The recently released crime statistics reveal the failure, not only of the police, but of all South Africans, in not doing everything possible to address crime. However, over September and October 2009 The Times took on community apathy in their coverage of a child abuse story, keeping the issue in the public eye through various stories and two editorials, until there was some action on the case. For this, The Times and reporters Zandile Mbabele, Werner Swart, Kim Hawkey, Lauren Cohen, deserve a Glad nomination.1
The first story (“Justice perverted”, 17/09/2009, p. 1) told readers how the sexual assault trial of the headmaster of a school in Heidelberg had dragged on for 11 years while he continued to have access to girls as a teacher.
The second story (“Rapist back at school”, 18/09/2009, p. 1) followed up and found the perpetrator back at the school the very next day. The editorial that day (“Sex offender goes back to school to be among children”, p. 18) condemned the failure of the justice system for the length of the trail and the failure of the Department of Education to protect children from a convicted rapist.
In line with the editor’s statement that “we must show zero tolerance for those who prey on our children”, the newspaper again followed up the story on 28 September 2009 (“’The community let him get away with it’”, p. 1) with the statements of a former deputy head girl on the behaviour of the headmaster. The Department of Education is contacted to see if he has been suspended.
On 30 September 2009, there is another follow-up story (“Jury out on rapist principal”, p. 7), in which the Department of Education said that the decision had not yet been made to suspend the principal. The article also mentions that the Department of Education is aware of the conviction through press coverage.
The final story, entitled “Sex pest head of school suspended”, 02/10/2009, p. 5), and an editorial provided on the same day (“Take a stand and root out predators in our schools”, p. 22) show that the continued pressure on the Department of Education was successful in ensuring that this man is no longer in a position where he has access to female learners. The editorial also encourages all citizens to be involved in ensuring sexual predators are no longer in our schools, reminding readers that all members of society have responsibilities toward children.
The newspaper devoted the time and resources of four journalists, one photographer and the editor in order to bring about the removal of this headmaster.
Media Monitoring Africa would like to congratulateThe Times for a job well done in using the full power of the media, and dedicating its resources, to effect change. We hope that they will follow up similar cases, such as a school principal from Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal (mentioned in the story from 02/10/2009), to ensure action and to continue to encourage citizens to be active in protecting children. After all, crime is not an issue for the justice system alone, but the responsibility of every person in South Africa, and the media, to do what they can when they become aware of crime.
NB. An email was sent to Saturday Star to give them an opportunity to respond to the commentary and nomination, but no response was received.