Unions 'soft on rape'
Two NGOs have asked teachers' unions not to represent members accused of rape at Education Department disciplinary hearings.
They have branded the rape of pupils as "systemic".
In the face of rising complaints against teachers, and the difficulty of getting them fired, Lawyers Against Abuse and Section27 have asked unions to take a stand against teachers accused of raping pupils.
Bonita Meyersfeld, of Lawyers Against Abuse, said: "Unions provide representation to teachers accused of rape and push the [Department of Education] to reinstate them.
"Lawyers against Abuse and Section27 have been calling on trade unions not to provide representation when the teacher is accused of raping a child."
But the general-secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers' Union, Mugwena Maluleke, said that in terms of the Labour Relations Act it had to offer members legal assistance at disciplinary hearings.
"If we deny members help, they could sue us."
But he said anyone found guilty of sexual assault would have his union membership rescinded.
National and Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA president Basil Manuel said : "A member is entitled to representation and must be seen as innocent until proved guilty."
The SA Council for Educators' 2011-2012 annual report reveals that it received 126 complaints of sexual misconduct by teachers between April 2011 and March 2012.
But only five teachers were fired for rape in 2011, according to the figures Basic Minister of Education Angie Motshekga released in parliament late last year.
In 2012, no teachers were dismissed for sexual assault, though 36 complaints were received and six investigations started.
Meyersfeld said teachers accused of sexual misconduct should pay their own legal fees. She said it had taken her NGO five lawyers, hundreds of hours of work and many months to get one teacher dismissed for rape by the Gauteng education department last year.
The teacher is appealing his dismissal.
"More than 60% of the victims are 16 years old or younger," said Meyersfeld.
National Education Department spokesman Charles Phahlane said: "We take very strong action against educators accused of sexual misconduct and suspend them pending an investigation."
Meyersfeld trained about 100 Gauteng education department officials last year in the holding of effective disciplinary hearings of teachers accused of rape.
She said that in many instances the allegation would be dismissed because investigators believed they had to prove the rape beyond reasonable doubt.
"However, a disciplinary hearing requires a decision made on the balance of probabilities."
Section 27's Nikki Stein said: "In no way do we want to undermine procedural fairness of hearings but we call on unions to take a stand against teachers accused of rapes and not condone their conduct."