News clipping – Cape Times – 5 November 2010

Hammer attack teacher awarded R1m

A Cape Town principal has been found to have been “negligent” by not taking the necessary care to ensure the safety of a teacher before she was bludgeoned with a hammer by one of her Grade 8 pupils.

Rhodes High School principal Keith Long and Western Cape Education MEC Donald Grant have been ordered to pay former teacher Tania Jacobs more than R1 million in damages and costs.

Jacobs had sued the MEC and Long for R2m for medical expenses and loss of income.

She was attacked in her classroom in 2001, ending up with a head wound that needed stitches, and a broken wrist. The assault affected her so badly she gave up teaching.

Bheki Kunene was sentenced in 2003 to detention in a youth centre for two years for the assault.

Judge Essa Moosa found that before the attack, there were several “red flags” that should have been acted upon. Long’s failure to exercise the necessary supervision over Kunene had contributed significantly to the incident. Long had told the boy to sit outside his office. Kunene had been brought to him when Jacobs had reported him to the head of department after noting a death certificate, with her name, written in his journal.
“In my view, (Long), by placing Kunene on the chair outside his office unsupervised and by letting him out of his sight and control, should reasonably have foreseen the probability that he would slip away to his class and carry out the imminent death threats. He should have taken reasonable measures to secure her safety while he arranged to call the police and Kunene’s mother.”

Judge Moosa said the relationship between Long and Jacobs was close enough to give rise to a duty of care towards Jacobs. After Kunene was brought to Long, the principal assumed control over him.

Where one was in control of a “potentially dangerous situation, thing or person”, one would be under a duty to take care to prevent the risk from materializing, the judge said.

It was clear from the evidence that Kunene had problems at home and associated with friends who had a negative influence. Action should have been taken in advance.

Judge Moosa found Jacobs had been “partly negligent” as she had seen the death certificate the day before the attack and reported it only the next morning. He noted, however, that she had been fresh out of university and inexperienced.
“I am of the view that the major share of the blame must be directly attributed to the (Department of Education and Long) who, by the exercise of reasonable care, could have avoided the attack.”

A relieved Jacobs referred all questions to her lawyer, Mushtak Parker, who said he hoped the judgment would send a message to schools about safety. Jacobs had suffered considerably through the trial and battled depression, but the woman he saw yesterday, elated at the judgment, “was an entirely different person.”

By Aeysha Kassiem