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‘School Ties’ is an expose on the sexual abuse and grooming at some of SA’s top schools

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This harrowing documentary centres around the grooming and sexual abuse of learners.

Deon Wiggett, the author of ‘My Only Story: The Hunt for a Serial Paedophile,’ features on ‘School Ties.’ Image: Supplied.

RICHARD Gregory and his team were determined to bring the new M-Net documentary series “School Ties” to life because, as parents, they felt a sense of responsibility to address the sexual abuse scandals which have rocked the nation’s school system.

“For the team working on this, being parents ourselves, we realised that we have many challenges in the South African education landscape, one of these being the uncomfortable and sensitive matter of abuse that many would prefer to shy away from,” the director told Independent Media’s Lifestyle.

“However, it is specifically this that motivated us to get onboard, to challenge the status quo by unpacking a few cases from within South African schools.”

“School Ties”, which premiered on M-Net on Thursday, is a harrowing four-part documentary series, that centres on the grooming and sexual abuse of learners at some of South Africa’s most prestigious boys’ schools.

The director explained that the purpose of the documentary was to inspire change and to prevent more youngsters from from being abused.

“Our main focus is to empower parents, scholars, educators and schools with knowledge of how this occurs, and how to prevent it in the hope that we can push for change in a system that is, at times, simply broken,” he said.

“As a production team, we had noticed that reports of grooming and abuse in schools kept on cropping up periodically, with distressing similarities and that it’s not something that you can just ignore.”

“School Ties” is produced by IdeaCandy, who gave us “Devilsdorp”, “Steinheist” and “Convict Conman”.

As the documentary aims to safeguard learners at schools, it offers insight from experts on children’s rights, child protection and other legal, psychological and law enforcement areas.

This includes feedback from Deon Wiggett, the author of “My Only Story: The Hunt for a Serial Paedophile.”

Other experts interviewed include Childline South Africa CEO, Dumisile Nala, and Child Protection and Development specialist, Luke Lamprecht.

Childline South Africa CEO Dumisile Nala features in ‘School Ties.’ Picture: Supplied.

The first episode explores the suicide of 16-year-old Thomas Kruger on the grounds of the prestigious St Andrew’s College in Grahamstown.

Episode two delves into how a former Parktown Boys’ High School educator normalised violent and sexual behaviour in the boarding house and the pool.

Child protection activist and journalist Robyn Wolfson Vorster offers her insights.

Then in the penultimate episode, clinical psychologist Marita Rademeyer explains how boys were allegedly abused at a Johannesburg school.

The “School Ties” finale analyses the investigation into a ring of school coaches who were accused of sex offences.

The operation, dubbed “Operation Nemo” was led by South African Police Service (SAPS) Colonel Heila Niemand, who lent her insights to the documentary.

South African Police Service (SAPS) Colonel Heila Niemand features in the ‘School Ties’ documentary. Picture: Supplied.

Gregory said that “School Ties” was a “sobering reality” for him as he realised that “predators are more common than you would think”.

“They will find victims, no matter how safe you feel your home, school and general environment is,” he said.

“They usually look just like us and they are able to get away with what they do because they are charismatic and clever.”

Gregory also understands that when it comes to the grooming and sexual abuse of learners, parents and caregivers might feel urged to remove their children from school in order to keep them safe.

“But that is not a realistic way of solving a problem that all South Africans face,” he said.

“We quickly realised that the key was to take on the learnings from the cases we researched, which gave us a lot of the answers we needed on how to improve the safety of our children.”

Gregory said that while putting the documentary together, he and his team were confronted with “heartbreaking realities in discussions with parents who have lost their children”.

“It was difficult material to deal with, but they managed to turn their grief into lessons that can help activists, police and schools navigate this terrain and for that we can only admire them because even a small victory in this space is a big one.”

Gregory hoped that “School Ties” would make “life difficult for perpetrators to get away with heinous actions”.

“On a wider level, we want to challenge the systems in place in our schools as well as in the educational and legal systems, so that they can take a hard look at themselves and find places to improve their protocols.”

He stressed that they had no desire to break down the schools that were featured in the documentary.

“We’re talking about some of the finest educational institutions in our country and nothing changes that, but they could do even better when it comes to protecting kids.

“We hope to stimulate the kind of collaboration between parents, schools and educational bodies that can make a meaningful difference.”

∎ Watch “School Ties” on Thursdays on M-Net (DStv channel 101) at 9pm.

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