Are our pupils and our teachers safe in the schoolyard?
The answer seems to be no, with school violence seemingly on the rise.
School parent bodies and education experts say the increased level of violence in society is manifesting itself in schoolyard assaults and brawls and the use of corporal punishment, despite it being banned, this in the wake of a series of disturbing videos and violent outbursts at schools that have emerged in recent months.
According to South Africa’s regulatory board for teachers, it has noted a slight increase in the number of corporal punishment cases, sexual abuse of both male and female pupils in schools, and the assault of teachers within the school environment.
In its 2016/17 annual report, the South African Council for Educators (Sace) said that it had received 678 reported incidents. Of these cases, 113 were for verbal abuse and harassment, while 99 were for sexual misconduct and 256 for corporal punishment.
KwaZulu-Natal ranked second highest for sexual misconduct cases, with Mpumalanga being first.
There were 18 such cases reported in KZN and 25 in Mpumalanga.
Despite publicity, it is evidence that many teachers are still applying corporal punishment and some still abuse pupils sexually, the report found.
There are also cases of physical assaults between teachers.
Schoolyard violence has dominated news headlines over recent weeks.
In the most recent incident in Durban, two pupils were stabbed to death at a high school in KwaMakhutha.
Masakhaneni High School pupils Mangaliso Mbatha (18) in Grade 10 and Sihle Mngadi (20) in Grade 11, had allegedly tried to separate pupils fighting over a cellphone when they were stabbed to death.
In another incident, a youngster from a secondary school in Inanda was reportedly stabbed a number of times by fellow pupils.
He was rushed to a hospital near the school where he died of his injuries.
According to two 2012 Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention surveys, 44,3% of threats, 51% of assaults, 54,2% of sexual assaults, 60,2% of robberies and 91,5% of thefts took place in a classroom.
The next highest place of danger was a sports field, where 25% of threats took place, 24,8% of assaults, 13,2% of sexual assaults, 14% of robberies and 4,6% of thefts took place.
Other locations included corridors, toilets, school gate areas, other open grounds, halls and a small proportion in a principal’s office.
Department of Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said social media has drawn public attention to the issue of bullying but it doesn’t mean incidents are necessarily increasing. “Plans are in place, though, to address the perception of increased violence between classmates. Training manuals on how to prevent harassment, including cyber and homophobic bullying, have been handed out to schools, as well as e-guides,” he said.
The department said that girls are more likely to be afraid while travelling to and from school. Of the female pupils who were surveyed, 18,1% confirmed this, compared to 13,7% of the boys.
The department also found that 13,6% of girls feared specific places at schools that are “hot spots for violence”, while 9,8% of boys surveyed had similar fears.
When it comes to corporal punishment, the nine provinces fare differently, according to the 2016/17 Sace report.
The Western Cape recorded the highest number of pupils, 168, who fell victim to corporal punishment in 2016 and 2017, while KwaZulu-Natal was second with 25 cases.
Mhlanga stressed that corporal punishment is illegal despite it occurring often in rural areas.
According to reports, police have linked 23 064 schools to a designated police station nationally.
This gives school principals a direct line to their police station if a situation requires it.
A total of 1 780 schools countrywide are not linked.
Meanwhile, 20% of South Africa’s teachers believe that schools are violent places and suspect their pupils and colleagues are armed.
The Witness has previously reported that teachers at Smero Secondary School were afraid of pupils who allegedly smuggled knives, dagga and other drugs into the school.
In one incident in March, a Grade 11 pupil was injured when he was stabbed by another pupil inside the school.
In March last year, Priscilla Mchunu, who was the acting principal at Laduma High School in Edendale, was gunned down in front of her Grade 12 pupils during a weekend lesson. No one has been arrested for her murder.
In 2015, Villa Maria Primary School principal Nokuthula Magwanyana was found slain in her car on Table Mountain Road.
The Witness reported then that it was suspected that Magwanyana was killed by a group who had been trying to intimidate her into resigning.
According to a survey conducted by the Human Sciences
Research Council with the Department of Education in 2017, more than 20 000
teachers at 1 380 schools across the country believed that schools are violence
places and suspected that their pupils and colleagues were armed.
About 17% of teachers reported fights involving weapons at school and almost 13% of teachers believed gangs operate in their schools.
Most reported violence occurring between pupils or between a pupil and a teacher.
SA Democratic Teachers’ Union spokesperson Mugwena Maluleke said: “Teachers feel unsafe in our schools. The young ones in particular.
“Violence is why they resign, not only the low salary.”
National Professional Teachers’ Organisation (Aptos) president Basil Manuel said: “The number of incidents of violence by pupils against teachers has rocketed because these are vastly underreported. “I think there is far more violence against teachers than is being reported.”
He said the reason appears to be that teachers are embarrassed to report such cases. “They don’t want their colleagues to know that they have been smacked by a child.
“But these incidents are symptoms of society. All over South Africa, society is violent. We can’t expect that our children will be different‚” said Manuel.
Manuel said many teachers who were traumatised by violence have resigned.
He said the “respect environment [in the classroom] has been damaged”.
Some teachers go for counselling after violent incidents but others “don’t want to be recognised as having been manhandled or defeated [by pupils]. Even the process of counselling, they see it as an embarrassment‚” he said.
Sace spokesperson Themba Ndlovu said something drastic has to be done to curb violence in schools.
“We are making a call to the school governing bodies to take very stern action. Our teachers are raising these issues with us and it is unthinkable.”
Curbing school violence requires effort from more than just schools
Parent bodies and education experts told Weekend Witness that school violence is getting worse and drastic action is needed to curb the issue.
The experts claim that pupils have a “don’t care” attitude towards “violence and its consequences” because they are not punished severely enough for their behaviour. They also said access to cellphones during school hours is making the problem worse as the incidents are recorded and give pupils “instant fame”, which encourages their behaviour.
“The sad reality is that the violence is getting worse. It is becoming both more frequent and the nature of the attacks is increasingly disturbing,” said SafeSchool founder and director Megan Harrington-Johnson.
She said the biggest challenge was that South Africa has yet to develop specific laws to curb school violence and make it punishable by law.
“Individuals simply either do not know or appreciate the legal consequences of school violence,” Harrington-Johnson added.
She said schools need to have up-to-date security measures in place to ensure that pupils are properly searched and stripped of any weapons before entering the premises.
National Association of School Governing Bodies chief executive officer Anthea Cereseto said role modelling in society portrayed violence as a solution. “We don’t have nuanced perspective and we don’t have the ability to think of consequences of action. Unfortunately, anger and violence is a very easy response.
“We have no hope of peaceful school discipline unless we change our manner of responding,” she said.
How much is enough security?
Earlier this year, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) called for metal detectors and CCTV to be installed at schools in KwaZulu-Natal after reports that pupils were smuggling dangerous weapons into schools.
IFP spokesperson on Education Thembeni Madlopha-Mthethwa said the uncontrollable levels of gangsterism and number of ill-disciplined pupils, fights between pupils, and weapon smuggling was getting out of hand.
“Pupils attend schools with dangerous weapons and drugs in their bags, while others become serious drug mules and even merchants,” said Madlopha-Mthethwa
She called for those turning schools into “war zones” to be arrested and disciplined, saying: “We are no longer sitting on a ticking bomb. It has already started exploding.”
In his latest budget policy presentation, KZN MEC for Education, Mthandweni Dlungwane said the department had engaged the services of Umbimbi Lwamabutho in a bid to make schools safe again. The MEC also stated that while there were some schools in the province with security guards, this should not be a permanent solution.
“Schools are a microcosm of our society and every social ill that plagues society finds itself on our school premises. This is why we have always maintained that fighting violence in schools and dealing with issues of safety should be a societal responsibility,” he said.
Crispin Hemson of the International Centre of Nonviolence was hesitant to suggest that schools should be using resources to strengthen security, saying: “In the end you can only be as secure as people are committed to working together. It may be that practically some schools have to go that route, but it is a great failure.”