By Monica Brown

Easter weekend is over and now we looking forward to Christmas already.Time really waits for nobody.

Yes, I am talking about the violence in our schools.Seeing an occasional fight over a girl was all the violence I was exposed to at school in my heydays.I suppose now I am giving away my age.

Violence in schools is a global phenomenon, with South Africa being no exception. Each year, around the world, about 246 million children are affected by school violence (UNESCO, 2017). In South Africa, violence in schools violates learners’ constitutional right to ‘‘freedom and security of the person, which includes the right to be free from all forms of violence’’ (Constitution of RSA, Act 108 of 1996). Further, school violence violates the right to basic education for learners. South Africa has high rates of crime, murder, and gender-based violence, including rape — and that violence has spilled over to schools.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) said it was concerned about the increasing incidents of violence at schools across the country since the beginning of the 2023 academic year. The teachers’ union said it had recorded cases of stabbings, shootings, and different forms of bullying.Bullying, robberies, and sexual violence are common in South African schools.

Education is a societal issue, and communities must be involved to ensure our schools are safe places for learners and teachers.

Experiencing or witness violence can affect students physically and psychologically, and cause them to have to take time off school. 

In December, Gauteng Education MEC Matome Chiloane said social ills experienced in communities cascade into schools.

Sadtu’s Nomusa Cembi said these institutions of learning have become centres of violence.

What is the percentage of school violence in South Africa?

It is reported that one in five learners (22.2%) had experienced some form of violence while at school, 12.2% of the learners had been threatened with violence, 6.3% had been physically assaulted, 4.7% had been sexually assaulted or raped and 4.5% had been robbed.In the latest crime stats, it was revealed that 83 rapes and 19 murders were committed at schooling institutions across the country.


Prevalence and correlates of violence among South African high school learners in uMgungundlovu District municipality, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


What is the effect of violence in South African schools?

A study found that bullying, vandalism, gangsterism, indiscipline, intolerance, and corporal punishment were prevalent in schools. Furthermore, the study found that school violence had the following effects on learners: loss of concentration; poor academic performance; bunking of classes; and depression.The details of this study can be found on www.researchgate.net.

How does school violence affect teachers?

Teachers are increasingly exposed to violence on the part of students and/or their parents. Inappropriate and/or aggressive behaviour like this can reduce a teacher’s occupational well-being and make it more difficult to build positive relationships in the classroom.

What are the four common acts of violence that occur in South African schools?

The different types of school violence can be committed by different people. They may be educators, learners, or staff members. While learners are most often the victims of school violence, they can also be the perpetrators. Bullying, initiation and gang violence are very prevalent in South African schools.

SADTU said during 2023 academic year alone, there were more incidents of violence at the following provinces since the reopening of schools in January: 

· At Geluksdal Secondary School in Brakpan, Gauteng: A Grade 10 learner was stabbed to death allegedly by fellow learners.

· At Kagiso Secondary School, Gauteng: A man allegedly entered the school and took hostage some staff members. He allegedly stabbed and wounded one of the teachers and was subsequently shot dead by another teacher.

· At Tlotlisong Secondary School in Ficksburg, Free State: A Grade 9 pupil allegedly poisoned himself and died following alleged humiliation by teachers in front of other learners. Following the suicide, angry learners attacked teachers, damaged the school, police and teachers’ vehicles accusing them for being the cause of the learner’s death.

· At Sonyongwane High School, Southern KwaZulu Natal: A 17-year old Grade 11 learner committed suicide allegedly because of bullying by her schoolmates who constantly told her she was ugly and teased her about the shape of her head.

· At Ntsu Secondary School in Bethlehem, Free State: The school principal allegedly used corporal punishment on a learner who had allegedly skipped detention.

Said Maluleke: “These incidents clearly indicate that schools are no longer safe havens they are supposed to be, but they endanger the lives of learners as well as teachers.” 

Maluleke said the union will now engage the Presidency and other government ministries and agencies to join hands with SADTU as it rolls out “I am A School Fan” campaign.

Maluleke also said SADTU condemns the use of corporal punishment by teachers as it was a violation of children’s rights and dignity, and “perpetuates violence and may lead to the learner being aggressive and anti-social.”

“In a number of schools across the country we still observe the sexual assault and harassment of learners by those who are supposed to protect being teachers. This group of unprofessional sex pests continue to damage the profession. It is only counterrevolutionaries who can engage in this kind of violence against our children in our schools,” said Maluleke.

Final Thoughts:

The state of safety and security in South African schools has been the talk of parliament in 2019 already after a man was stoned and stabbed to death by school children.

Thoriso Themane, 28, was attacked by a mob of learners in Flora Park in Polokwane, Limpopo , in 2019, with a video of the incident circulated on social media. Initially, six pupils were arrested and three more were added to the list of suspects.

Effective strategies to address school violence could include:

  • having manageable class sizes
  • training teachers to identify aggressive learners
  • building relationships with the communities within which schools were located (relationships with the parents, the learners and the broader community)
  • having access to school counsellors or social workers, which was important in providing psycho-social support
  • having accountable school management
  • giving learners a voice, as learners had to be part of the solution
  • involving the local community within very defined roles and responsibilities
  • building transparency and trust, as it had been discovered that schools with a high level of violence also had high levels of distrust among staff, among learners and staff, and among the community and the school
  • building a human rights culture in schools to make everyone feel welcome

Schools should offer students balanced learning opportunities in the five aspects of development, i.e. moral, intellectual, physical, social and aesthetic as well as nurture them to be responsible citizens.Any attempt to curb violence occurring in schools had to extend beyond the school itself. Parental and community support, including prevention and early intervention, were the most reliable and cost-effective ways to support school safety.

How to treat violence?

Be clear that violence is always a choice, and that it is preventable. Acknowledge that it takes courage to talk about violence and to seek help to change. Offer your support if they choose to seek help. Convince the abuser that getting professional help is important and have a list of resources ready.

Monica Brown, Changemaker, Activist And Social Entrepreneur

Article Reproduced with Permission from Monica Brown

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