Not reporting sexual abuse of children is a crime in South Africa, yet a mother and neighbours reportedly looked the other way as a father allegedly repeatedly raped his three children.
Police spokesperson Thulani Zwane said the 50-year-old Chatsworth man was arrested on Thursday after the youngest, believed to be just 9 years old, told a teacher who in turn reported the matter to police.
According to ward councillor Ganas Govender, neighbours of the Havenside family blamed the mother, saying she had kept quiet for years.
Govender said in blaming the mother, they exposed their own complacency in the protection of the children.
The Children’s and Sexual Offences and Related Matters Acts places a duty on the public to report sexual abuse of children. Failure to do this could result in prosecution and then a fine or jail term.
Dr Linda Naidoo, an independent child protection specialist, said there was a dire need for awareness about this obligation. “Child abuse is never a family matter, people need to understand that the protection of children is all of our responsibility.”
Naidoo said besides the police, there were also anonymous reporting lines such as Childline. “It also doesn’t mean they have to confirm the abuse, they merely have to report it.”
Naidoo commended the girl for telling her teacher, saying she was incredibly brave.
“Sometimes when children are abused, especially over a long period, they feel guilty and ashamed. Sexual abuse is such a vile and manipulative crime,” said Naidoo.
The man was charged with incest, rape and abuse.
Naidoo said an abuser may target their own children, as they do not have to go out seeking victims, therefore risking exposure. This often meant there were far more episodes of abuse as there was easier access to the children, said Naidoo.
She believes communities cannot protect their own children if they protect an abuser.
Kenny Venkatesan, chairman of the Bayview CPF under which Havenside falls, said if the allegations were proved to be true, the man was pathetic and a disgrace to the community. Venkatesan said a father’s role and responsibility was to protect his children.
Venkatesan and Govender expressed concern that child abuse cases in the area were increasing. “This is not an isolated incident,” said Govender. The 2014 abuse and murder of Baby Jamie had exposed complacency on the part of authorities, neighbours and extended family.
“We are discussing a way forward for our community, we can’t continue to stand by and let children suffer like this,” said Venkatesan.
Govender said he would be at the Chatsworth Magistrate’s Court on Monday where the father is expected to appear. He said they would also hold a placard protest calling for the harshest possible sentence.