School at mercy of gangsters

school 09:42 26/04 Cape Times Lucky break: Arcadia High pupil Nazeem "Donkie" Gabriels, 15, stands with principal Desmond Mocke, who shielded the teenager when gangsters pushed their way into the school looking for him. Photo: Angelo Kalmeyer, Cape Times

By A'eysha Kassiem

A no entry sign, two guard dogs and six security guards armed only with handcuffs are all that the 1 100 pupils at Arcadia High in Bonteheuwel in the Western Cape have for protection, even after armed gangsters barged into the school last week and threatened the principal at gunpoint.

When a Cape Times team visited the school on Monday, there were gaping holes in the fence. An outsider had climbed through a hole and sat smoking on the field.

It is believed gangsters searching for Grade 8 pupil Nazeem "Donkie" Gabriels, 15, got into the school through these holes.

In his first interview since the incident, Gabriels described how principal Desmond Mocke had shielded him in the school safe as gangsters barged in.

"I am happy I am still alive. I was scared," he said, adding that a fight with a group of gangsters a few days earlier might have prompted the invasion.

He was thankful Mocke had protected him, but said he felt safer at home.

"There's no way they can get me there. I will be protected at home," he said, referring to friends who would come to his aid.

Gabriels, who lives with his grandmother, said he had escaped through one of the holes in the fence after police rounded up some of the gangsters.

Meanwhile, while Mocke says everything is "under control", he has expressed concern about the security guards' ability to handle volatile situations.

"Gangsters don't care (about killing anyone) and are not afraid. I don't even know whether these guards are trained.

"We should have had our fencing fixed two years ago."

The school continued to wait for this to be done.

He continued to feel "anxious", Mocke said.

The education department needed to give "extra care" to schools in high-risk areas, he said.

"If we had safety, there would be a better culture of learning. Violence at schools is breaking me up bit by bit."

The Safe Schools programme's provincial manager, Nariman Khan, said a committee had met on Friday to discuss safety measures. They were reviewing the high school's needs, such as for an electronically controlled gate. The fence would be repaired within a week and a half, Khan said.

Khan welcomed Education MEC Cameron Dugmore's move to re-valuate the Safe Schools programme - expected to be a key focus in his budget speech on Tuesday. Asked where it had fallen short, she said lack of human resources made things difficult.

There was only one Safe Schools co-ordinator in each of the seven education management districts covering about 250 schools.

"Based on recent incidents, it may seem as though the Safe Schools programme has failed, but there are many schools where we have had success."

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