The affordable education loan option
Tani Jacobs was sitting quietly in her classroom, marking a test her pupils had just written, when 13-year-old Bheki Kunene walked in brandishing a hammer.
He was going to kill her.
He bludgeoned her a dozen times as she stayed trapped in between her desk and the wall, with no escape. She fought him off, but the boy came down hard, cracking her skull.
Her Grade 8 class, busy completing their second English test when the attack took place, screamed in shock. Two pupils tried to help.
But it was only when Jacobs’ colleagues heard the screams and rushed into the classroom that the boy was pulled off her.
The young teacher, with only two years’ experience, had been severely injured. But even in her state, she worried about her other pupils.
When she asked whether they were okay, one pupil pointed out that she was bleeding from the head.
Until then, Jacobs hadn’t noticed.
“As I walked past him, and while the other teachers were holding him, he lunged at me again. He seemed intent on killing me. I went to the staff room. There was no one there. I called my father to come and get me,” she recalled.
The trouble with the teenager had started in March 2001, six months before the vicious attack on the Rhodes High School teacher. He had just assaulted another pupil.
“Every pupil had received a journal. They were supposed to write in it every day. It could be anything. It was for literacy purposes, to keep them writing each day. I never asked to see their notes, it was their personal thoughts and feelings,” she said.
But earlier that September, Bheki had shown her his journal.
“It made my blood turn cold. He detailed the day of my death: how he would kill me, when he would do it and the exact time. He sketched my death certificate. He showed it to me. I took it and begged the school’s management to assist. He needed help. I had been telling them that for a while, but nothing was done.
“On the day of the attack, he was marched to the principal’s office. There was a scuffle between him and the principal. This, I believe, is what set him off. The principal threw him out of his office and he was left to his own devices. This is when he returned to do what he set out to do - to kill me.”
Jacobs never wanted to be a teacher. Her father was a lecturer at UCT, and she had seen how busy he always was.
“I studied drama. But part of the course was education. Those were the first encounters I had with children. I was so pleased when I realised they understood my teachings on morals and principals. I had found my passion. I was going to make a difference, be a positive influence on children. I would be a teacher,” she said.
Jacobs started her career at a primary school, hoping the experience would set her up to move to high school. She wanted to be prepared.
The children at both primary and high school level loved her. She felt it.
But when she decided to sue Rhodes High headmaster Keith Long for gross negligence and the Education Department for damages after the attack, she said she was attacked again, victimised and made to suffer alone.
Her attorney, Mushtaq Parker, said that when he met Jacobs she was a broken woman who trusted no one. It was her father who forced her to see a lawyer.
“She had just been through unbelievable trauma. And in the court she was traumatised again. The (education) department’s legal team cross-examined her for 12 days. I had never seen anything like it. And Tania started to doubt herself.”
In the end, though, eight years after the attack, she won the case.
The payout was R1.14 million, but the department had spent R17m on legal fees, according to Parker.
“It was ridiculous. They would not concede, so they spent all that money trying to defend their actions. And in the process hurt Tania even more. I still believe there should have been an inquiry into why the department spent so much.”
Today Jacobs still suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. But she improves every day, thanks to the support of her family.
“I have an amazing support structure. I haven’t recovered fully and I don’t know if I will ever be the same, but I am trying to find an outlet. I am trying to find another passion.
“I just can’t go back to teaching,” she said. - Saturday Argus