SA's most expensive private school, Hilton College, in dagga scandal

10 June 2019 - 16:33 By Tania Broughton
The country's most expensive private school has taken action against two pupils on drug-related charges.
The country's most expensive private school has taken action against two pupils on drug-related charges.
Image: Hilton College via Facebook

South Africa’s most expensive and exclusive school, Hilton College, has been hit by a drugs scandal which has already resulted in the suspension of two pupils.

Several sources at the school said several dozen pupils might be implicated in buying and selling dagga - although the school says ongoing investigations so far indicate that the number is "significantly lower".

One of those suspended is part of the leadership of the school and the school has offered "amnesty" to those who confess about involvement.

In a letter to parents dated June 6 - which TimesLIVE has a copy of - headmaster George Harris said he had been made aware of a report of "alleged substance abuse among a number of our senior boys".

"Although disturbing, this information is not yet confirmed. However, I am not naive to this practice among adolescents, as experimentation is rife in these years.

"My messaging has been, and remains clear. Boys know that the consequences for dabbling in this practice are severe."

Harris says he addressed pupils in grades 10, 11 and matric and "made them aware that we are following up on information that implicates a number of them".

"I have offered the boys an amnesty to admit to their involvement or participation.

"This will not translate into zero consequences but will serve as a mitigating factor should their involvement be proved."

He asked parents to encourage their sons to speak the truth.

The school’s director of marketing, Pete Storrar, told TimesLIVE: "As we are still going through a process, there is a limit to how much I can share at present.

"But I can confirm two boys were suspended last week, pending further investigation on allegations relating to dagga usage and an amnesty period was provided."

He said the number of pupils involved was "significantly lower" than what was being speculated.

The use of dagga for "personal use" was decriminalised by the Constitutional Court last year.

An educator at another private school, who did not wish to be named, said while some schools had "zero tolerance" drug policies, others were not so strict. For example, if a pupil was caught in possession of dagga on school premises, he or she might just get a warning.

Hilton College - which has 500 boarders - overtook Michaelhouse as being the most expensive school in South Africa when it raised its annual fees this year to R300,000.

The right of private schools to expel errant pupils was entrenched last year by a ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal which found that the relationship between schools and parents was a contractual one which schools were entitled to terminate as long as there was nothing which offended any constitutional values or was contrary to public policy.

Hilton College's substance-abuse policy clearly states that being found in a compromised position regarding illegal substances carries the "strongest school sanction".

"The arguments in mitigation if one was found to be in a compromised position regarding illegal substances, eg being on holiday or off campus at the time, do not hold up against this policy. In other words, should a boy test positive for an illegal substance, regardless of where or when this imbibing occurred, he will be subject to our strongest sanction," the policy states.

"We believe that when one signs up to Hilton, one makes the decision to live by the codes and practices that have defined, and continue to define, gentlemanly behaviour in its fullest sense and as such ethics in all matters, and especially concerning illegal substances, is our gold standard."