By Robin Muchetu
More rape cases at Rhodes Estate Preparatory School (REPS) in Matobo District could have been swept under the carpet over the years as reports of five more victims have surfaced, all done by the alleged perpetrator, Mlibazisi Bhebhe.
Initially, reports from the School Development Association, police and Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education indicated that two pupils had reported that they were raped but further investigation by this Sunday News revealed that some cases were swept under the carpet.
A Sunday News crew on Friday last week visited the compound which houses employees of the school where disturbed workmates of the accused spoke out exposing Bhebhe (32) who is on the run. They, however, had good things to say about him despite the rape allegations.
“We lived with him and his family and we had no problems with him, we trusted him and never saw any odd behaviour from him, he was a respectable man and father. He had been a worker at the school for a long time. A very respected man who was the darling of the school authorities and parents such that when news broke out that he had raped pupils we were shocked. He was responsible, dignified and well-groomed such that they gave him the post of being a hostel master in 2012.
“What we have gathered is that this case was one of many sexual crimes that he committed here at the school. There are two other pupils who left the school last year who were raped by him but it was not reported to the police but was raised at the school. The total number of learners we can confirm are seven and of different ages,” claimed one of Bhebhe’s workmates.
Allegations are that last year, Bhebhe received a letter from one of the two pupils who made a report of rape.
“Bhebhe found a two paged letter on his bed in the hostel which was from one of the victims where she was proposing love to him. He showed school authorities and nothing was done. He was told that the learner would be disciplined and that he must not speak about the matter as it would tarnish the image of the school. That was the beginning of all the problems in the school.
“The school did not act on that letter and the advances from the learner in question continued and it looks like Bhebhe gave in and started a sexual relationship with her. When he was eventually called for a hearing about the alleged rape before schools closed, he used that letter as evidence that the pupils initiated the process. That is the time they should have called the police to arrest him because they had heard of the issue and he was actually justifying himself using the letter,” said the source.
The source suggested that Bhebhe was protected by school officials.
“The challenge is that when investigations were made for the case, the five other cases of sexual abuse were swept under the carpet and the police are not aware that there were more cases against him that span over a period of five years. The school protected him, when they saw that the case was now strong against him, that is when they decided to take action by calling the police and he then fled. The day he fled he passed through our houses wearing shorts, carrying a small bag, he did it so casually that people assumed he was just taking a walk yet he was running away from the school,” he said.
Fellow workers allege that Bhebhe had intelligence that he was to be picked up by the police on the day he fled.
“Why we say the school protected him and told him to flee is that, exactly 30 minutes after he left, a police car arrived at his house looking for him and he was nowhere to be found and his phone was now unreachable. That was not a coincidence. Bhebhe was aware that the police were to pick him up that day,” he added.
Bhebhe’s younger sister, Simingenkosi could not hide her disappointment over the matter saying her brother must come and answer for his alleged crimes. She also said his wife has since left the house they were living in at the school.
“She left the following day after ubhudi left. The day he vanished she was called to REPS and was told of the matter, so I went to see her after work and she was in a terrible state and could hardly talk. All she was doing was crying, she couldn’t get hold of him on the phone as she wanted to also hear what transpired. The next morning, she said she was going to the village at Matopo Mission where the elders are as she could not manage to contain herself alone,” she said, holding back tears.
Simingenkosi approached the school authorities but they could not furnish her with any details.
“All we want is to talk to him and find out what transpired because a lot is hearsay, we do not know the truth for now. No one is telling us, his family, what happened. If ever he did it, it was very uncharacteristic of him, we do not know this side of him. He was loved by school authorities and started staying with the pupils in 2012. He did it so well that school authorities and parents treated him so well. As we speak his child who is in grade five had all school uniforms purchased by parents as a thank you for the good work he was doing. They assisted him in so many ways, they even sent him money and he would show us. He was doing his job well and was trusted. Some parents would also donate uniforms to him when their children left the school. That’s how good he was with the children,” she said.
The issue of rape was reported at the close of the school’s first term by the School Development Association. The Sunday News