"PERETERA MANETA" SCREENING AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT ALLEGATIONS AT CHIKORE HIGH SCHOOL IN CHIPINGE
A good film does not lose its relevance, its characters live beyond the production date and its impact is felt by those communities that engage with it. Such is the case with PERETERA MANETA! Produced ten years ago, the main character is everywhere and continues to live in our communities but the case at Chikore High illustrates the power of film in our communities
by Yvonne Jila, Director, International Images Film Festival for Women
On Sunday the 11th of October 2015, we had a screening at Chikore High School as part of the International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF) National outreach program of taking films to communities to promote women's and girl's rights and social change. Sunday also happened to be the International Day of the Girl and our films focused on the girl child. Two films were screened at Chikore High, NIGHTINGALE and PERETERA MANETA. This write up will focus on what ensued after the screening of PERETERA MANETA. PERETERA MANETA (SPELL MY NAME) concerns child sexual abuse. The film shows the abuse of a primary school child by her headmaster, with the tacit consent of parents and other adults. This goes on until one teacher starts to question the situation and the Headmaster is exposed.
After the screening, the following comments were aired by the students: as children we should say no to abuse children should report any form of abuse they encounter, no one is above the law as in the film the Headmaster was eventually arrested. teachers should protect students but what should we do when we report the cases to Administration but they do not take action (answer was go to Head, to the Police and even your parents). How can we get confidence that if we report we will not be victimised? (Answer- go straight to the Head) Students should stay away from store rooms
Unfortunately the program was cut short. The teacher on duty said the Dining Hall staff wanted to set up the Dining Hall for supper hence the need to stop the screening. The situation had become tense and at this point we became suspicious that there is something going on at the school. We decided that we will have to meet the Headmistress who had gone to Mutare and therefore was not present at the screening.
Soon after the screening, a group of four, (Form 2 girls) approached Stella January and I. They said they are experiencing sexual harassment from one of the teachers. Unfortunately the teacher on duty instructed them to leave the dining Hall immediately. However, we managed to get the number of one of the girls. As our car was about to take off to another venue, another group of three girls approached us. One of the girls asked if she could still report and get assistance from the Headmistress even if the incident occurred a month ago. We responded by saying yes and encouraged her to go straight to the Headmistress and report.
A few seconds later, a group of about six boys in lower sixth form followed us and asked what they should do as they are seeing girls being sexually harassed. We told the boys to report cases to the Headmistress, as they said the challenge they are having is that the Administration handling such issues has always dismissed such cases. However, in response to the suggestion reporting to the Head, the boys just said, 'aah but she is a woman'. Our response was that woman or man, it is her duty to protect students. We exchanged numbers with one of the boys who promised to alert us on any case of abuse so that we can urgently help. We also got a number from one of the three girls who approached us though we did not get her name as she was being told to leave us.
We then left the school at 1730hrs. At around 8pm, male students mobilized themselves and broke windows at the school block (103). It is quite sad that some of the students who were studying sustained minor injuries. The Headmistress immediately called the Police and they started investigating the matter (public violence). The teachers who were present at the screening told the Head that is was as a result of the screening of PERETERA MANETA.
The following morning, we met with the Head who explained to us that it had come to her attention that the film screening contributed towards the violence at the school. At this point, we decided to leave her with a copy of the film for her to see what the film was about. She said a case was reported to her on Monday the 5th of October, involving a female student and one of the teachers at the school. She said she had asked the girl and those who the girl said were witnesses to write reports and these had been written and submitted to her. She said as soon as the case was reported to her, she immediately informed the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and the reports were due to be sent to the Ministry on Monday morning (12th October). She said it was quite unfortunate that the school had its prize giving day on Saturday the 10th of October, hence on Friday the 9th, she had to concentrate on preparations for the event. She however, updated prefects on the progress on the matter. The Headmistress said both the teacher being investigated and the student are still at school. She also mentioned that her worry is that the teacher is taking exam classes and if he is to leave, then this will also affect the candidates.
Following the Sunday incident, the police are now handling the case. This morning, Wednesday the 14th of October, I received a call from a constable (name supplied) at the Chipinge Criminal Investigation Department. After several qustions, I told him that should he want to watch the film, we left a copy with the Headmistress.
It seems that the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education policy and criminal policy do not synergise in the case of sexual harrassment at schools as head teachers who are informed of abuse appear not to be obliged to report such cases to the police. The police should be involved right from the time a case is reported. It appears that it took public violence to bring the attention of the matter to the police. Had the boys not broken the windows, it was going most probably to take longer for the police to be involved in the case. This process allows the victim to be victimised by the perpetrator; it lowers her confidence and morale. Secondly, it is disturbing that with the current policy, a teacher may be dismissed or transferred to another school if found guilty. Where is justice in such a case and how are we sure if the teacher will not commit the same offense at the new school? It appears that few cases of sexual abuse at schools result in justice delivery through the legal system. What seems to be clear though, is the need for a more victim friendly approach to school victims of sexual violence.
Efforts to get a comment from the Ministry were not successful at the time of this e-publication as the Ministry’s phones were not being answered. Given the above disturbing incident, Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe is taking action with activist and children's rights organizations to influence policy change.
The IIFF Outreach programs are supported by the ACP Cultures+ Program funded by the European Union, the Culture of Zimbabwe Trust in partnership with the Swedish Development Agency and the Danish International Development Agency.