School violence: 'Learning, teaching cannot be conducted in fear'
RUSTENBURG - The death of North West teacher Gadimang Daniel Mokolobate, 24, allegedly murdered by a knife-wielding 17-year-old pupil in a classroom at Ramotshere Secondary School in Dinokana, outside Zeerust, has put renewed focus on the issue of school violence.
At the time Mokolobate's death made news headlines earlier this month, a learner also pointed a gun at a teacher at a Gauteng school, while a school principal was attacked by learners in the Eastern Cape.
In Ikageng, in Potchefstroom in North West, around the same period, a 13-year-old boy in Grade 8 was stabbed by three alleged school dropouts.
The attackers are said to have climbed over the school perimeter fence and taken some of the learners’ meals by force.
The 13-year-old learner bravely stood up to them and ended up being stabbed in the shoulder.
In a separate incident, a Grade 8 boy allegedly stabbed a Grade 12 girl, also in Ikageng.
The African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) in the North West reacted with shock to the murder of Mokolobate, saying that learning and teaching cannot be conducted in an environment of fear.
"Learning and teaching can never be conducted in fear; therefore elements within society which threatens the safety of the learners and teachers must be confronted and eliminated by society," said ANCYL provincial spokesperson Tshiamo Tsotetsi.
"This is one of the incidents which put the education system and safety of both the learners and teachers at our schools into question, this instance and many others involving school learners being in possession of dangerous weapons and drugs within school premises are a reflection of society engulfed with gangsterism, a tendency which has begun to spill over to our schools, and thus making our schools playgrounds for criminality and war zones," Tsotetsi said.
According to a study by the University of South Africa (Unisa) titled The Dynamics of violence in Schools in South Africa 2012, school violence is widely held to have become a serious problem in recent decades in many countries, especially where weapons such as guns or knives are involved. It includes violence between school students as well as physical attacks by students on school staff.
More recent research has linked the school environment to school violence. Teacher assaults were associated with a higher percentage male faculty, a higher proportion of male students, and a higher proportion of students receiving free or reduced cost lunches.
In Potchefstroom, the 13-year-old was stabbed over a fight for food, while Mokolobate, affectionately known as Papiki, was stabbed to death for calling a learner to order when the learner wanted to skip a queue and have a second plate of free lunch provided for at the school.
In general, a large male population, higher grade levels, a history of high levels of disciplinary problems in the school, high student-to-teacher ratios, and an urban location were related to growing violence in schools.
Teachers' union the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) called on the department of education to ensure safety in schools and for parents to play a central role in the education of their children, including their discipline.
"We expect our schools to be free of drugs and weapons that can endanger the lives of both the teachers and learners," said Sadtu North West provincial secretary George Themba.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was in preliminary discussions with social sector partners, including the SA Police Service and department of social development, to establish a colloquium which will allow a sector-wide response to strengthening the social infrastructure in schools as the safety of learners and teachers goes beyond fencing and policing.
"It is indeed heart-breaking that a family has lost a breadwinner, a mother has lost a child and the sector has lost an talented young educator, furthermore it brings into sharp focus the question of school safety and the fact that it is not only a school issue, instead it is a societal issue that requires us to re-engage and strengthen our social fabric," Motshekga said on the passing of Mokolobate.