Focus on violence among pupils

TAMLYNNE THOMPSON

“We do not have a major gang problem at our school, but nearby schools do. And when it hits you, schools need to be prepared,” said Heideveld Primary School principal, Rosdien Desai.

Mr Desai was speaking at a panel discussion held at the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children in Manenberg on Thursday May 26 in recognition of Child Protection Week, which started on Friday May 27 and runs until Thursday June 2 .

The discussion highlighted issues with gangsterism, bullying, and substance abuse that pupils attending local schools face.

At the discussion, Lieutenant Ian Bennett of the Manenberg police station said children from gang-ridden areas were often trapped in an environment they could not get out of, and lacked a sense of pride. As a result of this, the Manenberg police recently started a campaign to introduce ways to instil pride in children of the area, which includes career guidance and the SAPS band.

He said they try to build trust within the community and change the way children see the police, as they often have to be ruthless when working in gang-ridden areas.

Violence in schools has become a concern for schools in areas plagued with gangsterism and drugs.

Mr Desai said schools mirror what happens in society, and almost 90 percent of violence in schools is among the pupils. However, he said, a worrying aspect of violence in schools is that pupils are now turning their anger toward teachers as well.

Phoenix High School principal, Shafiek Abrahams, said children who attend the school become a reflection of what happens in the community. “There are about 1 000 learners at our school coming from all over Manenberg and Nyanga, so there are different influences from different areas. It is difficult for our teachers to pinpoint a common trend,” he said.

“Once the learner enters the school, they become a Phoenix learner irrespective of where they come from, but the gangsterism and violence they face in the community emerges in our school.”

He said there are pupils attending Phoenix High School who live in one part of Manenberg that cannot enter another part of Manenberg.

Bridgetown High School deputy principal, Cheryl Bolters, said bullying is a major problem at the school, as well as gangsters from outside terrorising some of the pupils.

She said gangsters from the community wait for the pupils to come out during interval, jump over the fence to rob the pupils. “They have friends or people they know inside the school who will pass them information. And the children are terrified, so they don’t talk because they fear becoming a target”

Mr Abrahams said while this kind of behaviour in schools is disruptive, teachers are forced to deal with violence. “But we have law enforcement and Bambanani to assist us when things become too much for teachers.”

Ms Bolters said teachers at the schools in gang-ridden areas put themselves in danger too, describing an incident where a gangster recently jumped over the school fence and a stabbing ensued, where she was also beaten in the process. “What can I do? I have kids to protect here.”

She said teachers at township schools teach in war zones.

The Saartjie Baartman Centre, which is assisting about 60 children and 40 mothers who are dealing with abuse at home and within their communities, have recently started workshops at local schools to educate pupils about abuse and encourage them to speak up.

They have already run workshops at Phoenix and Bridgetown high schools and Heideveld Primary School, among others on the Cape Flats.

Beverly Houston of the Saartjie Baartman Centre said there has been a 65 percent year-on-year increase in the number of victims approaching the centre for assistance.

The principal of Leadership College in Manenberg, Yusuf Atcha, said he did not have issues with violence in his school, despite the school being surrounded by gang violence on a daily basis. He said Leadership College is faith-based, which plays a major role in the way the school is run.

Mr Atcha said the community needs to work closely with SAPS and religious institutions on the Cape Flats to deal with violence among pupils.

“If there is cohesive networking between SAPS and religious institutions, we can play a transformative role in society.”