School violence needs urgent attention

CEO of Safer South Africa Foundation and former national police commissioner Riah Phiyega. Picture: Supplied

CEO of Safer South Africa Foundation and former national police commissioner Riah Phiyega. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 28, 2024


By Riah Phiyega

In a country grappling with high levels of crime, it is unfortunately becoming increasingly challenging to find a child who has not been exposed to the harsh realities of violence, substance abuse, gangsterism, and bullying.

Disturbingly, some of this criminal activity extends its reach onto the premises of educational institutions.

A stark illustration of this is the recent and profoundly shocking incident of a cold-blooded murder that unfolded right before the eyes of pupils during an event in Soweto.

This distressing event, including a few others such as a 13-year-old who shot a school principal in Ekurhuleni and a six-year-old who was raped by two boys in Humansdorp, Eastern Cape, highlights the unsettling reality.

Criminality, often pervasive in broader society, can tragically spill over into the supposedly safe spaces of school grounds.

Such incidents underscore the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address the complex interplay between crime and the educational environment.

The question is what more can be done to protect children from all forms of physical and mental violence, abuse and maltreatment?

To its credit, the Department of Basic Education is very clear and committed to the clarion call that there is no place for violence, drug-use, sexual harassment and other criminal acts in schools. We’ve seen how the Department continues to work with the police through the Adopt-a-Cop programmes.

Various provinces have developed supporting programmes.

The Western Cape’s school resource officer programme, which emphasises the physical deployment of officers at schools and Gauteng’s Operation Kgutla Molao, are prime examples.

While this is admirable, there is a stark reality for most schools in the townships and rural communities a disconcerting routine that unfolds regularly.

The schoolyards therefore contend with bullying, stabbings, drug and alcohol abuse, and violent confrontations, leaving everyone frustrated by the widening chasm between our ideal vision of safe learning environments and the grim crime within our educational institutions.

Small wonder that the latest crime statistics for the three months to December 2023 show that at educational institutions, there were 7 murders and 61 rapes reported.

The quarter before, there 10 murders, 20 attempted murders and 291 cases of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. These types of incidents, confirm that as a society, if we are to reflect honestly, we find ourselves inadvertently failing our youth.

The promise of a secure and nurturing educational environment remains elusive for many.

To bridge this alarming gap, we must reevaluate our educational goals, realign our strategies, and actively work towards creating an atmosphere where children can learn and grow without the constant threat of violence.

Amidst these challenges, there's a glimmer of hope. The community of Klerksdorp, North West Province is still reeling from a violent incident captured recently on social media.

A group of learners at Moyo’s Educators High School, accompanied by their friends from another school, viciously attacked a fellow learner.

Upon learning of this shocking event, Ms. Irene Ramatisa, the North West Provincial Coordinator for Safer South Africa Foundation (SSAF), swiftly took action.

Ms. Ramatisa, a retired educationalist with over 23 years of experience in school management, was determined to prevent further violence and retaliatory acts.

She contacted the families of the involved learners and acted as a mediator between the parents of the offenders and the victim. After discussing with both families, she promptly reported the incident to the police, who initiated a speedy and thorough investigation.

The probe revealed a history of altercations between the victim and the attacking group’s leader, with the victim having previously assaulted the latter. In the end, the timely intervention helped restore calm.

The SSAF’s Criminal Justice Programme (CJP), on offer since 2012, is increasingly being regarded as a tried and tested crime prevention intervention.

The programme is delivered by law-enforcement agencies with the criminal justice system with the support of the South African Human Rights Commission and other agencies.

To date, the CJP has been successfully implemented in eight provinces, reaching 400 schools and 40,000 pupils.

The programme initiates dialogue and creates an interactive “getting-to-know-each-other” platform for communities and law enforcement practitioners.

Aspects of the CJP involve testimonials during prison visits by those behind bars dissuading learners from following in their footsteps.

The programme also debunks a widespread belief by learners that they are exempt from being arrested, prosecuted, and ultimately jailed for any crime just because they aren’t legally classified as adults yet.

It is worth noting that instances of violence in schools generally occur where ill-discipline is rife and is accompanied by other social ills such as physical bullying, gangsterism and substance abuse.

So as SSAF we see first-hand the level of need for intervention against school violence.

Addressing the roots of school violence requires a comprehensive commitment to our collective vision, a commitment that transcends mere rhetoric.

It demands a concerted effort from educators, administrators, policymakers, and the broader community. By prioritising the safety of our children, we can initiate a transformative process that not only curtails the immediate threats but also fosters an environment conducive to the holistic development of our future leaders.

The time to act is now.

CEO of Safer South Africa Foundation and former national police commissioner Riah Phiyega. Picture: Supplied

* Riah Phiyega is the former SAPS National Commissioner and CEO of Safer South Africa Foundation.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.