The Space Between: Our schools are no longer the safe zones they once were

Safety at schools around the country remains a concern after at least 13 confirmed cases of kidnapping took place since the 8th of August 2018. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

Safety at schools around the country remains a concern after at least 13 confirmed cases of kidnapping took place since the 8th of August 2018. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

Published May 22, 2021


By Ofentse Morwane

There is a sad truth that we must confront as a nation. The safety of our children at school. This matter continues to rear its ugly head frequently in various forms.

Our voices are muted. We have been nothing but reactive on this burning subject. It becomes topical only when an incident is reported in the media. The violence occurs in the form of stabbings, assault, sexual assault and bullying.

South Africa’s violent crime patterns are notorious. They have taken root in our schools. An upsurge in the number of cases of violence among learners bears testimony to this. The violation of the human rights of our learners takes place in various forms, the most common being learner-on-learner abuse.

There have been many violent incidents among learners in schools across the country. The most recent is that of Grade 10 learner Lufuno Mavhungu, who committed suicide after she was violently beaten by a fellow learner at Mbilwi Secondary School in Limpopo.

There is a clear indication that learner-on-learner violence has reached a crisis point. In some of the incidents, learners and teachers have lost their lives. Schools are grappling with rising disciplinary issues and behavioural problems. Teachers have been stabbed by learners. There is a concern that some of the learners who perpetrate the crimes come from dysfunctional homes, where values, norms and humanity principles are not instilled. This results in them resorting to all kinds of violence to seek attention and affection.

Author Ofentse Morwane. File image

It would seem violence is a regular occurrence in our schools. The media has played an active role in bringing some of the cases into the public domain. Others never saw the light of day, because they did not receive media coverage.

Regrettably, the teachers seem to have joined the fray. Sexual abuse of learners by male teachers is on the rise. It has become abundantly clear that our learners, particularly girls, are not safe in the hands of those who are entrusted to care for them. As painful and sad as it is, this is the reality we must confront.

Traditionally, school was a safe place for learners and educators. Evidently, this is no longer the case. It is a serious predicament since most of our learners spend more time at school than anywhere else, other than their homes.

This week there were media reports about two teachers at two schools in Gauteng who allegedly sexually assaulted female learners. Learners from Ivory Park schools mobilised community members and took to the streets to protest against allegations that a teacher at Umqhele Secondary School allegedly sexually assaulted a Grade 10 female learner.

Something has gone horribly wrong in our schools. Many variables and social ills are at play. Gender inequality and the patriarchal nature of the society we live in are unfolding in the learning environment. It is sad that some female learners have become victims of rape and gender-based violence at such an early age.

There is a need for all the role payers to confront safety challenges at our schools and develop a common approach to the matter.

It has also become critical that law enforcement agencies continue to conduct random and unannounced visits to schools.

Police Minister Bheki Cele released the National Crime Statistics last week, reflecting the crimes reported to the SAPS from January 1 to the end of March this year. The indication is that contact crimes such as aggravated assault, sexual offences, common assault, robbery and aggravated robbery declined by 8.5%. Perhaps our crime statistics should start to be more specific about crimes committed at schools so that we can get a clearer picture?

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