By Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu
Among clients waiting to be served at Mater Dei Hospital’s casualty section is a rape victim (12), a learner at Rhodes Estate Primary School (REPS) who together with a friend was sexually abused at the boarding school after attending evening studies.
The Grade Seven pupil is seeking medical attention 26 days after she was allegedly raped by REPS deputy boarding master Mlibazisi Bhebhe.
Bhebhe, is already on the run after reportedly being tipped off by his colleagues at REPS, a development which is likely to diminish the girls’ hope for justice.
Normally, her misfortune was supposed to be reported within 72 hours after the incident for the prevention of HIV, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.
This is ideal for the purposes of collecting evidence and recollection of evidence while memory is still fresh and perpetrators can be apprehended.
Medical practitioners also recommend that rape victims report before they even take a bath after the incident to enable them to extract fresh evidence which includes semen and blood DNA.
The medical examination, conducted more than 600 hours later, is the only hope the family has to prove alleged sexual abuse scandals happening at REPS.
The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23) Section 76 (a) states that given the circumstances, REPS authorities may be charged as a co perpetrator.
Parents have alleged that REPS authorities connived with Bhebhe whose age, last known address and any detail that can help identify the suspect remain a mystery.
Article 19 of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), defines the scope of violence as “all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development contains a bold and ambitious call to end violence against children, acknowledging its eradication as a key component of sustainable development.
A fact sheet compiled by Parliament of Zimbabwe’s research department says teachers and school workers happen to be among the main perpetrators of child sexual abuse.
It said some teachers rape their pupils while others abused minors through writing love letters, fondling, kissing or hugging, attempted rape and showing pornographic material.
Pouring out his heart to Chronicle, the girl’s father said REPS authorities should be charged for letting Bhebhe escape at the expense of his daughter’s sanity.
He said the school deliberately delayed informing police and the parents of the issue just to prove they support the alleged rapist.
The man said he still cannot stomach the fact that school authorities treated the rape issue as trivial when his daughter is struggling to come to terms with the violation.
“My daughter and her friend were raped on May 7 this year but for some reason we were told on June 1 when the rapist was nowhere to be found. I know nothing will reverse events and bring back my girl’s innocence but I blame the school, they played a part in destroying my daughter,” he says.
“I tried involving the police and they too could not give me details on what transpired because at first they told us no docket was opened as there were no tangible details on the rape issue. Their sense of urgency regarding this issue is questionable and I believe that many of our girls are being abused with the blessing of the authorities.”
The man said his daughter, while her peers are enjoying holiday break, is undergoing counselling services.
He said the second girl, whose parents are based in South Africa, is also struggling to accept what befell them.
“These two girls were raped just after evening studies after Bhebhe asked them to remain behind at school,” he said.
“I understand the matter was reported to the matron who told the deputy head, Ms Ncube but none of them thought of informing us or at least making a report to police.”
According to the girl’s father, REPS chose to protect Bhebhe, who had been employed for nine years, instead of exposing his paedophile tendencies.
He adds that Bhebhe was tipped off to escape during the internal investigation.
“We used to think that our children are safe in schools but REPS has made us realise that even schools can breed and defend rapists,” he said, adding that he flew back home from Australia to attend to his child’s case.
“I am the first line of defence for my baby girl and when such a thing happens you tend to blame yourself and it really hurts to see her suffer mentally without any signs of ever getting better. My girl was raped while in the custody of the school by a man we trusted to take care of our children, it is very disturbing.”
The father said the way the school handled the rape case, leaves them speculating that the perpetrator could have sexually violated more learners while authorities have been covering up.
“I really think the ministry should not open that school until a thorough investigation is conducted and parents are assured of the safety of their children,” he said.
“For now, we can safely confirm that REPS is doing its best to sweep this under the carpet, just like they have been doing with a lot of cases that have been happening at this school.”
He said they were also shocked to learn that the school conducted internal investigations in a criminal matter only to be attended by police.
A teacher at the school told the news crew that following the internal investigations, Bhebhe justified himself by producing a letter purportedly written by the minor victims allegedly requesting that he has sex with them.
Legally, no one under the age of 16 can consent to sex.
Matabeleland South acting police provincial spokesperson Assistant Inspector Thabani Mkhwananzi said police were investigating the matter and the suspect is on the run.
“Police are investigating the case from the day it was brought to the attention of the police with the view to apprehend the suspect who is on the run. We call on the public who might know his whereabouts to contact our police station in Matopo or any nearest Police Station,” said Asst Insp Mkwananzi.
In a letter dated June 4 to parents, REPS School Development Committee chairperson Mr Brian Phiri said: “We would like to inform you that the school has received and is dealing with a reported case of sexual abuse concerning two of our learners. The alleged perpetrator is Mr Mlibazisi Bhebhe an assistant matron responsible for the boys.”
Child rights activist Mr Alfred Ncube said the REPS rape case was an example of what can happen if authorities do not prioritise the protection of children.
“This will have a huge psychological impact to the social life of the children as some might even fail to build relationship due to their painful experience during childhood as a result of sexual abuse.
“As a child protection advocate, my heart bleeds to see duty bearers of children’s rights failing to act their responsibility. There is need for more awareness raising and educating the duty bearers not to bury such incidents as they impact negatively on the survivor,” he said.
“If the girls go back to the same school where authorities failed to assist them, there are likely to suffer a negative mental effect. It may also impact their academic performance since they are in Grade Seven and preparing for the final public examinations,” said Mr Ncube.
He also says REPS authorities must be put to task to act and if they cannot, other stakeholders like police can be engaged to bring best intervention.
“Therefore, there is need for immediate psychosocial support for the girls to help them cope with their experience. This will also provide an opportunity to assess how they were psychologically affected and help to devise best intervention strategies,” adds Mr Ncube.
REPS, which was previously a boys-only school, introduced girls in 2016 following poor enrolment.
The school argued that the enrolment was low and affecting income generation to pay staff.
The school pays all but three of its staffers who are Government employees.
The school opted for girls as a strategy to boost numbers which would enable them to pay salaries.
Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Cain Mathema said it is the responsibility of schools to report cases of such a nature.
“Rape is a criminal offence; the school should have followed the normal procedures and reported to the police that such a crime has been committed. Rape is rape. The parents and guardians have the right to also report as soon as they detect such things,” he said.
Commenting on the alleged sloppiness of the school in reporting the matter, Minister Mathema said there should be no intimidation of parents from any school authorities.
“What had happened for the parents and guardians to report the school for dragging. Something is not right. The children do not belong to the school but to the parents, even when rape occurs in the family, it must go straight to the police.
“It is the role of the parents to protect children in any place, even if it is not their child. The rules apply for cases in schools or in homes, crime must be reported as soon as it is discovered.
“Those who seem not to want to report such cases are also criminals or part of the matter,” said Minister Mathema. The Chronicle