Cape Town -
They smoke dagga before school, they smoke it in the toilets during breaks and again on their way home. The brazen drug habits of pupils at a set of inner-city schools have driven staff to adopt a heavy-handed approach.
On Thursday, about 30 metro police officers and K9 members, with their sniffer dogs, searched the Zonnebloem Nest Senior School, Walmer Secondary and Queen’s Park High School as part of a series of spot raids.
The searches came at the request of the schools’ principals who had grown tired and frustrated with “stubborn” pupils who flat-out refused to stop using drugs.
“There’s this common culture at our school that smoking dagga is acceptable. They argue that it’s the norm, that they can do it whenever they want,” said Heather Calmeyer.
A safety officer at Zonnebloem, Calmeyer feels she is locked into a losing battle.
The toilets are almost always filled with smoke and the smell of dagga is everywhere, she says. Sometimes she thinks her job title should be: “Head of the anti-drug unit.”
“When we catch them doing it, they challenge me. They ask me why they have to go to rehab. They have arguments for everything, like that it’s natural or that God made it.”
Police officers and their sniffer dogs marched through the school, searching bags and patting down Grade 9 and 10 pupils. They did not confiscate much – a single rudimentary pipe, fashioned from a hollowed bone, was all they found.
Calmeyer said although pupils in only two grades had been searched, drug use was a problem throughout the school. “Police simply don’t have the capacity to search everyone.”
At nearby Walmer Secondary, the school’s courtyard echoed with shouting pupils and barking dogs as bags, jackets and pockets were searched.
In a dimly-lit stairwell a Grade 9 pupil was pinned against the cold brick wall by a group of plainclothes policemen. He had hidden his bag in a cupboard and then attempted to run away.
“You are nervous now? I can feel your heart beating. Right? Where are the drugs?” the cop holding him against the wall asked.
Wide-eyed, shaking and struggling to speak, the 17-year-old handed over a small brown paper bag and some rolling paper. “There we go,” another cop whistled as he unfolded the paper to reveal a stop of dagga.
Watching this, the principal Raymond Jansen told police the pupil was a repeat offender. Just last term he had been bust teaching other pupils how to roll a joint. On Thursday, he was meant to bring in his parents as part of the disciplinary process.
“But he chose to do this,” said Jansen, sighing. “This is why we need this (raid). I wanted to send a message to my pupils that there is no tolerance towards drug use at my school.
“Hopefully this has been a wake-up call to everyone.”
Metro police found two stops of dagga at Queen’s Park High. One had been disposed of outside the school while the other had been abandoned inside its grounds.
A knife was found at Zonnebloem Senior. The weapon is another side of the crime that has begun to plague the four inner-city schools, according to the principal.
“Some of these guys are fighting outside school. We often confiscate knives and they tell us: ‘No, no, no we need them for protection’,” said Jansen.
According to Calmeyer, a small-scale war is under way after school hours. It is fought along rigid lines, with pupils remaining fiercely loyal to their schools.
“They will never fight each other. It will always be Zonnebloem versus Cressy (Harold Cressy), or Walmer versus Zonnebloem.”
Western Cape Education Department spokeswoman Bronagh Casey said the searches had begun in early 2009.
“The SAPS has conducted hundreds of these searches, which we believe have acted as a strong deterrent to pupils.
“We appreciate the support of all role-players in aiming to ensure that our schools are weapon- and drug-free zones.”
Metro police spokeswoman Yolanda Faro said the Grade 9 pupil caught with a stop of dagga had been placed in one of the youth camps. The metro police camps are designed to teach pupils about the dangers of gangsterism and drugs.