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Community rallies in support of abused Parktown boys

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The “house mom” of Parktown Boys High in Johannesburg has appealed to the Jewish community to be in court when the judge passes sentence against the man found guilty of sexual abuse.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Oct 18, 2018

“From the bottom of my heart, please come and support our boys at court,” Mariolette Bossert, 49, pleaded on Tuesday night to a large Jewish gathering in Glenhazel. “The 23 boys that have been in court the last month are all heroes in my eyes. They are not my flesh and blood, but they became my boys as well.”

Bossert spoke publicly for the first time at a gathering hosted by Wendy Hendler of Koleinu SA, an organisation offering a helpline for victims of abuse. The gathering was held in response to popular demand following a weekend seminar at the HOD, at which Nicole Levenstein – one of the Frankel Eight – shared her story of abuse (See page 4).

Bossert had attended the Koleinu SA and Shalom Bayit child-abuse seminar on Sunday, and was moved by the community’s compassion. It prompted her to ask for support for “her boys” who have been ostracised and isolated ever since their ordeal came to light.

In front of a stunned crowd, Bossert shared a harrowing account of how 23 boys aged between 13 and 16 at the well-known school were sexually abused and assaulted by their student master and assistant water polo coach. The incidents took place in the boarding house between 2015 and 2016.

Last month, acting Judge Peet Johnson in the South Gauteng High Court sitting in the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court, found Collan Rex, 22, guilty of 12 counts of assault and 144 counts of sexual assault.

Initially facing 327 counts, he pleaded guilty to 144 counts of sexual assault against 12 of the 23 boys who are complainants in the sex scandal that has rocked the school. Rex, a former Parktown Boys student himself, pleaded not guilty to a further 183 counts including rape‚ attempted murder‚ sexual assault‚ exposure of pornography to a child‚ and sexual grooming.

Bossert and her husband, Chris, 55, a teacher at the school and the boarding director, discovered the large-scale abuse when they started working at the boarding house in 2016. Their shocking discovery came in November 2016, when they came across video footage of Rex engaged in sexual acts with the boys in the common room. This led to a nightmare journey of “us versus them”, in which she claimed she and her husband as well as the violated boys were constantly vilified and criticised for bringing the school’s name into disrepute. The boys were called “snitches and liars”, she told the community.

The discovery of the footage led to further revelations of alleged physical abuse taking place during initiation and on camps by Grade 12 boys on younger Grade 8 boys.

She said the boys had asked her why they had not received the same amount of support at court as the little girl who had been raped in the toilets at the Dros restaurant in Pretoria, which sparked widespread condemnation.

“They wanted to know why they didn’t get the same support during their testimony as they had only some media and parents at court,” she said.

“I feel honoured and special that they trusted me enough to tell their story. This has broken my heart, and as I stand here in front of you tonight, we have two boys in a psychiatric hospital and two boys on suicide watch. These boys will get their justice, and if the sentence is not what we want, we will just start again. This fight is far from over.”

The details of the abuse that Bossert gave to the Glenhazel crowd were so graphic and devastating, the SA Jewish Report has chosen not to repeat them.

According to her, there have since been four suicide attempts, and a boy has been taken off the roof of Montecasino in northern Johannesburg.

“Most of these boys have still not told their parents the entire story of what happened to them. They were very ashamed, some boys were struggling with the thought of maybe being gay, whilst others were just heartbroken because they let it go on... they did not want to live anymore.”

She said some boys began taking drugs to cope.

Levenstein’s story captured Bossert’s heart, and she has since shared it with the Parktown boys. “I told them they did not have to wait as long as you did for justice,” said Bossert.

The Bosserts were appalled when they first entered the boarding house. “I got the shock of my life. It was a dirty, rat infested, and evil place with torn mattresses, and not even a chair for the boys to sit and have a cup of coffee.”

Together with a few moms and her husband, they set about cleaning the place up. They painted it and put up surveillance cameras in response to some cell phone theft and reports of bullying which they did not tolerate.

She said that one night, a boy had asked to watch the surveillance footage, as he had misplaced a bag and wanted to see if it had been stolen. This was how the abuse was discovered.

“I felt sick to my stomach,” she said, when her husband told her what he had seen.

Bossert shared a letter written by one of the mothers whose son was abused. In it she said that parents place their sons into these all boys’ traditional schools “in the hope that our boys can be developed into well rounded gentlemen through the disciplined routine of academics, culture, and sport”.

“What is actually taking place, is nothing short of an abomination.

“The boys are coded into silence from day one, broken into submission, and schooled in a paedophilic grooming culture which disrupts their normal sexual development. As they become seniors, it is their turn to become the matrics who brutally imprint this culture of physical and sexual abuse on the new Grade 8 intakes.

“As mothers of abused boys, we say, ‘No More!’”

Hendler told the SA Jewish Report, “We are heartened by the response of our community in support of the Parktown boys, and its willingness to be present at the sentencing and stand together against the perpetrators. This sends a clear message that the Jewish community is not scared to take the stance of no tolerance. Perpetrators beware.”

Her colleague, Rozanne Sack, said: “We are horrified by the exponential increase in the amount of child abuse that has surfaced in both the Jewish and wider communities. The courage and commitment shown by the young boys of Parktown Boys High is an example of how people of all ages are now standing up against these indescribable and horrendous crimes, exposing the perpetrators and taking strides to eliminate it from society. We will no longer be silent – and we will track them wherever they are.”

Panyaza Lesufi, the Gauteng MEC for Education, welcomed the guilty verdict, saying last month that the department had instituted strong disciplinary action, including dismissing teachers. His department released an independent report exposing disturbing initiation practices that still continued at the school.

These practices include “sexually predatory behaviour” by senior pupils against junior pupils, a culture of assault and sexual assault under the guise of “initiation practices” and “profoundly shocking” utterances made by teachers in the presence of pupil, according to the report.

Sentencing is expected to take place on 31 October. Members of the Jewish community have pledged their support.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Sam Rubin 18 Oct
    I was an ex-pupil of Parktown Boys High from 1952-1957 and am absolutely disgusted with what went on at the school recently.
    In my days there was no Boarding facility but that still does not mean that like all schools there were certain initiation procedures in the sporting teams that were followed for becoming accepted as one of the "boys".
    The perpetrator of what happened should be well and truly punished for leaving these boys "scarred" for life.
    Disgraceful behavior is an understatement, especially from a past pupil.  

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