School Ties

‘School Ties’ producer opens up about the series. Image: supplied

Exclusive: Q&A with ‘School Ties’ producer Richard Gregory

Producer Richard Gregory on the making of ‘School Ties’, a docuseries diving into sexual abuse of learners at SA’s prominent schools.

School Ties

‘School Ties’ producer opens up about the series. Image: supplied

Richard Gregory, the producer of School Ties speaks about the making of groundbreaking, four-part documentary series in an exclusive interview with The South African.

Thursday, 16 May marked the official release of School Ties – a docuseries looking into the grooming and sexual abuse of learners at some of South Africa’s most prominent, prestigious boys’ schools.

The four-part docuseries is produced by DevilsdorpSteinheist and Convict Conman producers Idea Candy.

School Ties uncovers the truth behind grooming and abuse in schools across the country, the aftermath and what government, schools and society are doing to stop abuse in its tracks.

The first episode of School Ties released on Thursday, 16 May on M-Net (Channel 101) at 21:00.

‘Four-part docuseries’

School Ties is a four-part docuseries that explores grooming and sexual abuse by sports coaches at South Africa’s elite boys’ schools. While virtually all schools in the country will grapple with sexual misconduct at some point, abuse that happens in the most prestigious schools tends to be well hidden,” reads the synopsis of the series.

“And has perpetrators who therefore get away with it for many years – leaving many harmed boys in their wake,” it added.

Producer of the series, Richard Gregory opened up about the making of the series in an exclusive interview with The South African.


What was your main intention behind bringing this series to life?

As a production team, all of us being parents to boys ourselves, we had noticed that reports of grooming and abuse in schools kept on cropping up periodically, with distressing similarities – it’s not something that you can just ignore. 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.

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. 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. 

Can you describe what the emotions involved in creating a documentary this sensitive, was like?

Working on this, it’s easy to feel a sense of panic and have an urge to take your kids out of school to keep them safe, but that is not a realistic way of solving a problem that all South Africans face. 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 in how to improve the safety of our children.

During the making of the series, we were confronted with heartbreaking realities in discussions with parents who have lost their children. It was really tough material to deal with, but they managed to turn their grief into lessons that can help activists, police and schools navigate to navigate this terrain – and for that, I can only admire them. As difficult as it was for them to recount their trauma once again, they did so in the hope that it meant their children losing their lives wasn’t in vain.

What can viewers expect to see in the docuseries?

It’s not an easy watch, I’ll be open about that, but it’s an important one. There is a sobering reality that perpetrators are more common than you would think, and moreover: they usually look just like us – they are able to get away with what they do because they are charismatic and clever. However, we’ve chosen to put the stories of the victims and their families at the heart of the episodes in a way that honours their lives, rather than focus on scaremongering about predators. 

What were you most passionate about in working on this docuseries?

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a private school on scholarship, so as the director, it is a world that is very familiar to me. However, even from my school days, I was aware that there were customs and cultures at these elite institutions that were part of the problem. When working on this series, we realised quickly that it was often the outdated culture of the schools that had to shoulder some of the blame for the abuse. In their worst forms, unwavering loyalty, initiation rituals and a “code of silence” means that boys don’t report the problem for fear of bring the name of the school into disrepute, and perpetrators will exploit these customs to get away with these actions.

This is why the series takes the focus that it does – because although abuse is present at all levels of schools in South Africa, it’s in the elite institutions that there is a distinct pattern of grooming and gaslighting that is insidious and can allow perpetrators who get way with it for decades, potentially leaving hundreds of victims in their wake. So if, through doing this work, I can help to bring about positive change in these schools, that would be incredibly meaningful to me. It’s important to state that we have no desire to break down these schools – 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.