Justice in Lalla Land

Could evaporation of sex case against St Alban’s teacher have anything to do with his father’s well-placed connections?

A torrid mystery hangs like the Sword of Damocles over swanky St Alban’s College, the expensive diocesan school for boys in Pretoria’s Lynnwood Glen, following the abrupt departure more than two years ago of sports teacher and trusted boarding house aide Sasha Lalla.

Lalla is the son of Lieutenant-General Raymond Lalla, former police crime intelligence chief and divisional commissioner, detective services. At the time he held – and still holds – a senior position in the SA Revenue Service.

Sasha Lalla, a popular teacher and water polo coach at St Alban’s, resigned abruptly in November 2015 and in a newsletter the then headmaster Tom Hamilton told parents that an unnamed male teacher had been interviewed following allegations of a sexual nature. “The staff member confirmed there was truth to the allegations and he subsequently resigned from his position,” wrote Hamilton.

Former St Alban's head Tom hamilton (left) and his successor Shane Kidwell

Although police were informed, the identity of the teacher and his powerful family connections were kept secret. Bishop Jo Seoka, then chairman of the school’s Foundation board of trustees, was told only that the teacher’s father was a “well-known person”. Two months later Noseweek named Sasha Lalla (nose195) and told how video surveillance cameras caught the teacher making nocturnal visits to a dormitory in MacRobert boarding house. Two boys required counselling after complaining that the night-time prowler had abused them.

In a media statement Hamilton said that allegations of inappropriate behaviour by a staff member had been reported to police and that no further comment would be offered.

Noseweek has now learned that after Lalla’s confession to the headmaster, a high-powered firm of Randburg attorneys was retained to act for him and the school wavered under its furious assault and accusations of constructive dismissal. So before any internal disciplinary hearing could take place it was decided to accept the teacher’s resignation and quietly let him go.

After 16 years as head, Hamilton opted for early retirement at the end of 2016. When Noseweek asked new headmaster Shane Kidwell last month for the result of the police investigation, Kidwell issued a single-sentence statement: “St Alban’s College has no knowledge of the current whereabouts of the individual concerned and, according to our knowledge, the investigation and judicial process was finalised.”

This gem of obfuscation was glaringly incomplete. Was Kidwell seeking to mislead? The term “judicial process” is generally taken to mean a judgment in a court of law by a member of the judiciary. The deliberate use of the term by Kidwell clearly gave the impression that the departed teacher had faced justice and the matter was now finalised and done with. But what was the decision of the court? Was Lalla found guilty or innocent? And if he was convicted, what was his punishment?

Noseweek’s request for answers brought a stern letter from the school’s attorneys, the Pretoria law firm of Macintosh Cross & Farquharson (“Established 1882”). Partner Latham Dixon informed us that the headmaster “has no inclination to become embroiled in further correspondence”. The college, said Dixon, had “given their full support in the investigation and judicial process”.

But what happened to Sasha Lalla? “At this point in time I cannot tell you,” replied Dixon. “We followed procedure and the National Prosecuting Authority communicated with us and said the matter is finalised.” Dixon added that the school decided not to pursue it; there was “no need for it”.

Pushed further, Dixon said: “The NPA did investigations and what the outcome was I cannot tell you. I cannot confirm or deny that they actually prosecuted.”

We asked the attorney for the name of the official at the NPA who told them that the Lalla matter had been finalised. Dixon consulted with St Alban’s and headmaster Kidwell clearly saw it as an opportunity for some deal-making. Dixon came back, saying his instructions were to furnish us with the contact details of the relevant individuals in the office of the National Director of Public Protections “on the condition that you focus your report on the matter at hand and refrain from any additional comments concerning third parties, as the reputation of said individual and our client (the school) is beyond reproach”.

The office of the national director! From this, it seemed that the Lalla case had escalated to the desk of head honcho Shaun Abrahams. Or had his top aides, deputy national director Nomgcobo Jiba and special director Lawrence Mrwebi, both struck off the roll of advocates and presently battling findings that they are not fit and proper to hold their positions, been involved in deciding Sasha Lalla’s fate?

Back in the ’80s his father Raymond Lalla was head of military intelligence in the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. Lalla was also a member of Operation Vula, Mac Maharaj’s secret unit set up to plan and finance violent revolution. His subsequent 16-year police career saw him soar through the ranks to divisional commissioner. But his links with criminals like Hazel Crane (nose91) and accusations of nepotism after employing his daughter in Crime Intelligence, made him a controversial figure.

St Alban's College in Pretoria

When the Scorpions moved against national police commissioner Jackie Selebi it was Lalla’s efforts to discredit the elite crime-busting unit that many considered pivotal to the Scorpions’ demise in 2009.

Two years later Ray Lalla resigned from SAPS and in a strategic move joined the SA Revenue Services, which was littered with old Vula comrades such as Ivan Pillay (the Vula boys’ tentacles embrace the institutions of state to this day).  Deputy Commissioner Pillay headed SARS’s investigations arm, where Lalla held the title senior manager, special projects.

Today Pillay, with former investigators Johann van Loggerenberg and Skollie van Rensburg, are on trial for corruption in connection with an alleged rogue unit said to have operated illegally at SARS.

Raymond Lalla is still with the revenue service, tucked away in the little-known Fraud Investigation unit. Formed in 2016 after the departure of Pillay and Van Loggerenberg, the new-broom crime busters (acting head Gobi Makhanya) works closely with the SA Police Service and the National Prosecuting Authority probing and prosecuting SARS staff involved in criminal activities.

It took a week for attorney Latham Dixon to dig his Lalla file out of archives. But finally he came up with a letter from the NPA that announced their decision. It’s not from the national director’s office, though, it’s from Vhusi Nonyana, Control Prosecutor at Pretoria Regional Court. Nevertheless, it contains some bombshell news.

Dated 6 July 2016 – eight months after the alleged dormitory offence – Nonyana said that Brooklyn Case 788/11/2015 was nolle prosequi (Latin for “we shall no longer prosecute”).

The control prosecutor listed his reasons for deciding to drop the case:

• A1 and A2 (the boys who complained) which was further clarified in A11 and A12 (affidavits) did not see the person who committed the offence;

• At this stage it cannot be said conclusively that Mr Lalla was the perpetrator; and

• There is no suspect who can be positively linked to this case.

Nolle prosequi may amount to a dismissal of charges by the National Prosecuting Authority, but it is not an acquittal and a defendant can be indicted again at any time. Under Section 7 of the Criminal Justice Act a nolle prosequi also leaves the way open for any aggrieved individual – parents of the boys or the school – to bring a private prosecution.

Certainly St Alban’s has no shortage of funds to do so. Although a non-profit diocesan school, it charges hefty fees – currently R229,410/year for boarders. And new pupils must pay an additional enrolment levy of R65,770. In 2016 the surplus (for which read profit) from fees and levy was a healthy R8.63m.

But instead, headmaster Shane Kidwell – he previously had a five-year spell as deputy head, so he’s an old hand with the school’s singular manoeuvres – tried to pull the wool over our eyes with his “it’s-all-over” line. Is that what he tells everyone? Is St Alban’s still scared of General Lalla?

Former headmaster Tom Hamilton, who sent the 2015 newsletter to parents stating that a male teacher had confessed to “allegations of a sexual nature”, is now CEO of the Royal Bafokeng Institute, mandated to deliver quality education and training to the platinum-rich Bafokeng tribe in Rustenburg. Hamilton did not respond to our request for clarity on the un-named teacher’s admission.

There are subdued mutterings in Pretoria over the NPA’s decision to drop the Sasha Lalla case. Many are convinced that powerful family connections played a part. “That’s a reasonable inference to draw,” says one well-placed source.

Bishop Jo Seoka, now retired from the Pretoria diocese and replaced as chairman of the St Alban’s Foundation by his successor, Bishop Allan Kannemeyer, says: “This thing just disappeared, because the father of the teacher was well connected with the previous (Zuma) regime.

“My source in the school remembers the incident very well. He says it was a political issue at the end of the day. There were fears that it could cause a lot of problems for the school.

“It should have gone to court, it was quite a serious matter. Somebody should have been tried and proved right or wrong.

“Just to let it fall down the drain is not very helpful for the safety of the children. It can of course be reactivated. There are a lot of issues now about abuse in this country.”

Noseweek tried to make contact with Sasha Lalla for his side of the story. In the St Alban’s College affair he was represented by Peter Harris, partner in the high-powered boutique law firm of Harris Nupen Molebatsi.

Harris, who has conducted numerous commissions of inquiry and forensic investigations for national and provincial government and other state owned institutions, could not put us in touch. “In relation to my clients, all of their details are confidential.”

Asked to comment on NPA’s nolle prosequi, Harris said: “I can’t speak on any of my clients’ behalf.”

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