A primary school principal who allegedly lowered an 11-year-old pupil into a pit toilet to search for a dropped smartphone — leaving the child covered in faeces — has been suspended.
The Eastern Cape education department said it had learnt “with shame the ill-treatment” of the pupil and others who were allegedly instructed to search for the phone.
“Upon learning about this, and having discussed this with all sections of the department, we have served the principal with a letter of suspension, pending investigation on the matter,” the department said in a statement.
“Second, as the department we have dispatched our labour relations officials to investigate the matter with tight and strict deadlines for a report back.”
Education MEC Fundile Gade was expected to visit the home of the pupil this week where his office said he would “apologise for this terrible and untoward behaviour displayed by this principal”.
“As the department we believe this behaviour shows a lack of respect for our children … This is because the SA Schools Act regards teachers as 'in loco parentis', which means when simply translated: an educator is a parent who is with the child at the school. Therefore, we really are embarrassed by such behaviour that seeks to destroy the noble profession of teaching,” his office said.
The incident was brought to light by a community member who recorded a video of the incident and posted it on social media. In the video, which went viral, the Xhosa-speaking man is heard speaking about the child, an 11-year-old orphaned boy who was left in the care of his grandmother.
The community member said the pit latrine was first opened to gain access.
“First, the principal asked other learners, who were older than this one to dig through the faeces from the toilet in search of the phone.
“The principal then took this 11-year-old and promised him R200 if he could recover the phone. The child was given gloves, taken out of his uniform, and a rope was tied around his arms and he was lowered by other learners into the toilet.
“He was knee-deep in the faeces and he used his own hands to search for the phone, with faeces going even above his hands and to his elbows,” the concerned community member said.
The community member said on hearing of the incident, they went to the school to inquire what happened.
He said the child was traumatised by the incident and had broken down because he had been mocked by his peers about the ordeal.
He said the child was adamant that he had not volunteered to go into the toilet but said the principal had said he was of small build and could therefore easily go inside.
The education department said it had organised counselling for the pupil and others who were affected.
The smartphone was reportedly not recovered.
In the video, the community member alleged that the principal only rewarded the child with R50.