of its employees with misconduct. A hearing is similar to a court case in that there is a Presiding Officer who, like a judge in court, makes a decision based on the evidence that is presented. The presiding officer decides whether the accused is innocent or guilty and, if found guilty, decides on what disciplinary action to take. Depending on the severity of the misconduct, the 35
employee may be given a warning or, in very serious cases such as this one, he may be dismissed. In a disciplinary hearing it is the Department that is making the charge against the accused. So the Department is the Complainant and the accused is the Defendant. You, as the victim of the misconduct, are a Witness in the case. Do you understand? I think so. You are saying that it’s not me against Mr Pootona, but the Department against Mr Pootona. Exactly! Now at the hearing, the Department’s case against the accused is presented by a Prosecutor (most probably my colleague here), based on the information we obtain during our investigations. It is the prosecutor’s job to convince the presiding officer that the accused is guilty of the misconduct. To do this the prosecutor calls on witnesses to confirm, in their own words, what happened. So will I have to tell again what happened to me? Yes, Kefentsˇe, as the main witness you will be asked to testify. You can have someone with you to support you; your parents, a priest, a teacher like Ms Seanego, anyone you want. We can also appoint a social worker to help you. And if you don’t want
to talk in front of the defendant, we will put up a screen so that you can’t see him. No, it’s okay, I can testify. I just want Ms Seanego with me. Ms Seanego must be there. As the person who made the report, she is also a witness. So... Mr Pootona will be there, in the same room? Yes, Kefentsˇe. He is being accused of misconduct, so it’s important that he hears all the accusations and all the evidence against him. He also has someone helping him, usually a representative from his teacher union. And they can also call witnesses to back up their response to the accusations. Do you understand, so far? Yes, but who can he call as witnesses? We don’t know. But what I can tell you is that this is going to be a difficult case. As you have seen, Mr Pootona is claiming that he is innocent, and that you are lying. But you said you believed me! Kefentsˇe, we do believe you, and we’re here to help you. We’re just telling you how things are. With your testimony, Mr Sebego’s, and Tshereletsˇo’s testimony, we have a strong case that Mr Pootona had a
sexual relationship with a learner. And this in itself is serious misconduct. But when it comes to proving that he molested you, and that he raped you, we only have your word against his. But... I’m sorry, Kefentsˇe. I told you it would be difficult. But think about this. He’s going to try and deny everything. When he realises that there is evidence against him, he may confess to having a relationship, but say that you seduced him to get money, or that you were in love with him.
And now, will you speak to them? Yes, but I don’t know if they’ll agree to testify. All you have to do is give us their names and we will contact them. I can’t do that. I must speak to them first. Okay, but you must do it quickly. The date of the hearing is the 21st of next month, in just over three weeks’ time. We will be back on Monday the 14th to finalize our investigation and to prepare the witnesses, and I really hope we’ll be able to speak to these other girls.
CHAPTER 13 After their meeting with the investigators, Ms Seanego dropped Kefentsˇe at home. Neither of them spoke much as they were both thinking about the difficult road ahead. The whole day Saturday, and this morning, Kefentsˇe has been busy with chores and helping her mother in the vegetable garden. She works hard to finish by the time Tshereletsˇo comes to see her after church. As they walk to their special meeting place, Tshereletsˇo pours out his news. Everyone knows Pootona has been suspended! I don’t think anyone knows why, but at church this morning the priest was saying things like, “a terrible injustice has befallen a leading member of our community,” and telling us that we should support him, “in his darkest hour”. This is dangerous, Kefe. If Pootona turns the community against you... So it’s started... They told me he’d fight back.
That’s a lie! Kefentsˇe, you must understand that Mr Pootona’s career is on the line, his reputation, his whole life is at risk in this case. That sort of pressure can make a person lie, and lie very convincingly. There is only one way to fight this, and that is to make our charges against Mr Pootona as strong as possibly. Do you understand? Yes. We need other witnesses. Exactly, Kefe. Have you spoken to the other girls? No, I was waiting to hear if the investigation will go ahead.
Who told you? The investigators. Ill: Faith Ngobeni
But can’t they protect you? It’s my word against his; that’s what they said. And they said he might admit to having a relationship with me, but he’d say I asked for it, because of money or because I love him. What! I can’t believe; they suspend him and then they tell you this! I also couldn’t believe at first. But they’re not being horrible; they’re just telling the truth. I don’t have proof that he raped me or that he molested me. And you know what I realise? Reporting him could hurt me more than him. If I can’t prove he forced me, people will think I’m easy, that I did it for money...
Meanwhile, on the other side of the village, Mrs Pootona is feeling as if all the problems of the world have landed on her head. Her friends have been phoning, supposedly to offer their support but actually to try and find out the reason for the suspension. She knows they are secretly enjoying her humiliation. And at church this morning, everyone looking at her and whispering, she’s never been so embarrassed in her life!
-❦Kefentsˇe is feeling more at ease after seeing Tshereletsˇo, and making some concrete plans. She’s decided she’s going to speak to Posh tomorrow after school, and on Wednesday afternoon Tshereletsˇo is going to take her to where the girl Maki lives. Ra-Maleka is keeping to himself, even eating in his room, and if Ma-Maleka has heard any of the rumours about Mr Pootona she hasn’t said anything to Kefentsˇe. They have a quiet supper together, Ma-Maleka taking food to her husband, the children playing and laughing.
But that’s so unfair! I have to get the other girls to testify. If there are more girls saying the same thing, that he forced us, they have to believe us. They talk for hours, planning how to convince Posh and Maki to testify, and chatting about lighter things, snatching a few moments of relief from their problems.
After supper, Kefentsˇe settles the girls in their room, and she’s walking back to the cooking hut to wash up the plates when she sees a figure opening the gate to their yard. It’s dark and she doesn’t recognise the figure, but something makes her hide. Just then her mother walks out of
So, what are you going to do? Le wena you just sit there as if nothing is happening! But sweetheart, you know it’s all lies. She’s just trying to get money. Don’t “sweetheart” me, do something! Give her money! People are laughing at us!
Ill: Lindiwe Chabalala
the kitchen carrying little Mpho. Dumela, Ma-Maleka. I’m sorry for disturbing your family so late. I’m Mr Pootona, Kefentsˇe’s Maths teacher. Is Ra-Maleka here? I need to speak with him.
It’s about Kefentsˇe. Your child has been telling lies about me, saying that I raped her...
Hiding her shock, Ma-Maleka bows respectfully and hurries across to the rondavel where her husband is eating. A few moments later Ra-Maleka walks into the yard in his vest, wiping his hands on a cloth. The two men exchange greetings and Mr Pootona asks if they can speak in private.
What?! Yes, I was also shocked. She told these lies to a new teacher at school, a young woman, namane ya maloba1, who then reported it to the Department, and now they have put me on suspension. So I have to ask if perhaps there are problems at home that...
Kefentsˇe is gasping for air. She can’t believe he’s come to her home! What does he want with her stepfather? She runs across the yard to the side of the rondavel where there is a small window. It’s open. Rre, I am so sorry to bring bad news. It’s about Kefentsˇe. Your child has been telling lies about me, saying that I raped her... Ill: America Mailula
There are no such problems here! No, of course. Maybe a boy has got her in trouble... What are you saying? Kefentsˇe is a quiet girl. Yes, but you know, I’ve been a teacher for many years. I’ve seen this sort of thing many times; a girl gets mixed up with the wrong group and she changes. But why would Kefentsˇe say such things when you helping her with school fees and the school trip? Ah, you know about... Yes... Well, you see, Kefentsˇe came to me and begged me to pay for her school fees. That’s when she told me about financial problems at home. That is a private family matter! I know, but Kefentsˇe has always been one of my brilliant students. I 1
couldn’t let financial problems ruin her future. I was just trying to help... That was kind of you. And you know, I have even, on a few occasions, given her R20 to help in the family. I know nothing about that! Oh well, maybe she forgot to tell you. Umm... She lied about the school trip; she said it was free. You see! When they start lying they can’t stop. I’m sorry; I’ve disturbed you enough. I must go. I just want Kefentsˇe to stop with these lies, and to tell the Department that she was lying. I will talk to her. Ke a lebogo1... And, Ra-Maleka, I know how hard it is these days; jobs are scarce. I hope you will accept a gift from me from time to time. A sheep, perhaps...
believed or not. He didn’t sound angry. It was more like he was tired... even sad. Well, she’d find out soon enough. But Ra-Maleka doesn’t come back straight away. He just stands at the gate long after Mr Pootona has left. MaMaleka finishes in the kitchen and puts little Mpho to bed. Kefentsˇe goes to her room but doesn’t close the door, so she’ll hear him coming. When he does come back he goes directly to his own room, and she hears him say to her mother, “I want you to tell me everything you know”, before closing the door. His voice sounds almost gentle. Kefentsˇe waits for him to call her but he doesn’t, and she eventually falls asleep. In the morning her mother tells her that he has gone to the city to find work, and that’s all she will say.
Kefentsˇe doesn’t hear the rest of the conversation. Posh was right, she thinks, this Pootona is too clever. But did her stepfather believe him, she wonders. She couldn’t tell from his voice whether he 1
Kefentsˇe is nervous when she arrives at school with Tshereletsˇo; she doesn’t know what to expect. But her girlfriends are happy to see her and immediately start telling her the news about Mr Pootona’s suspension. They don’t know why he’s been suspended, however, and all the students, and the teachers, are asking the same question. In class, Posh gives Kefentsˇe a questioning look but doesn’t say anything.
Kefentsˇe’s plan is to speak to Posh after school, when she doesn’t have Ribs and Minky around as an audience. But the three girls leave together, so Kefentsˇe has no option but to follow. She keeps a good distance behind them and makes up a story about going to buy stationary, just in case they see her. A taxi hoots and pulls up beside the three girls. Kefentsˇe worries that she’s
Ill: Lindiwe Chabalala
going to lose them, but only Minky gets in, sliding across the front seat and giving the driver a long kiss. Posh and Ribs wave and walk on. They stop at a spaza shop and buy cool drinks. Then, a few hundred meters further on, Ribs turns down a side road. Kefentsˇe walks faster and just as she’s close enough to call out to her, Posh turns into a yard and walks to the back of the small house. Kefentsˇe waits across the street, hesitant. Maybe this isn’t her home, she thinks. She was expecting Posh to live in a much bigger house. After about 10 minutes she sees Posh, now wearing a simple green dress, walk outside to hang washing on the line. This must be her home, she thinks, and walks into the yard.
No ways, baby, you’re crazy! I told you reporting him would just lead to trouble. He’s too clever. But if we work together we can beat him. Look, the Department has suspended him; they’re taking it seriously. Yes, and look how the whole village is talking, it’s more popular than “Generations”! I told you before; I don’t need that sort of publicity. But at least speak to the investigators. Maybe they can just take a statement from you or something.
Kefe! What the hell are you doing here? Did you follow me?
Listen! My parents think I’m still a virgin, okay. My father’s a preacher for God’s sake. I can’t risk it. But your clothes and... Don’t be crazy! They know nothing. I keep all my stuff at Ribs’ house. But don’t you want to see Pootona stopped, and punished? I wouldn’t mind, and I wish you luck, but I can’t help you, baby. I’m sorry. Now go! Here’s my Dad. Kefentsˇe rushes out of the yard just as a chubby, smiling man in a worn suit and hat and carrying an old briefcase walks across the street. She slows and turns to watch, and sees Posh skip across the yard like an excited little girl and hug her father. Kefentsˇe is deeply disappointed; she really thought she would be able to convince Posh to at least talk to the investigators. But she won’t push her any more. Seeing Posh in her simple green dress at her simple little house has made Kefentsˇe feel sorry for her. Living a double life and lying to your parents all the time must be a heavy burden, she thinks.
Yes. I have to talk to you. Please. Make it quick; my parents will be home soon. Kefentsˇe quickly tells Posh everything that has happened since they came back from the Science Trip, ending with what the investigators told her about needing other witnesses to testify. She begs Posh to think about testifying, or at least to speak to the investigators.
On the walk home she thinks about the girl Maki. Posh had said that she got Ill: Lindiwe Chabalala
pregnant by Pootona and ran away from home. Tshereletsˇo heard from her cousin at school that the family has nothing to do with her, and that she lives with her child in the mekhukhu area near town. Kefentsˇe hopes she has better luck convincing her to testify. -❦-
street. She looks older than Kefentsˇe expected; she was just a year ahead of her at school. There are only a few loose sweets on the table, and she doesn’t seem to be getting much business. The child pulls himself upright using one of the legs for support, and the table sways unsteadily. Maki grabs his arm and smacks it, pushing him to the ground again and shouting something. Kefentsˇe is shocked at the unnecessary violence.
As the taxi pushes slowly through the crowds, hooting and bouncing over the rough roads, Kefentsˇe can’t believe there are so many people, cattle, goats, and rubbish, all squashed up together. She’s very thankful that Tshereletsˇo insisted on coming with her. They get out at the main taxi rank. Maki’s cousin had told Tshereletsˇo that she Isn’t that her? sells sweets in front of her I think I recognise her from school. mokhukhu, just behind the And look, under big advertising billboard on the table, that the main road going south. must be the
She waits a few more minutes and then says to Tshereletsˇo, “Wait for me here”. But just then an empty taxi pulls up under the billboard and the driver jumps out. They watch as Maki gets up, forces a tired smile, sweeps her sweets into a plastic, picks up the baby, and disappears with the driver into her shack. Kefentsˇe turns to Tshereletsˇo worried that she has missed the opportunity to speak to Maki in private. They decide to wait, and less than five minutes later the driver walks out tying his belt. A few moments later Maki is back at her table, sweets on top, baby underneath. Kefentsˇe doesn’t waste any more time.
They haven’t walked far when Kefentsˇe grabs Tshereletsˇo’s arm and points across the road. “Isn’t that her?” she says, “I think I recognise her from school. And look, under the table, that must be the baby.” They pull back a little, out of the stream of people walking past, and watch the young woman across the 41
Ill: America Mailula
Ill: Faith Ngobeni
Tshereletsˇo watches from across the street. Kefentsˇe squats on her haunches next to Maki, her expression grave. She talks fast, and continues talking even though Maki puts up her hands and then turns her back. Still talking, Kefentsˇe picks up the baby. Suddenly something snaps in Maki and she jumps up and runs to her shack. Kefentsˇe follows with the baby and closes the door behind her. Tshereletsˇo knows he’s supposed to stay out of sight, but the sweets are still on the table. He walks across to make sure that nothing is stolen.
CHAPTER 15 School finishes early on Friday, supposedly so that students have more time to prepare for their exams starting the following week. The real reason, however, is that Mr Morovhi has called a special meeting of all the teachers, the SGB1, and members of the LRC2.
Inside the shack, Maki is sitting on the edge of her bed sobbing. Sometimes I think of killing this child because of the terrible things I have to do just to get food. I was a virgin before. Now any man can have me. I suffer every day looking after this child I didn’t even want. You can’t imagine what it’s like, what I have to do to survive. Sometimes I dream that I’ll wake up and everything will be like before; I’m at home with my parents, going to school, playing netball... When Kefentsˇe comes out of the shack nearly two hours later she looks exhausted. She holds Tshereletsˇo’s hand tightly as they walk back to the taxi rank.
“I keep thinking it could be me in this place, Tshere. It makes me realise how lucky I am.” But is she going to testify? I don’t know. She said she’d think about it. I gave her Ms Seanego’s phone number. But you know what? I can’t force her. She has suffered so much already.
(These last two, it must be said, are something of a joke at Tsˇwelopele High. Since its formation three years ago the SGB, with the local chief as chair, has barely functioned. Firstly, all the elected members were men, and most work far away and return home only a few times a year. And secondly, when they realised that their roles required voluntary work with very little glory their enthusiasm quickly faded. This, together with Mr Morovhi’s willing surrender of responsibility as he approaches retirement, gave Mr Pootona almost complete control of the management of the school. And he certainly didn’t want a strong LRC, so he made sure that this structure remained weak and ineffective.) The chief has come on behalf of the SGB and there’s a lone representative of the LRC, an unpopular Grade 12 student 1 2
School Governing Body. Learners Representative Council.
Mr Morovhi looks rumpled, as always, but there’s a newfound determination in his posture that only the older teachers at the school remember. He gets straight to the point: the purpose of the meeting is to inform those present of the circumstances regarding Mr Pootona’s suspension. He explains that an allegation of sexual assault of a learner by Mr Pootona was reported, and substantiated by a preliminary investigation. Shock and disbelief ripple through the meeting. He then points to Ms Seanego and refers to her as the “courageous, role model teacher who brought this matter to my attention”. Ms Seanego is not at all pleased to be singled out in this way - she hears grumbling from some of the other teachers - and she’s confused by the principal’s words of praise. He knows it’s going badly for Mr Pootona, she thinks, and he wants to take the credit. But she’s wrong. Mr Morovhi then confesses that he had not taken the girl’s story seriously, that he had, to his “everlasting shame”, 43
Ill: Makhawukana Shivambu
Ill: Makhawukana Shivambu
whom Mr Pootona had ‘elected’ president at the beginning of the year.
chased the girl and Ms Seanego out of his office, and it was Ms Seanego who had reported the matter to the District Office. In the stunned silence that follows this announcement he goes on to explain that, as a result, he too is being investigated for misconduct, and that he will certainly be disciplined, perhaps even lose his post as principal. And I deserve to be disciplined! I failed to uphold the educators’ code of conduct. I failed to follow Department procedures. I failed to support one of my teachers. And, most serious of all, I failed one of my learners in a time of crisis. But until we know what is to happen to me, I am still the principal of this school and I intend to perform that duty to the best of my ability. Mr Morovhi sits down, his back straight and his head up, ready for whatever is coming. The silence drags. People begin to shuffle nervously. Then Ms Seanego gets to her feet and slowly begins to clap. After a moment’s hesitation others follow her lead, though not all with the same sincerity. -❦-
Teachers are as human as anyone else so, although Mr Morovhi had stressed the importance of confidentiality, by Saturday morning the news that Mr Pootona’s suspension is linked to sexual assault has spread throughout the village. Naturally everyone is curious to know the identity of the girl, and it doesn’t take long for this information to leak out. As chair of the SGB, the chief had been given a copy of the Charge Sheet, which he showed his wife, in the strictest confidence. She told her sister, again in the strictest confidence, and she told her best friend, and in no time the whole village knows that it is Kefentsˇe Maleka who is accusing Mr Pootona. It’s the hot gossip of the moment and everyone has an opinion, as this example of women preparing food for a funeral shows:
Hai, it’s highly impossible, such a respectable man? Never! Gape dikatawane ga di na di1 ‘R’ printed on their foreheads. Even fathers can rape their children. We might never know. Ga se tsˇe di le tee2. Do you still remember there was a rumour about a pregnant girl who left the village and another one who committed suicide? This shows that we’re not involved enough in school matters. That’s why these things aren’t taken seriously. But how does one get involved if you are not a teacher?
But she can’t avoid the woman who walks into her yard on Sunday afternoon. Kefentsˇe has gone with Tshereletsˇo and the other children to fetch water, so she’s alone. The woman, Ma-Ragele, apologises for trespassing but says that she has to speak with her about this Pootona business, as one mother to
Ma-Maleka has had very little contact with other adults since the problems started at home, so she doesn’t hear any of these discussions. But on her walks to collect wood she notices people pointing and whispering, and one or two of her old friends have even stopped her to express their sympathy. She just nods and walks on, her mind buzzing with conflicting thoughts. On the one hand she is worried that Kefentsˇe will get into trouble and bring more problems on the family. On the other she feels a growing pride in her daughter’s determination.
another. She tells Ma-Maleka that she is the mother of the schoolgirl who committed suicide some years back. And, yes, Pootona was involved but he was not the reason her daughter killed herself. I blame myself for her death. She came to me and told me Pootona was abusing her, but I didn’t believe her. I refused to talk about it. And the next morning... I’ve kept this secret for so long, but now that news is flying about Pootona I feel strengthened to not let history repeat itself. I know it’s very difficult to talk about these things, since tradition encourages sex matters to remain hidden. And I know it’s none of my business, but I hope you believe and support your child because she needs you now more than ever. That night, when the children have gone to bed, Ma-Maleka asks Kefentsˇe to sit with her in the kitchen. They talk late into the night even though Kefentsˇe is in the middle of writing exams.
Rapists have no... It’s not only this one. Ill: Faith Ngobeni
CHAPTER 16 The next week passes quickly for Kefentsˇe as she tries to push all other worries out of her mind and concentrate on her exams. The mood at home has changed with Ra-Maleka away, and MaMaleka seems to be growing in energy and in self-confidence every day. She has even started to sing some of Gogo’s old songs while she’s working. On Friday Ms Seanego tells Kefentsˇe that she has received a phone call from Maki’s mother. Maki has returned home and told her parents everything that happened to her, and they want to meet the investigators. And not ten minutes later, as she’s leaving school with Tshereletsˇo, Posh calls her aside. I’ve decided to help you against Pootona. I don’t want you to become like me. Living a two-way life is not so easy as it looks. But I’ll only do it if the Department promises to keep my name out of it, and that I don’t have to go to the hearing. -❦On Monday the investigators’ car is already at school when Kefentsˇe arrives to write her exam, but they only ask to 45
see her later in the day. They thank her for speaking to the other witnesses, and tell her that Maki’s testimony, in particular, will greatly strengthen their case against Mr Pootona. Because Posh is refusing to testify at the hearing, her testimony will have to be taken in front of a Commissioner of Oaths in town. They explain that a written testimony is never as strong as a witness because it cannot be cross-examined. Nevertheless, Posh’s testimony will further supports Kefentsˇe’s allegations, and it adds another accusation against Mr Pootona to the list.
Early the following Monday Kefentsˇe and Tshereletsˇo travel through to the district offices of the Department of Education with Ms Seanego. Maki and her parents travel with Mr Sebego. They meet the investigator/prosecutor and he takes them to a room with comfortable chairs and magazines and tells them that he will call them when they are needed to testify. A little later a woman psychologist comes to speak to Maki and her parents and they leave the room for a while. When they come back they explain that the psychologist is going to help Maki present her testimony.
The male investigator then tells Kefentsˇe that he will be the prosecutor at the hearing. He will present the evidence against Mr Pootona, and then call in witnesses one by one. He will ask them to explain in their own words what happened or what they saw. The defendant’s representative then has the opportunity to cross-examine each witness. This can be tough because he will try to undermine the witnesses’ credibility, to show that they are lying or that they have made a mistake. “But in this case the evidence is so strong,” he says, “I doubt if Mr Pootona’s representative will have much to say.”
Kefentsˇe is the first witness to be called. She is led into an ordinary room and seated at a table. There are three other tables in the room; directly in front of her is the presiding office, to her left is the prosecutor, and to her right, though she doesn’t look at them, are Mr Pootona and another man who must be his representative. The presiding officer asks Kefentsˇe to introduce herself and to say where she’s at school. He then tells her that she needs to swear or affirm, depending on her religion and beliefs, that what she is about to say will be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. She swears. The prosecutor then asks her to tell the presiding officer exactly what happened between her and Mr Pootona.
Kefentsˇe has been through this in her head so many times that it comes out easily. She ends by recounting the conversation she overheard between her stepfather and Mr Pootona. The presiding officer then invites Mr Pootona’s representative to crossexamine. For the first time Kefentsˇe looks across and sees them huddled together, Mr Pootona whispering urgently and looking Ms Maleka, do you make a habit of lying?
frustrated, perhaps even frightened. The presiding officer repeats his request, irritation in his voice. The representative apologises for keeping the hearing waiting, and then turns to Kefentsˇe. Ms Maleka, do you make a habit of lying?
Yes, but I told you, I didn’t want to embarrass my stepfather. So did you tell your stepfather what you claim happened on the school trip? No, Sir. So you lied to him again?
But you admit you lied to your parents about the school trip being free?
No, I told my mother. And did your mother believe you? Not at first, but now she believes me. And what did you buy with the money you claim Mr Pootona gave you? Nothing. I didn’t want his money... Nothing! You tell us your family is very poor, that your father is not working, and that you receive R90 but you do not spend it. I find this very hard to believe. And this sheep that you say Mr Pootona promised your father, have you seen it, or eaten it perhaps? No. My stepfather has gone to the city to look for work. How very convenient. I have no more questions for this witness.
Ill: America Mailula
The presiding officer invites the prosecutor to re-examine the witness. Kefentsˇe, do you still have the money that Mr Pootona gave you?
the defendant’s representative to present mitigating and aggravating circumstances. And only then will the presiding officer decide on the sanction. In Section 17 cases such as this the sanction is almost always dismissal.
Yes. Do you have it with you? Yes, it’s here in this envelope. Two R20 and a R50. Thank you, Kefentsˇe. No more questions. The presiding officer thanks Kefentsˇe, and the prosecutor leads her out of the room. On the way back to the waiting room he tells her that she did very well. He asks Ms Seanego to come with him as his next witness. Mr Sebego is next, then Tshereletsˇo, and finally Maki. She returns sobbing and her parents and the psychologist take her to another room to comfort her. The prosecutor explains that there will be a short break for lunch after which Mr Pootona has the opportunity to answer the allegations and to call witnesses of his own. He doesn’t seem to have any witnesses, however, so the proceedings should move quickly to the presiding officer’s verdict. The prosecutor is confident that he will find Mr Pootona guilt. There is then an opportunity for 47
When the prosecutor leaves the room both Kefentsˇe and Tshereletsˇo turn to Ms Seanego and ask her to translate what the prosecutor just said. She laughs and says, “With any luck it will all be over by this afternoon”. Ms Seanego and Mr Sebego use the time to mark exam papers. Kefentsˇe and Tshereletsˇo read magazines. Maki comes back with her parents and seems more relaxed. She and Kefentsˇe go to the toilet and Maki tells her that the psychologist has given them advice about how to claim child maintenance from Mr Pootona. They have to make a civil case and get DNA proof that the baby is his, and just that costs over R1 000, but then he can’t deny that he is the father. My parents are being so kind. They are going to help with the baby so I can go back to school next year. I must really thank you, Kefe. There’s no need to thank me. When I think of what you’ve been through... I don’t know if I would have had your courage.
At 3 o’clock the prosecutor comes to tell them that the presiding officer has found Mr Pootona guilty. Now they’re just waiting for him to decide on the sanction. Half an hour later he’s back with the news that Mr Pootona has been dismissed. He thanks them all for being witnesses, especially Kefentsˇe and Maki who have been so strong and shown such determination. Maki and her parents go off with Mr Sebego. Ms Seanego invites Kefentsˇe and Tshereletsˇo for chips and a cool drink “to celebrate”. What is it, Kefe? It just doesn’t feel like enough punishment for what he did... You’re right, it doesn’t. But remember, he’s not only dismissed, he can never work again as a teacher. And if Maki and her parents take him to court for child maintenance he will most likely be charged with statutory rape because she was under age when he made her pregnant. It’s not over for Mr Pootona yet! I promise you he’ll suffer for what he’s done. Ill: Joy Manganyi
CHAPTER 17 The news of Mr Pootona’s guilt and dismissal has a marked effect on the community. Up to this point it had all seemed unreal, like a soap opera, and people had enjoyed the opportunity to gossip. But as the full details of Mr Pootona’s crimes leak out, a more serious attitude starts to develop. Parents begin asking themselves how such things could have happened right under their noses; how such a man could reach the position of deputy principal and church deacon without them suspecting anything. They start talking to their children, and begin to understand how little they actually know about their lives and their day-today activities. They realise how much trust and responsibility they place in the hands of teachers, and how removed they are from the running of the schools in their community. There is also a change in attitude among the students at Tsˇwelopele High, especially the Grade 11s, and motivated in large part by Tshereletsˇo. He has grown a lot in the past weeks; firstly having to deal with his rage and sense of powerlessness; then being exposed to the disciplinary process and realising that there are structures and procedures to protect learners. In the waiting room at the district office he had started to read a
manual about the establishment and running of a Learners’ Representative Council. He asked the prosecutor if he could keep it and had been given five copies to circulate among students. During the last week of school, while the teachers are busy marking exam papers, he organises meetings of the Grade 11s to discuss the formation of a strong LRC in their Matric year. A few students are suspicious, saying that he’s only doing this because of what happened to his girlfriend, but most respond positively, eager to take on responsibilities and to help build a school in which they can be proud. Mr Morovhi is also busy during the last week of school, motivating his teachers and encouraging learners to tidy the school grounds. Everyone is surprised by his renewed energy. A few of the teachers suspect he’s just trying to protect his job, but they’re soon carried along by his infectious enthusiasm. On the last day of school, he calls a final assembly and makes an inspiring speech. He talks about the shocking events that have shaken the very foundations of the school, pays tribute to the courage of the student who reported the incident, and thanks the teachers who supported her. He takes full responsibility for having allowed these terrible things to happen, blaming himself for not being more Ill: Makhawukana Shivambu
vigilant and more actively involved in the management of the school. He apologises to the students and to the teachers and ends by saying, “I only hope that I shall have the opportunity to undo my mistakes”. With their final year-end reports each student also receives a letter addressed to their parents or guardians requesting their presence at a special meeting over the weekend to discuss recent events at the school and the way forward. -❦This is the first school meeting that MaMaleka has attended since Kefentsˇe started high school. She sits with MaRagele, whom the principal invited even though she no longer has a child at the school. It is the largest gathering anyone has ever seen at the school, many more parents than usual, all the teachers, members of the SGB, and a good number of students.
Addressing himself specifically to the parents, Mr Morovhi explains exactly what has been happening at the school that led to the suspension and subsequent dismissal of Mr Pootona. Again, to everyone’s surprise, he also confesses his failure to report the matter when it was first brought to his attention, and takes full responsibility for everything that has happened during his term of office as principal. Two days’ ago I attended my own disciplinary hearing, for negligence in failing to report. My sanction is a fine of two month’s pay, a judgment I willingly accept. I also want to publicly apologise to the learner and her parents, and to the teacher who brought this matter to my attention.
The discussion that follows is lively yet surprisingly focussed. Many parents stand up and say that they too must take some of the responsibility; they need to become more involved in the school and in the education of their children. MaRagele stands and tells her tragic story, and encourages parents to be more open to discuss things, even sexual matters, with their children. Tshereletsˇo stands and tells of the students’ plans, already discussed with Mr Morovhi, to revitalise the RCL and to start the new school year with a campaign to create awareness about sexual harassment and abuse. As the three-year term of the original SGB is almost at an end, a new SGB is elected, with a much higher proportion of women this time. -❦-
As many of you know, I am due to retire at the end of next year. I have been teaching for almost 40 years, and the thought of leaving the profession under such a cloud is too terrible. There are many things at Tsˇwelopele High that are not as they should be. As principal, I pledge to do everything in my power to set them right. But we all need to work together - parents, teachers and learners. Together we shall succeed! 49
Kefentsˇe and Tshereletsˇo are sitting together in the yard at her home, enjoying the late afternoon sun. MaMaleka and the children are laughing as they chase their new chickens into the new coup that Tshereletsˇo has built for them next to the vegetable garden. After much discussion, this is how they had decided to spend Mr Pootona’s money. Kefentsˇe has just finished telling Tshereletsˇo about the R500 that her
mother received from Ra-Maleka, delivered by a man returning from the city, together with a letter saying that some of the money is to be used to pay her school fees for the next year. He’s also trying to correct his mistakes. You’re right. Mama says he ran away to the city because he felt powerless to do anything about Pootona. It’s amazing, you know, since this whole story began, with something so terrible, how many good things have come out of it. It’s true... There’s just one thing I have to know before I can close this chapter in my life. And that’s how what Pootona did to me will affect us. We’ve never talked about it. I’m no longer a virgin and... Stop! There’s nothing to talk about. He forced you. You did nothing wrong, nothing. The first time we make love will be the first time for both of us. Thank you, Tshere. I love you.
Lindiwe Chabalala (heart), Rishongile Maluleke, Joy Manganyi, Faith Ngobeni and Makhawukana Shivambu (border).
The first time we make love will be the first time for both of us. Thank you, Tshere. I love you.
Speaking out against sexual harassment and assault in schools. Story developed and illustrated with girls (14-18 years) from rural Limpopo....