South African schools characterised as warzones


Welcome to Gauteng province

JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – THE spike in suicides among some learners is a distressing trend in South Africa.

That, and violence at the learning centres, serve as a stark reminder of the importance of addressing sensitive issues with children and providing them with the necessary support and guidance during difficult times.

Gauteng is the epicentre of this crisis.

Statistics show that there have been 40 alleged incidents of suicides in the province’s schools since the beginning of the 2023 academic year.

Information at the Gauteng Department of Education’s disposal indicates that, all in all, there have been no less than 300 cases across the province.

The most recent heart-wrenching incident occurred on September 8 when an 11-year-old Grade 5 girl from Anzac Primary School in Brakpan tragically took her own life after reportedly facing parental reprimand for an alleged theft of R300 (US$16).

In February, a Grade 10 boy learner from Geluksdal Secondary in Brakpan was stabbed to death during a fight emanating from three Grade 10 boy learners pepper spraying other learners during schooling hours.

That month, another Grade 10 boy learner from Dinokeng Secondary in Sebokeng was fatally stabbed after school by a fellow learner. Another Grade 11 boy learner from the said school was hospitalised after being stabbed during a fight that broke out at a local sports ground late at night. These incidents were linked to the rampant gangsterism in the area.

In July, a Grade 8 girl learner from Geluksdal Secondary and a Grade 12 girl learner from Nigel High both in Ekurhuleni committed suicide. Both consumed poison at home.

“It is really concerning that learners will resort to taking their own lives. We call upon learners to always seek assistance for necessary support to be provided,” Matome Chiloane, Gauteng Member of the Executive Committee (MEC): Education, said.

In August, at Soshanguve Secure Centre, a Grade 10 boy learner was discovered hanging in a dormitory during lunch.

It is reported that the learner had been taken to the juvenile centre about two weeks before and was awaiting trial. In a separate incident, a Grade 9 boy learner from Kgetsi Ya Tsie Secondary took his own life at home.

Later that month, suicides and suicidal attempts that were prevalent at Tsakane Secondary. Two girl learners in Grade 8 and 12 consumed poison at their respective homes and unfortunately passed away.

Another Grade 8 boy learner brought poison to the school and consumed it in full view of other learners. However, this learner was immediately rushed to a local medical facility and recovered.

Two other girl learners and a boy learner also consumed poison and were hospitalised.

“As the department, we are devastated by these deaths and believe those numbers constitute far too many young lives that have been taken away from their families, friends and our schools, before reaching their full potential,” said Nkosana Langa, department spokesperson.

He noted the deaths have had a massive psychological impact on learners, teachers and the greater schooling community.

“It is, therefore, imperative that, in the immediate, we provide support to those affected and, in the long term, we respond with lasting solutions which can help turn the situation around.

The prevalence of the deaths coincides with South Africa joining the international community in marking the World Suicide Prevention Day, marked annually on September 10.

It is a global event organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“We feel that such a day is important to outline measures which we seek to take to address the scourge of learner suicides in the province,” Langa said.

Concerned by the high numbers of learner deaths, Gauteng’s education department has embarked on several interventions.

These include d deploying 500 Learner Support Agents (LSAs) to provide the department with an early warning mechanism and give peer counselling to support 1 200 schools, sending an additional 120 social workers to assist with

On World Suicide Prevention Day, Gauteng Education announced a partnership to prevent learner suicides in local schools.

The department has collaborated with the Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance (MGSLG), the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG); Childline, the Teddy Bear Foundation and the National Association of Child and Youth Care Workers, to help learners and educators deal with the psychological challenges which may lead to suicide or suicidal thoughts.

SADAG has disclosed receiving numerous requests for assistance from some schools which have experienced incidents of suicides or attempted suicides.

These schools have been identified in the volatile townships in Ekurhuleni and Soweto. Among these areas are the impoverished Katlehong, Pimville and Thokoza as well as gangster and drug-infested Eldorado Park and Reiger Park.

Authorities have launched Operation Kgutla Molao (Restore Order) to address incidents of violence in and around school, driven by gangsters in some areas.

Substance use and abuse by learners as well as bullying continue to be a matter of concern.

“Some of our schools are best characterised as warzones and learners, educators and staff members do not feel safe,” Langa said.

Some actions will be implemented until the end of the financial year in March 2024.

Security guards will be deployed to 75 schools across Gauteng.

Some 245 schools have received hand-held detectors to help with screening for weapons.

E-panic buttons will be distributed to more than 3 000 staff in the 245 schools.

CCTV cameras will be installed in 90 schools across the province.

A School Safety Summit is planned for October.

– CAJ News

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