A maths teacher who repeatedly sexually assaulted a grade 8 girl in front of her classmates and told her he loved her has been fired.
Gerhard Strydom’s target, a pupil at Wesbank Secondary School in Malmesbury, Western Cape, broke down in tears as she testified at an Education Labour Relations Council arbitration hearing.
But arbitrator Gail McEwan said the girl’s story was “consistent despite her emotions. It was evident that it was painful for her to again be saying exactly what Strydom had done. I have no reason not to believe this evidence.”
McEwan found that Strydom, a teacher since 1993, had twice touched the girl’s buttocks while hugging her, touched her breast and kissed her on the neck.
She summarily dismissed him this week and said under the Children’s Act she found him unsuitable to work with children again. She asked the SA Council of Educators to revoke his teaching certificate.
Strydom did not attend the hearing, which was held virtually, after a confrontation with McEwan about legal representation when he logged in from a moving car using his laptop.
The commissioner said in her ruling: “Strydom became aggressive and continued to shout. Strydom said this was ‘bullshit’ and he was leaving.
“I advised that in the event that he chose to leave, the inquiry would continue in his absence. Strydom shouted some more, announced he was leaving and logged out.”
In her evidence, the 15-year-old pupil said during a lesson in October 2020 Strydom asked her to fetch him a glass of water. As she returned to the classroom he hugged her and touched her buttocks.
When the class ended, he asked her to help him with his bag. “They walked alone in the corridor and Strydom put his arm around [her] neck and rubbed her right breast,” said McEwan.
On other occasions, he requested the girl’s phone number, asked her to wait in the road outside school for him to pick her up, and told her to sit next to him and advise him on an online shoe purchase.
After another hug, he touched her buttocks again, the girl said, and when he summoned her to his classroom on another water errand he “bent over and told her he loved her then unexpectedly kissed her on her neck”.
The commissioner said: “No-one had ever done those things to her before. It was when Strydom touched her breast that she knew something was very wrong.
“After the kiss she felt sad, was uncomfortable and cried. She stated that Strydom is a married man and has a wife.”
The girl reported Strydom to another teacher, Vertozal Joseph, who testified that the girl was “very emotional” and “kept asking why this had happened to her”.
Wesbank principal Vincent Paramore said Strydom had attended an “abuse no more” workshop at the school and was well aware teachers were not allowed to touch pupils.
McEwan said Strydom’s behaviour was “brazen” because it happened mostly in front of other pupils.
“There is no doubt that he conducted himself in an improper, disgraceful and unacceptable manner,” she said.
“I find on a balance of probabilities that Strydom is guilty of the charge against him and that his actions were of the nature of a sexual assault.”
The commissioner said Strydom had the right to take the matter on review to the labour court.