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Johannesburg - He always closes the classroom door and locks himself inside with his pupils, despite the sweltering heat. And when someone knocks, the anxious teacher will just take a peek at who it is, before letting the person inside.
This is the situation a science teacher at Azara Secondary School in Lenasia is facing. He is traumatised after being attacked in a classroom by a knife-wielding man who also threatened him with a gun last week.
Since the incident, the teacher has abandoned his classroom. He now uses another classroom and has left a note on the window of his old classroom notifying all the science pupils to report to the new venue.
He is so scared about stepping into that classroom again that all his scientific charts and posters still adorn the wall. He hasn’t gone back for them.
The incident has once again put the spotlight on safety at schools and how schools have become targets for criminals.
According to the Head of Department at the school, Michael Tomotomo, the teacher was in his classroom marking when he saw a man standing in front of him with a knife and gun. There were no pupils inside the classroom at the time.
The man allegedly said: “Excuse me, I know you have two phones. I need them.”
Tomotomo said when the bewildered teacher looked up, the man told him that he had a gun too and told him to stand.
He allegedly put the knife to the terrified teacher’s neck.
Afterwards, he took his knife and used it to rip open the pocket of the teacher’s pants, Tomotomo said.
“His wallet, that had about R500, and phones fell out. He just stood there not moving and the guy picked them up from the floor and fled.
“The teacher ran to the principal’s office, he was shaking.
“He was given water and after he calmed down he explained what happened. He was sent to the doctor and did not come to school the following day,” Tomotomo said.
Spokeswoman for the Gauteng department of Education Phumla Sekhonyane said they were aware of the incident and that a case was opened with the police.
“We have five patrollers deployed at the school. We are, however, concerned about the attack on our official and we will be meeting with the police to look at what extra assistance can be provided to strengthen safety at the school.
“We are concerned about any incident that puts our learners and staff at risk. We have in place a school safety strategy whose critical elements include the linking of schools to police stations for rapid response.
“We have also developed an incident reporting mechanism requiring principals to report these incidents to head office,” she said.
While Sekhonyana said incident reports to head office do not seem to suggest an increase in these types of incidents at Gauteng schools, violent attacks at Azara were getting worse and neither teachers nor pupils feel safe anymore.
Two weeks before the teacher was attacked, some pupils were allegedly held at gunpoint while playing on the school grounds. The gunman allegedly robbed them of their cellphones.
Last year, a teacher was allegedly robbed inside the school premises too. In 2009, a pupil was robbed of his phone, chain and money by a knifeman who put the weapon on the child’s chest during the robbery.
The school is surrounded by Thembelihle informal settlement and it is believed that the perpetrators are usually from that community.
They gain entrance into the school by scaling the wall at the back where some of the concrete slabs have been removed.
Only two security guards are stationed at the school during the day. One at the main entrance and the other at the other part of the school where metal bars are missing from the fence to ensure pupils do not use that hole to dodge classes.
Two work at night.
However, they don’t have walkie-talkies to call each other for back up in case anything happens.
It’s not only criminals that the school has to contend with.
Some community members used to connect electricity illegally from the school to their shacks. A trench running inside the school and another one running outside under the pavement whose bricks were dug up bear witnesses to the challenges the school has faced in recent times.
Despite all these problems, however, another source said they had given up on getting assistance from the Department of Education, the community and the local councillor.
While the department was aware that the school was being billed for electricity it was not using, it only acted after two years when Azara staff had written letters to the MEC and also to the minister of safety, the source said.
The department has also been accused of not putting up a higher wall at the school, although it is aware that the existing wall does nothing to deter criminals who torment pupils and staff.
The local councillor allegedly does nothing to help address the school’s ongoing problems and only goes there at the beginning of the year to fight for those pupils who have not been admitted.
The school claims that they have also tried to engage the community about their ongoing challenges with vandalism and crime by calling meetings.
“But there is no support from the community. We have about 1 300 pupils at the school but you’ll have about 30 parents turning up,” another source said.
The councillor, Janice Ndarhala, said she was not aware of last week’s incident as no one had told her about it. She also admitted that she was not involved in the school because she was leaving teaching to the teachers and if anyone needed her help all they had to do was to say so.
Ndarhala, whose brother is a pupil at the school, said she could not be blamed for not being helpful when she is never invited to meetings. - The Star