A Cape Town teacher sexually assaulted a learner five years ago. He’s still teaching at the school

Education department says it will consider disciplinary steps after receiving the outcome of the criminal trial from the National Prosecuting Authority

By Marecia Damons

23 May 2022

Illustration of school children

A teacher, Ayanda Ntuthu, continued to teach at Thandokhulu High School in Mowbray for five years following an accusation of sexual assault. In March he was found guilty in the Wynberg Magistrates Court. Illustration: Lisa Nelson

Ayanda Ntuthu sexually assaulted a boy at Thandokhulu High School in Mowbray, Cape Town, in 2017. Ntuthu is still teaching at the school and the boy is also still at the school.

(Ntuthu’s surname is also spelt Ntutu on some official documents.)

In May 2017 the school held a sleepover event on its premises. Ntuthu sexually assaulted the boy at this event.

Ntuthu was arrested and a sexual assault case was registered for investigation at the Mowbray Police Station. The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) conducted an internal investigation in August 2017 and decided not to charge him.

He appeared at the Wynberg Magistrates Court on 31 August 2017 and was released from police custody on R1,000 bail.

Ntuthu was ordered not to have contact with any of the witnesses.

Following the outcome of the WCED investigation, learners at the school protested outside the Wynberg court, calling for the teacher to be suspended and for the WCED to explain why he had been found not guilty.

The following video also came to light, showing Ntuthu beating a student with a belt. This too is assault in South African law. The WCED issued Ntuthu a final written warning for this, and fined him.

At the time we reported that Kealeboga Mase Ramaru, then an employee of the education activist organisation Equal Education, said that the protesting learners had met the principal of Thandokhulu to discuss Ntuthu’s conduct. The principal told them that when he requested reasons from the WCED for why action was not taken against Ntuthu for the sexual assault, he was told that there was no policy to release this information.

Although Ntuthu was still on trial for sexually assaulting the learner and was ordered not to contact any of the witnesses, he continued teaching at Thandokhulu High School where some of the potential witnesses were learners.

The matter was heard again on 4 October 2017. The state prosecutor told the court that the investigation was still incomplete because two more statements were needed from learners who had been writing exams and were on school holiday at the time. Magistrate Gulam Bower then postponed the matter until 2 November 2017 for the state to get statements from the learners.

When the matter was heard on 2 November 2017, the prosecutor said there was still one outstanding statement. Ntuthu’s lawyer requested that the case be struck off the court roll until the state was ready to proceed. Magistrate Bower said due to the serious nature of the charge and the fact that a minor was involved, he would allow one last postponement - until 20 November 2017.

But on that date the case was postponed again, and then again on 18 January 2018, for the state to collect witness statements.

On 22 May 2018, over a year after the incident happened, the charges against Ntuthu were withdrawn due to procedural failures. The prosecution claimed it could not locate the witnesses because the investigating officer had been on leave.

The case must have been reopened because in March 2022 it was brought to GroundUp’s attention that an adverse ruling had been made against Ntuthu. When we tried to follow up on the matter, we were sent from pillar to post, but eventually received official confirmation from the South African Police Service (SAPS) last week that Ntuthu had in fact been found guilty of sexual assault. He will be sentenced in the Wynberg Magistrates Court on 20 June.

How did this happen?

In a disciplinary hearing such as the one the WCED held, the burden of proof is balance of probabilities — the person can be dismissed if on the balance of evidence he committed the act. In criminal trials the bar is much higher - the accused must be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

Yet, the WCED cleared Ntuthu of the allegations and a magistrate found him guilty. We asked the WCED why it had cleared Ntuthu, when a court, facing a much higher burden of proof, found him guilty nearly five years later.

Spokesperson Bronagh Hammond responded saying the WCED received a complaint of improper conduct and assault against the educator in March 2017.

“The matter was investigated but we could not charge the educator due to lack of substantive evidence. A thorough investigation had taken place, and some witnesses had declined to testify or made contradictory statements. It could be possible that these witnesses have now given their co-operation in the criminal case as they are no longer at school,” said Hammond.

She said that once the WCED has received the outcome of the criminal case from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), disciplinary steps will be considered in terms of the Employment of Educators Act.

“We have to follow the prescripts of the law in this instance,” she added.

According to Hammond, the learner received counselling during 2017 from the school social worker. She said the matter had also been reported to the Department of Social Development which had also provided counselling.

Eric Ntabazalila, Western Cape spokesperson for the NPA, confirmed that the case had been withdrawn in March 2018 after the court refused further postponements. He said that a new investigator was appointed and the matter was reinstated in September 2018. He confirmed that Ntuthu was found guilty on 18 March 2022 on two counts of sexual assault. (GroundUp is unaware of the details of the second count.)

Ntuthu is a member of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) so we asked the union what action it had taken.

Jonovan Rustin, provincial secretary of SADTU, said the union strongly condemns any sexual crimes involving educators and learners. He said that SADTU always “looks to the interests of the child” and “everyone is subject to a fair trial”.

He said SADTU has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual assault of a learner.

He said the union only represents its members by ensuring that they are afforded a fair trial, but “we are never going to defend any sexual assault matters under our jurisdiction”.

Yet five years after he sexually assaulted one learner and, as the video above shows, assaulted another, Ayanda Ntuthu continues to teach at the very same school.

Ntuthu did not respond to requests for comment.