By HotNews Investigative Team led by Senior Reporter Zolile Menzelwa
Once renowned as the bastion of morality, referred to with reverence by the locals as “KwaSirayeli” – holy ground of Israel, having produced some of the most highly respected and honourable, intellectual, luminaries in the country, it looks like Bethel College in Butterworth has now descended into a cesspit of institutionalised sexual abuse.
The HotNews investigative team has completed two months of trying to prise open a tight can full of sexual scandals that could make even the most seasoned movie-script writer seem like a novice.
Current and former learners who were victims of sexual and emotional abuse have opened up to HotNews about their lives at Bethel, which they all refer to as “my life’s deepest nightmare”.
MATRICULAND EXPELLED FOR BLOWING THE WHISTLE
Vusumzi (surname known to HotNews but withheld for safety reasons), a matriculand at Bethel, was expelled on Tuesday ostensibly for speaking out against the inaction by school authorities when informed of incidents of sexual abuse by staff members perpetrated against learners and learner-on-learner sexual abuse.
Vusumzi claims that he informed the school authorities about this after several of his female friends confided horrific accounts of abuse at the hands of both staff and fellow learners. HotNews spoke to many of the learners that have been victims and all of them confirmed that reporting to the school authorities was known to be a futile exercise because teachers and matrons laughed off the situation and instead accuse the victims of being the cause of sexual advances by male staff and male learners.
After posting on Facebook, Vusumzi received text messages from the Preceptor (Boarding Master) accused of sexually abusing girls at the hostel. In the screenshot below, his name appears as Lungisa. HotNews knows the surname but our legal team have advised that, since criminal cases may accrue from this, at this stage we should stick to the first name as published on Facebook.
(Click on the image to make it bigger)
Vusumzi told HotNews that hours after he had posted about the matter on Facebook he was informed by the school authorities just before school went out that his uncle was on his way to fetch him, that he had been expelled and should pack all his belongings. Upon enquiring as to why he was being expelled he was told that the Preceptor had found him with drugs.
Vusumzi told HotNews that in 2017 he had succumbed to peer pressure and started using drugs which are apparently freely available at the school and was discovered by school authorities. He was given a warning.
HotNews spoke to Vusumzi’s father, Dennis (his real name but surname withheld to protect the child) who confirmed flying down from Johannesburg to be part of that disciplinary process but knows nothing about a recent drug-abuse incident involving his son.
Dennis sent HotNews the details of a mobile phone number, “traced to be drawing signal from a tower close to Bethel”, whose owner called his son and made death threats to him. “The caller told my son never to set foot in Butterworth again or else he will die”. Dennis arrived in Eastern Cape on Thursday to deal with the matter, including opening a case against the caller.
HotNews spoke to Mrs Manyuki, the principal of Bethel College, and asked her if indeed Vusumzi was not at school. She confirmed that indeed he was not but denied that he had been expelled for any sexual abuse story. “He has just been suspended for using drugs, not expelled. We have the evidence”.
After HotNews had received the response from the principal, Vusumzi later told us that the principal had called begging him to come back to school and “a solution that excludes the media will be found”. Below is a screenshot of the incoming call to Vusumzi’s phone, with the same mobile number that HotNews had used to speak to the principal.
Quizzed about his views on returning to the school, Vusumzi told HotNews that he’s not only fearing for his life but is scared that the staff members may ill-treat him badly after this incident and does not wish to return to the school.
After HotNews asked one of the former learners who had spoken boldly against this matter on social media to inform others to contact us, we received numerous WhatsApp messages which made our investigative team cringe upon reading them.
THE HORROR STORIES
A very bold Mandisa Jakavula, former learner at Bethel, decided to open up publicly about her ordeal at the school. It’s a blood-chilling story of gang-rape. Below is an unedited transcript of what she posted on her Facebook page.
“Ive been contemplating on whether or not to pubicly write about the horrific events that happened when i was in bethel. Truth is, 4 years later im still scared of the negativity im going to get from people and the last thing i want peole to think of me is loving attention. But i
Know im stroger than that so here goes.
2014 i was in Bethel, my first year there. I was doing grade 9. Long story short there was this one day, twas a friday a bit cloudy, a sports day, Where i would lose everything. I like to think that i got spiked, it was planned this thing, thoroughly i know it was. So we were at the sports field when i started to feel nauseous. I asked my friend to accompany me to the toilet cuz i wasnt feeling well. On our way there she got called by someone for her to go back to the sport field.
When i got to the china building there was no one, literally no one. I got to the toilet, i remember that and unfortunately everything that happened after that was a blur. The next thing i knew i was in a hollow room lying on a desk and they were taking turns to penetrate me. I was paralysed i could not move an inch, it must have been the drug that they spiked me with. My eyes were literally shut and my eyelids where heavy. I could feel each and everyone of them inside and and please dont ask my how i knew it was different people because the answer is embarrassing. Remember when i said this was planned well? Well yeah they made sure they made no sound so i couldnt recognise their voices but the smell i knew, it was weed. They smelled like weed.
They began leaving one by one and by the time i was conscious enough and strong enough to get up. They were long gone. I took my underwear and wiped off blood that was on me and on the table (first mistake) and i went out and wrapped it inside a plastic of chips and threw it in the bin. The place where they abused me is one one of those offices next to the HOD’s office at that time. I started walking back towards the field and didnt say a word (second mistake). I got home and i immediately took a bath ( third mistake).
I never told a soul about it, not even God. I liked to think he wasnt there at that moment when i forcefully became a woman. I knew i had no ground to stand on, no proof. I should have said something it was my fault. I cried myself to sleep that night and made
an oath to keep it a secret to the day i die. I managed to move on with my life like nothing happened.
5 years later i have had about 8 suicide attempts, spent 6 weeks in depression clinics/rehab 2 years in a row, suffered(still suffering)servere depression and anxiety. I still cry myself to sleep at night. and i know im not the only one.
I know most of you are struggling to put 1 and 1 together so you could imagine what im going
through because that 1 and 1 put together would mean freedom for me.
Bethel College is raising Abusers. Bethel College is not what it used to be anymore and our leaders and sitting down and focusing on the image of the school. This needs to stop. Not once have i heard ukuba eBethel has a wellness programme for the students. They told me once ukuba boys are running after me because of my short skirt, that is not the problem!!!
I afterwards got bullied after this event besithi im a slut. It huuuuurts. It hurts so bad!!
Someone needs to do something. Quick”
Jakavula insisted that their coming out to speak on the matter is not about shaming the college but about ensuring that their younger brothers and sisters received assistance. She sent us a voice note that carries a lot of emotion as she spoke about Bethel.
Nomsa* told HotNews that one Sabbath Day in church she was sent by a matron to fetch something from her house. When she asked for keys she was told that the matron’s husband was at the house. HotNews is in possession of the name and surname of the alleged perpetrator but since no case has been opened against him as yet and we were unable to reach him or his wife on the supplied mobile numbers, we cannot mention his name.
She said when she got to the house the husband locked the door behind her and then she asked him what he was doing and what he thought would happen but the man took off his pants. “He took out his penis and asked me if I had ever seen a penis that big. I pleaded with him to stop as I quickly walked to the front door. He quickly got to me, grabbed me by my waist and pinned me against the door. He started kissing my neck and I was now crying and begging him to stop. He lifted me up to the sofa, he was so strong,” Nomsa said of the day.
She said she was now starting to feel defeated but continued begging the older man as he pinned her down on the sofa. “He tried to insert his manhood, it couldn’t penetrate and I was now sobbing helplessly. Then there was a knock on the door and he jumped. I didn’t even think of screaming , I was numb due to the shock that in a minute from then I could have been a rape victim.”
Nomsa said she felt disgusted by the entire ordeal. “He said if I told anyone he would say I seduced him because girls at Bethel were said to have ‘sex demons’,” she said.
Another girl, Philisiwe*, alleges similar sexual advances by the husband of the same matron. Part of the WhatsApp conversation with her on the screenshot below:
Anelisa* was doing Grade 10 in 2015 when she suffered the public humiliation during and after a matric farewell after-party. She said she was tempted to drink alcohol for the first time during the after-party and believes her drink was spiked in the process. “Someone spiked my drink because the last memory I have of that night I was chilling outside then I don’t remember anything except waking up totally naked with my clothes on the floor. I got dressed and everyone was awake and I got ugly stares. I went back to school and got to my room, when I came out everyone laughed at me. It broke my heart because I didn’t know what happened that night but when I went to the bathroom I realised that I had been raped,” she said.
Anela said she could not bring herself to go to school the first Monday after the incident but that she confided to a friend who told her things would be fine. She said she was humiliated by a senior staff member who had heard of the incident. “The staff member, upon seeing me, loudly asked what had happened at the after-party before laughing out loud” .
Saphokazi* said she was raped, allegedly, by her friend’s boyfriend in a classroom after she caught the boyfriend cheating and threatened to report him. She said she was close with the boyfriend as they used to hang out together with their partners.
She said she was called to another class during a free period under the pretext it was her boyfriend calling her but it was actually her friend’s boyfriend. “Then he asked me if I was serious about telling my friend and I said yes. After that he pinned me gainst the wall and started kissing me and touching my private parts. Then he said if I tell my friend about his cheating, he will tell people we slept together,” Saphokazi said.
She said her friend later found out about the cheating but not from her. She said she had put the matter behind her and started talking to her friend’s boyfriend again. She said the friend’s boyfriend called her again to the “upper block” after school one day. “I entered the classroom then he took a desk and placed it in front of the door. When I asked what he was doing he said he didn’t want people to see us because people like jumping into conclusions. He said I was the reason he broke up with his girlfriend and since he didn’t have one anymore, I would have to replace her,” Saphokazi said.
She said she laughed but then realized he was serious when his tone changed. She said he moved closer to her and in between her thighs. He then leaned in to kiss her, she alleged, and she pushed him back. “I got up and turned my back on him because I wanted to remove the desk in front of the door,” she said.
Said Saphokazi: ” He placed me on the table with his left hand holding both my hands and with his right hand he removed my underwear. He forced himself on me and I didn’t even cry. I kept quiet and waited for him to finish. After he was done he zipped his trousers up then he kissed me on the forehead and I still kept quiet.” She said when she confronted the alleged perpetrator the following day, he laughed and said I was playing hard to get – she said. “I didn’t use the word rape because at the time I couldn’t even admit it to myself that he did it,” she said.
Asked whether or not she reported the matter, Saphokazi said everyone at Bethel knows about the sexual abuse incidents and knows that instead of being protected by school authorities one is ridiculed.
Asanda* (not her real name), a current Grade 12 learner whose identity is not revealed as she fears retribution, told HotNews of how several teachers and a matron were sent to sit with her after she had reported an instance of fondling by the husband of a staff member staying on campus, the purpose of the sessions being to get her to lengthen her dresses and skirts. “They said I was attracting sexual abuse because I wore dresses and skirts that did not reach the knees”, said a clearly emotional Asanda*.
THE AUTHORITIES RESPOND
Manyuzi, the principal, confirmed that the matter had been brought to her attention and that she had informed both the education department’s District Director and the Church authorities. The school is owned and operated by the Cape Conference of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, a massive world-wide religious institution renowned for deep Bible knowledge and morals.
Mali Mtima, spokesperson for the Dept of Education in the Eastern Cape, said, “Supply us with all the information that the learners have sent to you and we undertake to ensure that this matter receives top priority. National Minister Angie Motshekga is very adamant that any staff member found to have any kind of sexual relationship with a learner must be summarily dismissed”.
A member of the School Management Team (SMT) who cannot be named as he is not authorised to speak on behalf of the school confirmed that a high level meeting of the SMT took place. “The Principal called us to an SMT Meeting just about an hour ago, where matters of (ill)discipline were discussed; and also the Facebook assertions apparently made, by a previous-Student at Bethel. Both the (ill)discipline matters as well as the apparent FB statements are viewed very seriously; the members of the SMT will also be taking legal counsel, on the matter”.
The SAPS in Msobomvu said they cannot comment because no case has been registered with them.
HOW FAR BACK DOES THE ROT GO?
Bethel College has produced many outstanding citizens of this country. The likes of Noxolo Grootboom, Lunga Williams, Baleka Mbete, Putco Mafani and many others who now hold respected positions in society.
The College was known as a place of discipline with strict moral values that many of those who have gone through its corridors carried into their adult and professional lives.
It was against this backdrop that HotNews sought to go back in time so as to establish whether or not incidents of this nature were prevalent during those glory days but were somehow suppressed because there was no social media.
Our team sat with one of Bethel’s proudest sons, radio and football personality Putco Mafani.
HN: How have you received the news of the sex scandals as a proud alumnus? PM: Shocked! Disgusted! Although I am not the one to pronounce on guilt or otherwise of any individual involved, just the mere fact of our glorious institution being associated with such filth makes me numb with disgust and I know it does the same to the thousands of others who call Bethel, “my College”.
HN: During your time there, did you ever engage in or know of others who engaged in such abusive behaviour? PM: (to the interviewer) Your own sisters attended that school. Did they ever mention just one male learner or staff even slightly touching them inappropriately? That could never happen at Bethel. Even smoking School Inspectors knew that they needed to stub out their cigarettes the moment they arrived at the gate. It was not called “KwaSirayeli” by the locals for nothing. In every sense it was Holy Ground wherein no one could even contemplate engaging in such nefarious acts.
HN: Where to from here? PM: The law must take its course. Whoever is found to have violated the poor children must have the book thrown at them.
HN: As a person who runs a business, Putco Mafani Consulting, that is directly linked to your personal brand, are you not worried that this may have a negative impact on your brand and those of many other high-profile individuals associated with Bethel? PM: Our generation held up high the values and principles inculcated by that institution. I arrived there as a young 13-year old boy and spent 9 years of fullsome development and left with a teaching qualification as a man. I do not think anything that is done there now can ever obliterate what that institution achieved with our generation. I won’t speak on behalf of the Alumni Association but colleagues that I have spoken to have made a commitment to help the school in dealing with the reputational damage and do all we can to heal the affected children.1 comment