Johannesburg - The environment at our schools is such that many pupils have taken to bringing weapons to school.
Recent studies show that bullying, which appears to be on the increase, and self-defence are some of the reasons that pupils have given when explaining why they arm themselves when going to school.
Dr Lynette Jacobs, a lecturer at the School of Education Studies at the University of the Free State, conducted a study on school violence among 690 high school pupils in Gauteng, the Free State and the Eastern Cape.
The study, which was published last month, showed that “pupils across the board, from economically stable, former Model C and township schools, bring weapons to schools”.
“The secondary school environment apparently propels learners to come to school armed, and the most popular weapons for self-defence are clubs, sticks and similar objects. Pepper spray and knives are also often brought to school,” Jacobs said.
“Learners from more affluent schools carry noticeably more weapons than learners in less affluent schools,” she said.
Jacobs said this could be because pupils in affluent schools, which tend to be bigger in size and are usually multiracial, are under more pressure.
She said that even though there was strife across all types of schools, larger schools were more susceptible to violence.
“There’s no sense of community at bigger schools. At smaller schools, people are usually rooted in the community and everyone knows everyone,” she said.
Jacobs said that although cases of gang violence appeared to be more prevalent in the Western Cape because of media coverage, gangsterism was also a huge problem in all three provinces she surveyed for the study.
She said perpetrators and victims of school violence were mainly pupils and teachers at the schools, and only a small number of cases involved people from outside the school.
“I found that boys and girls are the victims during incidents of school violence, but both groups are also the aggressors. Similarly, I found that while teachers often get victimised by learners, they also transgress towards the learners,” Jacobs said.
In a previous study that Jacobs conducted among teachers from the Free State and the Eastern Cape, 77 percent of the teachers said they had been exposed to some form of victimisation at the hands of their pupils.
“What children do to teachers sometimes is just horrific,” she said.
On the other hand, Jacobs said that in her latest study, she had found that teachers still regularly used corporal punishment against pupils, which is illegal in South African schools.
According to the South African Council for Educators (Sace) 2012 annual report, cases of corporal punishment are on the increase.
“There is a huge outcry from educators that while corporal punishment has been abolished, nothing was left in its place, and as a result, learners have become even more ill-disciplined,” the report said.
The report also noted that sexual abuse of pupils was still rife.
The council’s CEO, Rej Brijraj, who acknowledged that some cases went unreported, said 174 cases of corporal punishment were reported to Sace last year. This is compared with 100 cases reported in 2011.
Similarly, cases of sexual misconduct, which include rape, have also increased, with 126 reported last year, up from 78 reported in 2011.
A form of violence that often goes unreported, Jacobs said, but which is just as prevalent as physical violence, is psychological violence.
“I found that psychological violence is the most frequent form of school violence in South African schools.
“Verbal cruelty is most common, and threatening words and behaviour as well as bullying regularly occur at schools,” she said.
“People need to be aware that it’s not just about physical violence. Marginalisation is common. It’s the seemingly little things that happen every day without anything being done about them that lead to retaliation,” she said.
Jacobs cited the case of a Vosloorus teenager who shot another pupil, allegedly after being bullied, to illustrate this.
Tsundzukani Mthombeni, an 18-year-old from Phineas Xulu Secondary in Vosloorus, was charged with murder, theft and the possession of an unlicensed firearm after he shot Nkululeko Ndlovu.
It’s alleged that Nkululeko, 18, had bullied Mthombeni, prompting him to take a service pistol belonging to his police constable mother to school.
This happened the day after Nkululeko and a group of pupils had pelted Tsundzukani with stones and robbed him of his cellphone and clothes, leaving him with only his pants.
Nkululeko was sitting in a classroom before an exam when he was fatally shot.
Jacobs said cellphones were a huge part of victimisation.
“The worst weapon for me is the cellphone.
“Children often use Facebook and BBM to get to each other.
“Social media is always involved… pupils write the most horrible things about each other, and the victims often can’t defend themselves,” she said.
Jacobs said as much as universal policies and guidelines were important, solutions to school violence needed to be found within the context of each school and community.
“A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work – this is a comprehensive problem, and communities must deal with it in a comprehensive way. We need to act responsibly… too much is at stake,” she said.