An 18-year-old pupil at a special needs school in North West has accused the school of holding her in solitary confinement in a makeshift cell for nine days after she was stripped naked and forced into the room by security guards.
This was ostensibly her punishment for arriving at school with the wrong haircut and refusing to shave her head.
North West police are investigating a case of assault against Daeraad School, a boarding school for pupils with behavioural problems.
Mthetha Nkafu, 48, the girl’s uncle, told The Citizen he only found out about the incident after she was sent home, her face swollen with tears, her mouth dry and cracked, and barely able to speak. He last saw her the day she cut her hair before going to school.
“On Monday, they collected the [pupils] in Potchefstroom with a school bus,” said Nkafu.
“What she told us is that she went to school and then when she was at school, the principal saw her hairstyle and then he said the hairstyle is not acceptable at the school, so she must either cut that hair or leave the school, or else she would be taken to the ‘lock-up room’.”
Still visibly traumatised, the pupil, who did not want to be named, added that she argued with the school principal: “I told him no, because I am here to be educated you have a problem with our hair when we don’t comb it. When we use hairpieces you have a problem and my hair it’s neat, so I don’t understand what you want.”
After walking away from the principal, the pupil said she went to the hostel, but teachers were later sent there by the principal with instructions to “cut her hair better”. She refused, arguing that the teachers were not qualified to shave her hair.
“Later on, they sent a security guard who grabbed her and took her clothes off and handcuffed her before going to the locker room,” said Nkafu.
“It is dark and the floor has lots of blood, blood everywhere,” the girl said, describing the room she claimed she was locked inside for nine days.
She said there was no bed, or any furniture in the room, save for a clogged toilet full of used sanitary towels.
“I was in there from the 9th of October and when they [sent] me home it was the 18th.”
She said she was handed a single slice of dry bread and water on the first day and was not given anything else until one of her teachers came to let her out.
She said she was then told to wash herself and pack her bags as she was being expelled. Her pleas to be allowed to write her exams, she said, were to no avail.
Saps spokesperson in North West Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone said police were investigating a case of assault and were still confirming whether the girl was handcuffed during her detention.
The investigation was still under way and would be referred to the NPA for a decision, he added.
Despite this, the provincial education department has not as yet determined whether any wrongdoing was done on the part of the school.
After visiting the facility, Lekopanye Taunyane, the circuit manager in the department, said he saw nothing untoward about the alleged “cell” that was routinely used to discipline pupils by locking them up in solitary confinement.
“What I am aware of is the fact that this girl who was locked up in solitary confinement.
“When I went to the principal, Abel Rudman, he said that this was normal procedure and the room she was locked in has a bed and a sheet.
“When I went to visit the school, they showed me the room and it had a bed and I asked why there was no mattress and they said that [the pupils] tear the mattress apart.
“I’m told the child was locked up in the room for five to seven days and then taken home.”
He said, however, that the school did not follow procedure when it expelled her.
Rudman refused to comment on the allegations against his school, except to say “it’s all nonsense”.
According to the department of social development, Daeraad School is a school of industries. Provincial department spokesperson Petrus Siko said the matter was being attended to. – email@example.com