Education MEC Debbie Schäfer. Picture: Willem Law
Cape Town - There is confusion as to whether abductions and the drugging of learners from schools in the City Bowl really took place after neither schools in the area, nor police could confirm it.

This after the provincial education department created panic through the parent community when they reportedly distributed a letter warning of learners being drugged and abducted and asking them to be cautious.

In the letter sent to “Circuit 9 schools in the Town area”, Tatum Louw, school social worker of the Metropole Central Education District, said: “Please beware that there has been a series of child abductions that took place the past two weeks in the Zonnebloem and surrounding areas.

“Multiple cases have been reported to my office of learners walking to and from school and being drugged and taken in a van/vehicle. The cases thus far have been brought to the attention of SAPS in the area where the abductions took place.”

In the letter sent to “Circuit 9 schools in the Town area”, Tatum Louw, school social worker of the Metropole Central Education District, said: “Please beware that there has been a series of child abductions that took place the past two weeks in the Zonnebloem and surrounding areas.

In a follow-up email to schools, Enver Hassen, head of learner support in the metropole, said he had received numerous calls from concerned parents but warned parents to be mindful of distributing the letter “without proper mediation”.

However, neither police nor schools in the City Bowl and surrounding areas seem aware of any abductions or learners being drugged. The contents of the letter are somewhat similar to a hoax that was going around schools last year.

Three schools in Zonnebloem area - Holy Cross Primary School, Harold Cressy High School and Zonnebloem Nest Senior School - said they had not experienced or heard of any child abduction.

Some teachers did not believe in the accuracy of the letter. “I have noted some faults and errors in the letter - firstly there are not Circuit 9 schools in Zonnebloem area, our circuits start from 1 to 6,” said a teacher from Zonnebloem Nest Senior School. But, adding credence to the letters, Education MEC Debbie Schäfer expressed “concerns” following the reports.

“We have requested SAPS to increase visibility in the Zonnebloem area. We will also place these cases on our Watching Brief system to monitor progress.”

Schäfer said schools in the Zonnebloem area would be engaging with parents to raise awareness, as well as educating learners about being extra-vigilant travelling to and from school, and it was encouraged that learners travel in groups.

"I have received reports from our District Officials that two separate incidents of abductions have reportedly taken place in the Zonnebloem area over the past two weeks. Learners are reportedly being targeted while travelling to and from school," Schafer said.

According to the WCED, reports allege that perpetrators have been drugging learners and abducting them, one reporting the involvement of a white van. 

"We have reported these incidents to SAPS, Cape Town. In addition, the District Social Worker has issued communication to schools in the area," Schafer previously said.

"This is a source of extreme concern. We have not had reports of this happening in any other areas, but I would like to urge parents to exercise caution, and inform their children of the dangers of engaging with and of taking any food or beverage from strangers.  

"We have requested SAPS to increase visibility in the Zonnebloem area. We will also place these cases on our Watching Brief system to monitor progress.  These perpetrators must be found and charged," said Schafer. 

Police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana could not confirm the incidents but said police were in constant communication with schools in the province. 

"On the policing front we are part of the Safer Schools Programme with the Department of Education that looks into safety issues around schools. In addition, we are in constant communication with schools in the province. 

"As part of our policing initiatives, patrols are held around schools in the Cape Town area, including Zonnebloem. In winter we step up our operations to start at 04:00 in the morning as learners get to school while it is still dark. The operations continue in the afternoon after school. The SAPS with other roleplayers including the scholar patrols (Traffic Services) work towards ensuring safety of learners on a continuous basis," said Rwexana. 

She added that the police regard abductions and other crimes against school children in a serious light. "We urge those with information about the above cited cases to report them immediately. It is our objective to investigate in order to bring the perpetrators to book. We advise learners and parents to be vigilant at all times on their way to and from school. SAPS patrols and operations will continue in the area in an effort to ensure visibility."

Patrols were held around schools in the Cape Town area, including Zonnebloem.

Learners, parents and teachers are advised to phone Safe Schools Call Centre at 0800454647 to report incidents or for counselling and advice.

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Cape Argus