Panyaza Lesufi not coping with deaths of learners
The political head of basic education in the province made the confession to the National Press Club in Pretoria yesterday, where he was guest speaker.
He said he saw no other way to bring stability and order to schools except through divine intervention.
In this regard, Lesufi said he had consulted with elders about what needed to be done following the unnatural deaths that had hit schools in the province the hardest.
There have been 15 deaths of learners and four of teachers in various incidents since the start of the academic year.
Lesufi said his exhaustion was compounded by the effects of incidents on the mental health of learners, something previously not regarded as important but this had to be prioritised now.
He said this had not been an easy transition.
There was support from the Department of Social Development and organisations such as the Teddy Bear Clinic.
Through this, he said the department had realised that not every school could afford counselling services for learners and staff.
“Our learners are going through hell and we need someone who can listen to them.
“When female learners are on the way to school, they are forced by boys to give them their phone numbers.
“When they refuse they are harassed.
“This is why communities are important because they are meant to protect our children,” Lesufi said.
He revealed that a report on the death of Parktown Boys High learner Enock Mpianzi in a drowning incident while on a school camp would be handed over to the family today.
The report would be shared with parents at a meeting scheduled to take place at Wits University, the MEC said. Enock, a 13-year-old Grade 8 leaner, drowned at the Nyati Bush and River Break lodge during an orientation camp.
He was the first of the 16 deaths Lesufi has had to deal with this year.
According to initial reports, he disappeared when a makeshift raft he and other boys were on overturned on the Crocodile River.
His body was found two days later after other pupils allegedly repeatedly warned camp facilitators that Enock had last been seen struggling in the water and that he had gone missing.
The clinical director of the Teddy Bear Clinic, Shaheda Omar, said they had not been unpacking the challenges that learners and schools were facing, and instead focused on the symptoms.
Child protection was everybody’s business, she said, and it had to focus on collaborations between law-enforcement agencies and schools.
“Children come from backgrounds of adversity, a culture of violence and are bombarded with social media where sex and violence are eroticised.
“The range of emotions among these children could be very wide and could have long-term effects,” she said. Lesufi addressed the state of negligence in schools and said structures would be put in place to ensure teachers knew what to do to keep children safe, especially during trips.
He said they had been working with various organisations to formulate guidelines, and in the meantime they had discouraged schools from planning trips that involved water-related activities.
“We are bringing a strong element of the basic knowledge to know what to do if a tragedy happens.
“We must not create an impression that teachers must know everything, but there is additional support that we need to provide and refresh.
“I am one person to defend schools to embark on trips because I believe that they are educational and want them to become part of our curriculum,” he said.
Other deaths included a learner who fell from a balcony during an epileptic seizure, a suicide, and school transport accident.
There has also been a rape, a teacher knocking a student down, and three teachers dying in a car accident.