School safety is critical to learning. Crime, violence and abuse affect all aspects of our community but schools should be free from these.
The frequency of reports over learners stabbing others and teachers, female learners being harassed or raped by a teacher or learners being cyber-bullied and so on, are on the rise.
The latest horrendous case being the recent alleged rape of a female Grade nine pupil by two matriculants in Vosloorus, Gauteng.
Discussions on causes and possible solutions for the high levels of grotesque violence plaguing our schools reveal society’s heightened awareness and concern from many about this scourge and confirm the need for urgent attention before it becomes deeply engraved.
Consequently, South Africa is desperately searching for ways to arrest the situation. Some have fervently put forward US President Donald Trump’s largely discredited idea – due to its absurdity- of providing teachers with firearms.
Some others resort to a common refrain of blaming parents, peer pressure, political leaders, society in general, violent television shows and the spread of hatred and brutality through social media.
To compound matters, society has become fixated on victims and perpetrators who customarily hog the media headlines while other learners, educators and the broader community face the traumatic consequences alone.
However, what does not make the news bulletins and newspaper street posters are the friends, family, educators and learners who witnessed and, in some cases, survived the attacks.
Also, it appears society may have inadvertently kept learners in a state of ignorance when it comes to school violence by not getting them to shoulder some of the responsibility.
This is exactly how things turned out recently in North West’s sprawling town of Zeerust.
The school is Ramotsere High. No one had ever imagined that on that tragic day, at around 11.30am at one of the mini halls named C9, Tumisang Moraka would pull out a knife and stab his Maths teacher; the late Gadimang Mokolobate to death in front of some 20 other learners.
Livid, confused and preoccupied with thoughts of immediate justice, educators wanted to take the law into their own hands to avenge for their fellow teacher.
Realising what was about to befall them, other learners stood up and came to Moraka’s defence. Were it not for the deputy principal’s cool head that defused the tension, the worst could have happened.
Evidently, the roots of school violence are wider and deeper.
To ensure the solution provided covered the depth and breadth the problem, The Safer South Africa Foundation (SSAF) partnered with various non-governmental organisations and government as part of North West Department of Education-led initiative to ensure there is no recurrence of violence at the school.
Counselling services were made available to the affected learners, educators and community members.
The intervention team also included tribal authorities, the province’s Department of Social Services; the local municipality; retired social workers, Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign; the Local Taxi Association; Ramotshere Moiloa Pastoral Unit and the School Governing Body.
For its part, the SSAF deployed its Communities and Justice Programme that is aimed at exposing learners to the criminal justice system.
Through this programme, the SSAF interacted with more than 3000 learners over the past seven years and found that lack of exposure to the functioning of the criminal justice system and proper understanding of the consequences of one’s actions is the main contributor.
The programme is delivered in conjunction with the capable and experienced officials seconded by the criminal justice departments of SA Police Services, Traffic, National Prosecution Authority, The Magistracy in the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, South Africa Human Rights Commission and the Banking Association of South Africa teaching financial literacy as well as promoting financial inclusion.
Representatives of each authority are assigned to lecture learners on the role of the criminal justice system in the community.
Also, learners were taught the salient features of the Constitution especially the chapter dealing with human rights and responsibilities.
Moreover, learners were empowered regarding their rights and responsibilities in their interaction with law enforcement agents. A guided tour to the court and correctional facilities provides experiential learning and helps dispel myths learners hold regarding the criminal justice system.
At Ramotshere Court, the learners observed a mock trial and unlearned the myth that children who commit crimes cannot be prosecuted and be found guilty in court.
At Zeerust Prison, learners were taken to the kitchen to learn how the meals for prisoners is prepared and to see its quality. Thereafter, they were taken around the prison to experience the prison environment and to see conditions the prisoners live under.
The correctional officers together with offenders explained to learners how unbearable prison life is and how untenable it is for a person to regard it as a second home. Most of the were shocked while some shed tears especially when they saw their peers behind bars.
Ramotshere High School Principal, who together with some of the school management team, was initially sceptical about the intervention as there have been several attempts before but were so impressed with impact on the learners that a further 80 learners have been identified for the next intake.
This positive reaction is something the SSAF team has become accustomed to as it happens across all the seven provinces currently being serviced.
As the adage goes, ‘‘it takes a village to raise a child’’ the time is opportune for the South African village to really mobilise and work together to raise our children safely in schools.
* Phiyega is CEO of the Safer South Africa Foundation
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.