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Khayelitsha police inquiry: Principal tells of harrowing drug use, violence at school

Glynnis Underhill

Gansterism, drug use and a "mini museum" for weapons. These are some of the challenges facing the principal of Chris Hani High School in Khayelitsha.

A school principal is the latest person to testify at the Khayelitsha inquiry into policing in the township. (David Harrison, M&G)

Chris Hani High School is in the heart of crime-ridden Khayelitsha township and principal Madoda Mahlutshana wages a constant battle against gangsterism and drug use among pupils. Even though he has seen it all, he was appalled when he caught a pupil selling marijuana muffins for his parents.

"This boy was a Grade 11 learner and he was saying he was sent in by the parents because they don't have money," Mahlutshana told the Khayelitsha commission of inquiry into policing this week. "And he would use the ganja muffins as a source of income, which we found very odd and it was quite disturbing."

Drug use, especially by pupils dependent on marijuana and tik, is rife at the school and staff members confiscate dangerous weapons from pupils every day. "Your knives, your pangas, any dangerous weapon that you can think of," Mahlutshana said during his witness testimony in a formal suit and tie. "Some would say it's a form of protection."

Pupils carry weapons because of ongoing fights between gangs outside school grounds, he said, offering a glimpse into the dedication of teachers working in the sprawling township.

Asked where the weapons were placed after being confiscated, Mahlutshana said there was now a "mini museum" at the high school. When asked where the marijuana muffins were being kept, Mahlutshana laughed and said they had been destroyed.

Poor response
The school has a good working relationship with police and the community policing forum, but Mahlutshana said the response from police, especially to burglaries and vandalism, had been poor.

When there were riots at the school in September 2011, he called the police and one police van was sent to assist the teachers while the pupils ran amok. "The two policemen were so overwhelmed," he said. "The children were all over, breaking government property."

Mahlutshana had waited a long time to give his testimony to the commission, which Zille appointed in August 2012 to investigate the alleged inefficiency of the police in the area and the breakdown of relations between the Khayelitsha community and the police.

The commission was delayed by a year when Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa unsuccessfully challenged its validity in court, only starting up again last week.

Commissioners Justice Kate O'Regan and advocate Vusi Pikoli are overseeing the commission in a community hall in one of Khayelitsha's tourist sites, the Lookout Hill.

Police support
Mahlutshana said in his affidavit to the commission that on the positive side, the South African Police Service were supportive of the school. "We have contact with the local sector commander," he said. "He also sits on the school's safety committee and attends meetings in person or sends someone."  

The police assist by doing random inspections of the school two or three times a week and the school's alarm is linked to the police, who respond to it.

Yet there is a lack of resources and will among the police, said Mahlutshana. "We have had four to five burglaries in the last three years ... We report the crimes but there is no progress in the cases."

The most recent case involved the theft of a laptop in 2012. "We reported the case that day and told them [the police] who we believed had done it. No progress was made in the crime and they told us he was not to be found [he lives in Site C], and then the case was closed."

Not on call
When the school ring the police, they often do not answer the phones. "It is often necessary to go there, rather than to call them."

During the riot at the school, Mahlutshana said it was a struggle to get the police to attend and they need to be more present at the school.

"We need them in mornings and afternoons, especially Friday, and they are not always able to attend because they say they have too few resources, and they have serious contact crimes to attend to."

Mahlutshana's appeal to the commission sounded like a cry for help from a desperate educator.


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