Kicking out the criminals

The safe schools program aims to reclaim schools from gangsters

IN 1997, a standard 8 pupil named Howard McKenzie become the 20th victim of a bitter gang war in Gugulethu. Howard was shot dead at school, in his classroom.

The school violence impacted heavily upon Eugene Daniels, circuit manager for Howard’s school at the time.
It prompted him to approach Director General of Education in the Western Cape Province, Brian O’Connel, to establish a crime-prevention strategy for schools. The result was the Safe Schools Program, a multi-faceted approach to fighting crime in schools and their surrounding communities, launched last year. Its most recent initiative has been to offer self-defence training to teachers in the province.

According to Daniels, who heads the Safe Schools Program, the Crimebuster workshops beginning this month will target 3 000 teachers in the 500 Cape schools “where there exists a risk to life and property”. However, the workshops will be open to any teachers in the province who wish to participate. They will equip teachers with transferable self-defence skills specifically designed for women and children threatened with rape.

The workshops will be conducted by Jerry Oosthuizen, who uses judo-based instruction to build confidence with a set of easily memorised “keys” to life-threatening situations. His Crimebuster workshops have been conducted around the country and are endorsed by the Department of Safety and Security. Oosthuizen claims that “only 1% of women resisting rape get killed”. Passivity is not an option.

Karen Jansen is a primary school teacher from Hanover Park who has attended several self-defence courses over the years, but says there is something different about Oosthuizen’s Crimebuster course. “It’s actually wonderful,” she says. “It’s about more than self-defence. He motivates you and uplifts your spirit. You walk out of there and you feel assertive. You like yourself more.” Jansen is one of nine teachers who have been seconded to the Safe Schools Program. She hopes to become a self-defence coach in order to take these skills back into her community.

“Jerry makes things so simple,” explains Jansen. “For example, you should turn your body rather than try to pull away from an attacker. If someone chokes you from the back, all you have to do is move your chin down. The normal reaction would be to struggle and kick. But no one can ever suffocate you if you move your chin.” Another “key” Jansen has learnt from Oosthuizen’s course is to “look for the thumbs”. The thumbs are the weakest point of an assailant.

In addition to the self-defence initiative, the Safe Schools Program has spent R18-million securing school premises since last June. The 500 “at risk” schools have had fencing and alarms installed, along with armed response, as part of a bid to ensure their environmental security. Daniels claims that incidents of theft and vandalism at these schools “have dropped to almost zero” since the alarms have been installed. Armed response officers have also removed gangsters and trespassers from school grounds after they have harassed teachers.

The Safe Schools Program provides direct funding to 83 severely crime-vulnerable schools. Daniels describes the approach of the programme at these schools as “systemic”. A safety committee has been established at each school, consisting of all role players, including the police. Members of the committee oversee the design and implementation of a prevention, intervention and response strategy. In the last six months, 270 teachers from these 83 schools have received conflict resolution training as part of the Safe Schools Program’s second tier of intervention, after environmental security, which consists of attitudinal courses specifically designed to “change hearts and minds”, according to Daniels. The courses typically last 40 hours, and are conducted over two weeks for 10 schools at a time. The Safe Schools Program also conducts trauma counselling, mediation training and human rights education workshops for teachers, so that they may pass these skills on to their students and colleagues.

Many of the 83 schools that the program has funded directly have received in excess of R150 000 each. Daniels describes them as “the hub of community life”. An activist’s philosophy informs his thinking. “In 1976, schools became sites of struggle. Now, our struggle is with crime,” he says. “If schools can continue this role, we can start a mass mobilisation against crime.”

“Schools are sites we can rebuild in five to 10 years,” explains Daniels. “We urge schools to go the developmental route, to try and restore the social fabric. The key thing,” he says,” is to open these schools up to skills training.” Job creation programmes, chiefly to do with horticulture, brickmaking and computer skills, are off the ground.

Progress is being made in the fight against crime in schools. Yet some schools remain dangerous places. Daniels has already attended five funerals this year. Each funeral was for a schoolchild who died a violent death near school. Each death weighs heavily on the man who has made it his life’s mission to make our schools safer places.

Cape-based teachers wishing to attend the Crimebuster workshop should contact Merlin Hendricks on (021) 403-6045

—The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, June 7, 2000.

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