As South Africa comes to grips with gender-based violence with ongoing protests following the recent student deaths at universities, the spotlight has turned to bullying at schools where Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga revealed there were 1 345 violent hot spots in the country.
Mpumalanga leads the way with 414 schools hit by crime and violence, followed by 251 in Gauteng, 202 in Kwazulu-Natal, 147 in Western Cape, 99 in the Eastern Cape, 90 in the Free State, 80 in North West, 40 in Northern Cape and 22 in Limpopo.
“Bullying is the most common form of violence in schools and often occurs between learners. School violence most often occurs on school premises, but it also takes place on the way to and from school. Bullying is also increasingly taking place online and with the use of mobile devices,” the minister said during a safety and security in schools briefing in Parliament on Tuesday.
Some of the shock findings which emerged in presentations in Parliament last week indicate: statistics for bullying are high across schools, although slightly lower in quintile 4 and 5 schools.
Bullying is far more common in no-fee public schools - almost half (48%) of learners reported being bullied on a weekly basis, compared with just a quarter of those in independent schools.
Boys (47%) are more likely to be bullied than girls (40%) on a weekly basis.
Nearly a quarter (23%) of Grade 5s who report experiencing bullying weekly underperform compared with those who almost never experience bullying scoring on average 72 points higher.
Motshekga told the joint portfolio committee on basic education and portfolio committee on police that schools in communities with high crime and violence have higher rates of school violence, and the classroom is the place where most violence occurs.
Two days after Motshekga told the committee that the National School Safety Framework was the department’s strategic response to school violence, supporting provinces to implement several interventions in response to crime and violence in schools, President Cyril Ramaphosa has called a joint sitting of Parliament next Wednesday to talk about violence against women.
But this focus is integral to addressing gender-based violence, as among others the Commission on Gender Equality have called for increased awareness among boys to instil values on how they treat women at schools.
Motshekga will implement specific programmes aimed at boys but tackling the violence is her current priority.
She said initiatives were under way to strengthen the School Safety Committees through training to adequately respond to challenges faced, rolling out prevention programmes, anti-gangsterism joint intervention programmes with the SAPS, random searches and seizures on school premises.
In the presentation on safety and security in schools which contained bullying statistics, Granville Whittle, deputy director-general of the department, said the trend of school violence, has been decreasing over the past few years.
He said some of the interventions made by the DBE were specific interventions for most at-risk schools, improving the built environment. Learner safety needed to be considered when planning school infrastructure like fences, metal detectors, burglar proofing, alarms, and bullet proofing.
Lieutenant-General SJ Jephta, acting divisional commissioner: visible policing, SAPS, said the School Based Crime Prevention Guideline was developed by the SAPS in 2009 and was intended to be a resource for SAPS members working with youth crime prevention and school safety.
Jephta expressed the SAPS’ commitment to sustained action to deal with the persistent challenge of violence at schools until it is resolved. On the maintenance of School Safety Programme in each province, the total number from 2016 to date is 25 749.
However, there were still challenges being experienced with its implementation as safety committees were not established at all schools; not all safety committees were functional; the lack of demarcation of municipal boundaries; and shortage of resources (SAPS personnel), were some of the obstacles.
DA MP Désirée van der Walt said in the discussion afterwards that schools near taverns, adult sex shops and gambling facilities should be rezoned, while the use of cellphones during school hours should be investigated “as a lot of pornographic material was being circulated amongst learners”.
The ANC’s Thlologelo Malatji said the statistics reaffirmed the fact that there is a major correlation between inequality and violence in schools and addressing the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment within communities would go a long way in reducing incidents of violence, particularly at schools.