Independent Projects Trust

      Children at Risk:
      The Security Situation in Durban Schools

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Dr R A Griggs, Head of Research

A briefing presented to a broad spectrum of community, provincial and national leaders in the field of education on 18 November 1997

This briefing has two aims: (1) to deliver a report on the problems of security that the research department noted in the course of monitoring our training programmes in ten Durban schools; and (2) to stimulate a group problem solving activity, the outcome of which should be a clear idea of what action(s) we can take by early 1998 to combat violence in the schools. The goal of this research programme was to monitor the factors that either facilitate or obstruct the IPT's schools-based training programmes in conflict management skills. Our research looked at ten secondary schools in Durban: 2 in Chatsworth, 2 in Newlands East, 4 in KwaMashu, 1 in Phoenix, and 1 in Durban North. As a baseline for our two-year study we had to learn about the current degree of violence in the schools. This briefing concerns that first segment of our research programme.

To achieve this:

  • Approximately 1000 questionnaires were administered to pupils, teachers, and principals
  • 90-minute focus group discussions were held with groups of 6 or more learners from all ten schools.
  • 90 minute to two hour focus groups were organised with two to three educators from each school.
  • Individual interviews were conducted with educators, parents, police, counsellors, and education officials including union representatives.
  • We also observed or participated in numerous conferences, monitored legislation affecting schools, and participated in workshops.

Our research findings indicate that we should act on the problems posed by school violence fast and at the grassroots level. Both the incidence and severity of school violence is destroying the basic environmental conditions required to provide an adequate education and could undermine many programmes aimed at upgrading our schools.

A local response is required because of the severe shortage of national and provincial funds for school security. In 1998 there will be no funding from either the provincial or national level to provide for security guards let alone metal detectors, fencing, workshops, and training. Of the 6.1 billion rand allocated for education and culture in 1998, 5.3 billion rand will cover our province's 5,340 schools. Of that, 5.1 billion rand will be needed for salaries. This leaves 200 million rand for all else. Last year 25 million rand was spent on security and a tiny fraction on books. This led to the decision to eliminate security guards so that more money would be available for much-needed books, programmes, and equipment.

School governing bodies must now raise the fees for security and many other budgetary shortfalls. Unfortunately, many lack the expertise or ability to do this. They are also confronted by parental resistance to increased fees and responsibilities. Thus, major social obligations and material costs are being directed to school governing bodies from higher levels of government while some parents are resisting this 'imposition'.

Isibonelo Secondary School in KwaMashu furnishes an example of this problem. School fees per pupil have been set at R30 a year. (For comparison, Northwood's per pupil fees for 1998 are 166 times higher or R4,950). The KwaMashu school might be able to collect R30,000 from its 1000 parents except only half the parents are willing to pay. With R15,000, they must cover lights, electricity, water, maintenance, extra teaching staff, and security measures such as guards and adequate fencing. Proper fencing and gates would cost about R200,000. In the meantime, shootings, robbery, theft, extortion, rape and murder have affected this school.

Secure environments for learning should be the first priority of any educational policy. At education conferences, summits, and in media coverage the shortages of classrooms, equipment, teachers, and money is often prioritised over the tragedy of our children living in severe stress owing to violence in the schools. However, better supplies do not offer a solution in environments that are prone to arson, theft, vandalism, gang warfare and other forms of violence. For instance computers delivered to upgrade the facilities in a KwaMashu school are kept in a safe unused because the school is subjected to constant vandalism and theft both during and after school hours.

Thus, an organised local response is required to rescue children and schools subjected to violence.

1. Five Big Problems

Here are five major problems that must be urgently addressed:

1.1 The number one problem in 9 out of the 10 schools studied: gang-related violence.

Informants in all ten schools we studied, whether children or adults, told us that their areas are troubled by gang violence to one degree or another. The worst reports came from KwaMashu and Newlands East. This portrait is supported by a recent national survey commissioned by Business Day. It confirms that 70% of the people who live in urban townships live in fear of gang violence.

We discovered that turf wars not only spill onto school grounds but the school itself is a territorial prize. Gangs need a controlled area from which to sell drugs, collect revenue from theft, and recruit members.

Some schools in our study were so destabilised by gangs that both children and staff members enter and leave campus as they wish and classes are not conducted according to any regular schedule. Sometimes teachers fear their own pupils who carry weapons, smoke dagga in the toilets, and move off and onto school grounds freely. We also know of certain KwaMashu schools where students cower in class during all the breaks for fear of gang members who enter and leave the grounds as they please.

The school youth, so often the targets of gang activities, dare not talk as their well-being and the lives of their families are then threatened. Gangs hunt down and sometimes kill learners who are suspected of revealing their activities. Intimidation by gangs undermines all attempts at creating a culture of learning and teaching. As one KwaMashu teenager told IPT, "To get close to teachers leads the gang members to hate you".

1.2 Security measures were seriously inadequate in 9 out of ten of the schools.

The security conditions in nearly all the disadvantaged schools were appalling. The most basic safeguards were either not in place or were being removed. These include adequate fencing, police protection, weapons checks, and security guards. This not only creates a problem but hampers solutions. We know of good people, educators, and counsellors who will not work in disadvantaged schools because their security cannot be guaranteed.

Many schools have no fencing. Most have inadequate fencing. At Zakhe school, the attempt to use rudimentary materials to re-seal the fences failed because gang members re-opened all the gaps the next day.

Police protection is so inadequate that police response time can take days or weeks even in the wake of murder. Gangs tend to operate with impunity in many school environments. This even means engaging in murders that are never investigated. At Isibonelo Secondary School, a 16 year old boy was shot on campus in late October. A week later no investigation had even been attempted.

Weapons checks are rare. When they do occur learners are informed in advance and stash their weapons. Last month at Mzuvele School, five armed youngsters marched into the school in daylight hours and took jewellery off pupils at knife and gunpoint. No one stopped the boys at the entrance, checked for weapons, or even followed them as suspect. No prosecutions or investigations followed.

Security guards often act like gatekeepers, reading books and playing games at the entrance to schools while criminals, weapons, and drugs slip in and out through holes in the fences. Most guards also lack the skills training to handle violent conflict. One of several unarmed security guards killed this year by gang members was shot at a Chatsworth school in April after approaching armed youths robbing the tuckshop. In any case, they have been retrenched unless the school governing bodies can afford to re-hire them.

1.3 No disadvantaged school in the study offered counselling for pupils despite the high incidence and severity of violence.

Despite the high levels of trauma that accompany modern school life, there is no budget for counsellors and no programme to provide them. Girls who have been raped or assaulted often have no counselling afterwards. One principal in the Newlands area estimated that 30% of the girls in his school had been raped or sexually molested. Statistics from the provincial Department of Safety and Security indicate that the majority of rape victims are under 17, and 43% of the rapes occur in the greater Durban area. Townships are particularly hard-hit. Last year one Newlands pupil committed suicide because of constant molestation and rape. She pleaded for help but there was no institution or person she could counsellor in her school.

1.4 In only one case did we find that learners were receiving an education in tolerance and diversity even where intolerance for those of other races, cultures, religions, gender, and sexual orientation was resulting in violence.

Walk into any classroom in a so-called 'integrated' school, and children are sitting in racial groupings. Many classify each other by racial stereotypes and complain of racial groups that smell, steal, or act in some uniform way. This leads to name-calling, fighting and occasional death such as the stabbing at Forest Haven School in March.

Despite these problems only one out of ten of the schools studied offered workshops, curriculum or guidance periods to address prejudice, stereotyping, and other related problems.

1.5 Parental apathy and indifference compromises the implementation of conflict management programmes.

Interviews with educators, learners, parents, police, and education officials indicate that the low level of parental involvement in the schools is a stumbling block to effective programmes. The IPT receives reports from both pupils and teachers that parental participation is near absent. Most secondary schools include more than a thousand pupils but a good turnout at important meetings is fifty parents. The lack of parental involvement leads to lowered self-esteem among educators, reduced financial support, and the inability to garner enough community co-operation to make security programmes work.

Interviews with parents indicates that many are bitter and reluctant to pay school fees for both economic reasons and because of broken promises: some believe that education should be provided free by the government. Many say the constitution entitles every child to an education but instead the outfall of government mismanagement and corruption has been passed along to them. The governance of schools could easily be sabotaged by new resistance campaigns launched by parents who refuse to pay fees.

Another problem is lack of parental co-operation with police. Many police fail to turn up to a community to investigate gang killings because the community will not co-operate even when the killer is well-known. We also know that some parents are involved in the same gangs as their children and even incite them to violence. In one incident in Newlands, a mother provided her son with a knife and directed him to stab another schoolboy.

2. Workshopping Solutions

This overview of the five biggest problems in combating school violence should stimulate some understanding of how to prioritise our responses. Here are five of many possible responses:

2.1. Addressing Gang Violence

In many areas, gangs form out of unemployed youth with little to do and little hope in their future. Boredom leads to drugs and that leads to the formation of groups that deal in drugs, claim territory and eventually turn violent. Some boys come to believe that belonging to a gang offers more hope for their future prosperity than a matric certificate.

The best solution is probably employment, even if this is organised community work without pay or recreational activities. Youth given responsibilities such as repairing damaged homes or participating in community watches can learn both skills and social responsibility. Thus, solutions might include:

  • An increase in organised sports, recreational, and community activities
  • Mediation between gang members
  • Parenting workshops
  • Workshops between parents and police to increase community involvement in apprehending and arresting criminals
  • sponsored awards programmes, peace days, and other activities to bring greater solidarity to these communities
  • technical training in schools that provide a practical hope of finding a job

2.2 Stepping Up Security

It may be that the fastest way to make a dent into school violence is to ensure that no one enters the campus with weapons. In fact, confiscating weapons on school campuses might reduce overall violence in the communities. This strategy requires body searches upon entry to campus. This is legal provide that constitutional rights are respected. Basically women must search girls, men must search boys, and it must be done in a private space and not in public. Other ideas include:

  • beefing up the training and supervision of security guard
  • co-operation between schools and community policing forums
  • around-the-clock school watches to protect pupils, staff, and school property.
  • regular police patrols
  • business-sponsored armed response units linked to trained security guards with walkie talkies [originally suggested by Etienne Van der Merwe]
  • workshops to improve community/police relations
  • applying a range of stiff mechanisms to secure school grounds from trespassers (e.g., ID card checks, weapons searches, lock-in school gates, school sirens, caretakers housed on school grounds, or parental patrols).

2.3 Instituting Some Form of Counselling

Only two out of ten schools in our study had counsellors. Both were advantaged schools. Yet it is the disadvantaged schools that cannot afford counsellors that have the greatest need. If the disadvantaged schools had counselling at all it was because of occasional visits by social workers. However, learners said this failed to address this problem because they had no chance to know and trust these 'visitors'.

A better solution might be to relieve well-liked and trusted teachers of sufficient teaching hours to provide this necessary service. Such teachers already fulfil many counselling roles. Pupils turn to them in times of emotional upset and trauma. They also help to supervise guidance programmes such as conflict management training. However, most of these programmes are not being instituted optimally because teachers are either too busy or not adequately trained. Better training and a re-working of teaching responsibilities and schedules might not be the ideal solution but could help enormously. NGOs might consider empowering these teachers with skills.

Perhaps this means:

  • teachers with appropriate backgrounds could reduce their teaching hours to offer this on a part-time basis
  • NGOs could assist with teacher training

2.4 Conflict Management Skills Training and Diversity Workshops

Our research has shown that nearly 100% of the learners and educators who took part in our questionnaires, report a significant improvement in their personal ability to understand and resolve conflict following IPT training in conflict management. Furthermore, they express more confidence in handling conflict among those who have had such training than among those who have not. This work normally includes workshops in communication and listening skills, assertiveness training, group problems solving, non-racialism and respect for different cultures.

In nine out of ten of the researched schools, we found that the only exposure to material on understanding cultural diversity was offered through our CMS workshops. Many of those who enrol in our programme express greater understanding of how stereotyping people incites violence against other races, women, gays, religious groupings, and various cultures.

A vital aspect of our research also revealed that CMS training is most effective in an environment where all role-players (e.g., learners, educators, and governing bodies) have been trained. Sometimes training only half the school staff can actually increase problems as it creates separation: those who have been trained and those who have not. This means we must implement this programme thoroughly in each school. Perhaps this is best accomplished by having government-backing to enlist all role-players for these programmes. Otherwise, many teachers do not take the programme seriously and prefer time off to showing up at workshops.

Ultimately, if these problems are surmounted, we may be able to show that such conflict management programmes not only help to lessen current tensions within schools but may foster a generation conversant in sound methods of conflict management.

Perhaps this means:

  • CMS should be implemented by government directive to include all teachers, learners and governing bodies
  • Sexism, racism, and other forms of stereotyping and prejudice should be included in all conflict management programmes
  • Diversity workshops should not await the new curriculum but should be implemented immediately through co-operation with NGOs
  • We should also lobby to see that material on this subject is integrated into new course material

2.5 Campaigning Against Parental Apathy and Indifference

Despite widespread reports of parental apathy, indifference or resistance to participation in the schools, interviews with learners and educators reveal that calling in parents is the most effective form of discipline. The principal at Protea School in Chatsworth reports a lessening of violence because disruptive and violent children are immediately suspended and cannot return without their parents.

Perhaps this means:

  • Parents must be targeted in the effort to reduce violence through parenting workshops
  • NGOs should work with school governing bodies to facilitate ways to attract parental involvement (e.g., news letters, social activities, and home visitations)
  • Media campaigns might be instituted
  • Ice-breaking activities and workshops facilitated by NGOs might help build joint parent-teacher co-operation
  • Awards ceremonies for good parenting and school days that celebrate the role of the parent should be considered