‘Abductions’ hit home

Recent reports of alleged abductions of schoolchildren have touched a nerve, spurring the local community into action­.

“The local school community has now come to the realisation that it is time to act, and are mobilising,” says Karen Breytenbach, project director of the Chris Otto Foundation Trust.

The first step in the process, says Breytenbach, was a meeting yesterday (Monday) with educators, parents, non-profit organisations (NPOs), law enforcement agencies and education officials, to tackle the problem. The meeting was called, by the trust, to address safety concerns for the learners who go to school in District Six.

Police also used the meeting as an opportunity to clear the air. Cape Town Central police spokesperson, Captain Ezra October, told the gathering that although the police cannot definitively rule out abduction in the cases of two learners, he stressed that the matters were not clear cut.

October says in the first incident, on Tuesday 31 July, a case of robbery of an 18-year-old learner is being investigated. He says the learner was allegedly confronted by two men, one armed with a knife, and they seized her cellphone.

October says in the second case, on Wednesday 8 August, an 11-year-old learner was allegedly accosted by a man while she was looking for her parents after she returned from school. Police are investigating a sexual offence case.

The message from the meeting was a united front to ensure learners are safe.

“It is important to understand that there are nine schools in the immediate District Six area and that their learners walk the streets of District Six to and from school every day. Thousands of children come to school in the area every day,” says a statement from the trust.

It adds that about 70%+ of learners commute from the townships and Cape Flats.

“This is a reality that presents a number of safety challenges for the commuting children, most notably taxis that are overcrowded and speeding, or that park a distance away from the schools, forcing the kids to walk the last stretch through an area where there are lots of muggings, and now recently also two kidnappings.”

At the meeting, Thabisa Mampofu of the provincial education department’s Safe Schools Programme informed attendees of the importance of a good working relationship between all the stakeholders. She recommended constant communication between schools and police.

ChildSafe, another NPO that provides services to learners, introduced its “Safe Travel to School” and “Walk This Way” safety programmes­.

Sunflower Learning Centre librarian, Cynthia Ngxukuma, shared the story of an eight-year-old Zonnebloem Boys’ Primary School learner who was robbed, allegedly by learners from a local high school, last term. The boy had been en route to board transport­.

Police assured the meeting they would continue with patrols and October called for proactive and united efforts.

Ward councillor Dave Bryant pledged the City of Cape Town’s support in the form of infrastructure such as speed humps.

Inspector Eugene Loewe from the City’s Traffic Services urged parents to employ licensed drivers to ferry their children. Failure to operate a legal scholar transport service will lead to the vehicle impounded, said Loewe. Scholar transport driver, Princess Kotyi, praised traffic officer who patrol the local roads regularly.

Meanwhile, the Kensington Community Police Forum called on all residents to be vigilant in preventing attacks against all learners.

V Safe Schools can be called on 0800 45 46 47, the police sector manager on 021 480 7700.