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Constructive plan needed to protect schools from gang violence

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By Abubaker Abrahams

Education activists and trade unions believe concerns around the safety of learners and teachers in gang affected communities are not being handled with urgency. This comes in the wake of increased gang violence in high risk areas of the Cape Flats, such as Manenberg, Hanover Park, Lavender Hill and Bishop Lavis.

According to reports this week, three teachers have resigned from Blomvlei primary in Hanover Park due to the immense toll of gang violence. On Monday, more than 50 parents protested outside the school calling for end to the shootings.

Chatting to VOC on Friday, South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) provincial secretary Jonovan Rustin said schools do not have enough resources to protect themselves from the on-going gang violence. He said all government departments involved needed to work together for the safety of every one affected.

“The violence is severely affecting learning and teaching. Schools are supposed to be places of sanctity, places where ideas are shared and places of non-violence. But yet we see an increase of gang violence especially around our schools,” said Rustin.

According to NGO Equal Education, these issues were raised with various government departments following an audit on 244 no-fee schools across the province between September and November 2015. They acquired data from 912 questionnaires which were answered by pupils, 220 which were answered by school administrators and from 229 physical inspections.

The organisation’s report states that at least one in six pupils and administrators felt unsafe in public schools because of violent incidents they had either witnessed or were involved in.

“83% of schools audited still practice cooperate punishment, majority of the schools don’t have access control, so there’s no security guards and fences are inadequate,” Equal Education’s Western Cape head Nishal Robb told VOC.

“Some of the other things we found is that the departments that exist to develop a sheer mandate to deal with school safety, that is the education department, social development, community safety and of course SAPS are not really working together at all. This is one of the major demands made by members,” added Robb.

In May, four schools in Lavender Hill had to be closed for two days to prevent learners and educators from being exposed to running gang battles.

Over the past two weeks, gang violence in Bishop Lavis has spiralled out of control with at least 15 people killed. Two learners were also killed in the crossfire.

“Learners are dying. We saw in Bishops Lavis a few months ago a principal being stabbed on his own premises despite having communicated with the WCED that death threats were being made against his life. This is a matter of life and death,” said Robb.

Robb further noted that many high school learners mobilised together last year to raise their concerns on gang violence to Western Cape Education Department (WCED), which he felt was ignored. He also said the problem is not only linked to high risk areas, but a widespread problem of learner safety.

The WCED has said it is doing all it can to protect learners while on the school property, by deploying additional security guards and City of Cape Town School Resource Officers. But the department said it needs SAPS to be visible in communities permanently. In the past, a strong police presence has helped to minimise the number of incidents reported.

“I want to make it clear that we receive very good co-operation from the SAPS in many places in the Western Cape, from officers who are doing their utmost under very difficult circumstances. I am humbled by their dedication and bravery and would like to pay tribute to the many SAPS officers we have working in troubled communities,” said MEC Debbie Shafer.

“But, the few that are doing a good job cannot protect this province alone. The police need to be resourced and properly trained to deal with these very serious issues in communities.”

SADTU has urged all schools to join in on the 10th of August to form a human chain at their school protesting against violence.

“We are saying ‘hands off our schools, hands off our communities’,” concluded Rustin. VOC


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