Bishops: Inside the exclusive school rocked by sex scandal

By Jenni Evans
News 24
October 20, 2019

[with video]

It's the scandal that rocked Bishops Diocesan College in Rondebosch, Cape Town: a 30-year old teacher is accused of having an illicit relationship with an 18-year-old matric pupil.

Few would have predicted that a relationship between a pupil at Cape Town's elite Bishops Diocesan College and a female teacher would have snowballed this week to a take-down request to a porn site and a group of top lawyers being appointed for everybody involved.

But that is what happened after the news broke that the school, founded by the Anglican Church, is investigating a case of serious sexual misconduct against one of its female teachers.

Situated in leafy Rondebosch, the school is one of the most exclusive - and expensive - private schools in the country, and has produced a wealth of well-known South Africans.

Many in the community have thus been "shocked" by a case of such a high-profile and scandalous nature.

"The investigation into the serious sexual misconduct of one of our female teachers is ongoing," said principal Guy Pearson this week in a statement after weekend reports on the matter surfaced.

Pearson said it had emerged that more boys might have been affected over a number of years, and the Weekend Argus on Saturday reported that so far, three more boys may have been victims.

What happened?

The news broke last Friday evening, and the Weekend Argus and Sunday Times then followed up with reports saying it involved a relationship between an 18-year-old pupil and a married 30-year-old teacher, identified by the Sunday Times as Fiona Viotti.

Headlines later that week screamed the family connections of the water polo and swimming coach, and history teacher.

Viotti is the granddaughter of a former Bishops principal Anthony Mallett, and her dad, Dave Mallett, heads a boarding house at the school. The school also has a building with the Mallett name on it.

By Monday, she had lawyered up with well-known defence attorney William Booth.

There was almost no trace of her left on the internet, apart from a message of congratulations from the school regarding her wedding last year.

The Western Province Water Polo Association also told News24 she had resigned as the body's manager.

Booth told News24 Viotti did not have a disciplinary hearing before she left, and that no criminal charges had been laid.

His job is to help her and family during the school's investigation, but an unexpected development shifted his focus.

Lewd videos purporting to be of the teacher were doing the rounds rapidly, with one landing on a well-known porn site (and has subsequently been taken down).

Booth added that speculation and inaccuracies were being reported but would not go into details.

Multiple parents of former pupils told News24 of their disbelief this week.

"Fiona was my one son's history teacher for two years... She was a very sweet girl so we are all very shocked to hear what had been happening," one parent said.

The pupil's family, meanwhile, also appointed a lawyer who was approached with a request for an interview. "I can't comment, sorry," the lawyer said by WhatsApp.

The Old Diocesan's Union's representative Antony Taylor, better known as Darren Nudelman in the series Tali's Wedding, also did not want to comment.

The school's investigation would be led by attorney Graeme Dorrington and senior advocate Francois van Zyl, the Weekend Argus reported.

What is Bishops?

The school was founded by Anglican bishops in 1849 by Bishop Robert Gray. "Its object was 'to give a sound education to the youth of the colony', conducted on the principles of the English [Anglican] Church," the school's website says.

Its ethos has changed to one of preparing "well-rounded" boys for the world.

This year's matric tuition costs an eye-watering R259 620, (R5 452 discount if it is paid in full up front). There is also a capital levy per family of R1 500 per term.

Parents can put their boys on a waiting list when they are born for a fee of R550. This year's non-refundable acceptance fee if a place is offered, ranges from R25 000 to R27 500. There is also a R26 000 fee for foreign families who want their son placed in a boarding house.

Boys also have to go through interviews, and, when they are older entrance exams to secure a place. So getting in, and staying in, was not a doddle for the 140 boys writing matric this year.

Sporting fixtures between Bishops and other private schools are also keenly followed, and one of its most famous old boys is household name Raymond Ackerman of Pick n Pay fame. Springbok Francois Louw, playing in Japan on Sunday, is also an old boy.

Does it matter that the pupil is 18? Can't he do what he likes?

A debate raged on social media over whether there was anything wrong with an 18-year-old and a 30-year-old being in a relationship. The marriage of French President Emmanuel Macron to Brigitte Trogneux was cited as an example. The two met when he was at school and she was his drama teacher.

The teacher had become an object of desire to some, while the boy, a hero to others. Yet many also condemned her alleged actions, and viewed the boy as either a victim or a willing but naive participant.

Centre for Child Law director Karabo Ozah said if a pupil was 18 and gave consent, it was not a crime, unless there was grooming at a younger age.

The important factor to her is that it allegedly happened in a school context.

"The teacher being female doesn't matter because she was in a position of power in regard to the child."

Ozah said in this context pupils who want to break a relationship off, or report sexual activity with a teacher, might delay doing so for fear of being left out of a team, or other repercussions. 

She added they might also be teased if they express concern, with other pupils calling it an "adventure" with somebody who is "so fine". 

Recent Catholic Church scandals showed that men did not speak out when they were boys because they thought nobody would believe them. Studies found that bottling it all up also made them more aggressive in later life.

"It has to become almost like a scandal that somebody uncovers, for it to come out," said Okah.

So what is the problem if there was no crime?

Education specialists the SA Council for Education (SACE) warned Parliament earlier in October that it was seeing an emerging trend of misconduct complaints against female teachers by male pupils.

One of the SACE's functions is to register teachers, and to monitor compliance with its code of ethics.

It clearly states that no sexual relationship is allowed between pupils and teachers, and nor should there be any "courting" of pupils. A violation will lead to a misconduct charge.

On Friday, the chairperson of Parliament's portfolio committee on basic education said the SACE had called for urgent action in all provinces regarding this trend, which was often facilitated during sports, cultural activities and outings. As far as the committee was concerned, the pupil deserved protection, regardless of his age.

"He remains a learner and she remains an educator," committee chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba said.

The portfolio committee on women, youth and persons with disabilities chairperson, Nonhlanhla Ncube-Ndaba, commended the courage of the boy and many other boys who had stepped forward and said "not in my name, me too".

But while all of this was playing out, Booth had another problem: the lewd videos.

Is it a crime to share these videos?

In September, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law the Films and Publications Amendment Act 11 of 2019.

The act brings film and publication laws further up to date in an online era of fast global distribution of social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp. 

Called the Revenge Porn Act by some, section 18F states that: "No person may expose, through any medium, including the internet and social media, a private sexual photograph or film if the disclosure is made without the consent of the individual or individuals who appear in the photograph or film. This also applies if the individual who appears in the photograph or film might have consented to the original creation of such photograph or film."

Sharing the contents without consent is therefore now a crime.

Social media expert and lawyer Emma Sandler, who wrote the book Don't film yourself having sex, asked her Twitter users on Friday where they saw Viotti's alleged video, be it a private message, WhatsApp or porn site.

Many of the people who responded said it was shared with them via WhatsApp.

This law states that the internet service provider must also hand over to the Film and Publications Board or police the information and identity of the person who published it.

The board has the right to impose its own sanction, or refer cases to the National Prosecuting Authority or institute civil cases if fines issued are not paid.

What is the punishment for posting or sharing these clips?

There are various fines, which can be found HERE:

Those liable for fines and/or prison sentences include those who distribute private sexual material without the person's prior consent, those who distribute such material of a child under 18, and those who are not licenced holders for "adult premises".

The fines range from R300 000 to R750 000 and prison sentences from two to five years.

The removal of the video from the well-known porn site was surprisingly quick. Its frequently answered questions section offers a form to request a take down with steps to take to assert copyright over the images.

But by Friday afternoon, Booth said, the video had resurfaced again on another unknown porn site.

"Anyone who distributes must clearly be told they are committing a crime and will be prosecuted," said Booth.

"Bishops is still busy with its investigation and I do not want to comment on the merits of the case at this stage, however, it is obviously affecting her.

"As well as her family being dragged into something that they are not involved in or were aware of by the media is wrong and a clear violation of the family members' rights."

Passionate alumni

Dave Mallett meanwhile sent a letter to parents at the beginning of the week, saying the family was "devastated" by the events, but would be "soldiering on" to ensure "business as usual" at the boarding house.

The Weekend Argus reported this week that Mallett clarified aspects of his letter at a school meeting on Friday, saying he did not condone his daughter's alleged behaviour.

ODU chair Adam Pike said this week that they were passionate alumni and cared for the well-being and reputation of the school. They were though institutionally and legally separate from the school.

"Accordingly, we expect the school to do all that is necessary to fulfil our expectations. To date, the union is satisfied that the school is pursuing its processes with sufficient vigour," he said.

"I am certain that once the inquiry has run its course, the findings will be studied and treated in the most fitting and appropriate manner," Pike said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.