Picture: Wokandapix/Pixabay

South Africa and Gauteng province, in particular, have seen a rise in school violence sin the recent times.  These violent incidents have unfolded in the form of stabbings, assault, sexual assault and bullying.  They did not occur without casualties as in some instances innocent learners and educators lost their lives.

School safety is often a critical obstacle to learning. Truth be told crime, violence and abuse affect all aspects of our community, and schools are not always free from fear, intimidation or victimisation. This should be very worrying since most of our learners spend more time at schools than anywhere else other than their homes. 

At school, learners need a secure, positive, and comfortable environment conducive to learn. It’s reported that as many as 57% of South African students have been bullied at some time during their high-school careers. When one considers that we have 2.2 million school-going children in this country, those percentages translate into truly staggering numbers. 

Research also indicates that schools are grappling with rising disciplinary issues, while at the same time society is struggling to understand the complex factors that are creating fresh generations of disaffected youth. 

Extra-curricular activities at schools such as sport can and should serve as a powerful tool for self-discipline, not only helping children with behavioural problems in the classroom, but also boosting focus, academic achievement and in-classroom engagement. 

Schools have inadvertently become territories prone to crime and violence and this represents a threat to the successful achievement of educational goals. The problem persists despite the South African Police Services (SAPS), the Gauteng Department of Education and Community Safety (DCS) having several Safer Schools initiatives in operation. 

Traditionally, schools used to be one of the safest places learners and educators can be. However, in recent times the schooling environment is experiencing challenges such as bullying, gangsterism and serious violence crimes such as murder. These problems make learners and educators feel less safe, and it makes it harder for learners to learn and for teachers to do their jobs effectively. 

While there have been various cries for government to decriminalise corporal punishment at schools, the evidence that corporal punishment is harmful to children, is overwhelming. There are more than 250 studies included in the Global Initiative’s review of research on the impact of and associations with corporal punishment show links between corporal punishment and a wide range of negative outcomes, including direct physical harm, increased aggression in children, increased acceptance and use of other forms of violence. This I must say, has left us conflicted on methods of instilling discipline. 

Almost every week, our media are glaring with school violence headlines of brazen attacks of learners and teachers perpetrated by fellow learners. This unwarranted and unruly behaviour by our learners is shocking and is an extreme violation of school’s code of conduct which learners are expected to adhere to. 

Just last month, a Mondeor High School based learner was killed on his way to school. The 16-year-old Kulani Mathebula was fatally stabbed by his fellow learners at a park near his home as he was heading to school. The Gauteng Education Department has been issuing more death certificates than reports as MEC Panyaza Lesufi pointed at one stage. 

This breaks my heart as the three suspects are still minors themselves, between the age of 13 to 15. The Child Justice Act says that a child who is 10 years or older but under the age of 14 at the time of the alleged offence, is presumed not to have criminal capacity unless it is subsequently proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the child had such capacity at the time he or she committed the offence. According to the law, children who are 14 years and older have full criminal capacity.  

In another incident, bullying is believed to be at the centre of what led a 13-year-old Doornpoort Primary School pupil in Pretoria to commit suicide. The parents of the Grade 7 pupil found her lifeless body in her bedroom. Apparently, the teen sent her friend an image of herself, which was distributed among pupils on various WhatsApp groups. The pupils mocked and shamed her. It is believed that the deceased was criticised about her physical appearance and that she felt humiliated and feared going to school. Words cannot explain the depth of my grief for a young women’s future to be cut shot at such an early age.  

These astounding school violent acts derive from long-term exposure to gun violence, parental abuse of substances such as alcohol, domestic violence, physical abuse of the child, and child sexual abuse. These acts affirm to children that criminal and violent activities are acceptable. 

It is no secret that South Africa is a violent nation emanating from the Apartheid environment we were subjected to. As parents, teachers, leaders, we must ask ourselves one question, what kind of example are we setting to our young people? These incidents reflect the kind of society our children are raised from, the society that is full of anger and hatred. 

It is evident that some of these learners were not raised in properly structured families where values and norms as well as humanity principles were instilled. This results in them resorting to all kind of violence to seek attention and affection. 

It is incumbent upon us to teach children to resolve problems without fighting and explaining to them that fighting could lead to them getting hurt, hurting someone else, or earning a reputation as a bully. Talk to them about other ways they can work out a problem, such as talking it out, walking away, sticking with friends, or telling a trusted adult. In addition, we must also keep an eye on our learner’s internet usage and prevent them from surfing explicit websites. 

Prevention and early intervention are the most reliable and cost-effective ways to support schools in consistently delivering teaching and learning in an environment that is physically and socially safe.

It is critical that we involve all stakeholders to curb the scourge of violence in our respective schools. The learners representative council, educators, School Governing Body (SGB) members and school security personnel as well as external role players including the South African Police Service, the Metropolitan Police, local ward councillors, social workers and Community Police Forums (CPFs) must come on board to fight these social ills within our schools.

The CPF can play a vital and pivotal role in school safety as the structure is an ideal platform to address violence and crime in the community as it impacts on schools. Another benefit of CPF involvement is encouraging a culture of community ownership. 

Information regarding drug suppliers and peddlers within the community that contribute to drugs being supplied to learners can be shared at the CPF. 

Participation within the CPF by school management assists in finding cohesive solutions to the crime challenges faced by schools within the communities. 

As Gauteng Department of Community Safety, we have in recent times visited a number of schools as part of school safety intervention programme.   Some of the schools we recently visited include Unity High School in Ekurhuleni, Khanya Lesedi in Ratanda and Noordelig in Benoni just to mention a few. During the school safety programme we have confiscated cigarettes, alcohol, drugs as well as dangerous weapons such as knives and scissors allegedly used by learners while engaging in incident of violence.

My department in partnership with the Gauteng Department of Education has organised a school safety summit to be held at the Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre on the 17th of April 2019. The summit to be held under the theme “Safer school to support learning and teaching” will discuss these safety challenges such as gangsterism, bullying, break-ins at schools as well as violence against learners and educators within the schooling environment and develop a common approach in tackling them in enhancing conducive learning at schools.

It will be attended by about 3000 stakeholders including the Gauteng Premier, Gauteng MECs for Community Safety and Education, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, School Principals, School Governing Bodies members, Organized Labour, Representative Council of Learners and Student Movements.

Our fight against violence requires action by all stakeholders and the role of communities in fighting violence cannot be over-emphasized.  As an African proverb says “It takes a village to raise a child”. 

* Gauteng MEC for Community Safety, Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane