Children of wrath

More than 1 000 schools country-wide are taking part in a programme to cut the epidemic of violence and crime among school learners.

Hlayiseka is a R3,5-million project run by the education department in conjunction with the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention.

The project teaches teachers, local officials, parents and learners skills to identify threatening situations. It helps schools develop ‘safety plans”, report violent incidents and build relationships with the police and NGOs.

This week the department confirmed that more money will come in to expand the programme to more of the country’s 24 000 schools.

But some provinces are finding their own money. Hlayiseka grew out of the Safe and Caring Schools pilot project run by the department last year.
That R5-million initiative tackled nine of the country’s most crime-ridden schools, providing security upgrades, including metal detectors, lights, fencing and closed-circuit television.

This week the department said that this contributed to a dramatic improvement in academic standards. It cited Soweto’s notorious Senaoane High School, where 76% of matriculants passed last year compared with 40% in 2006, and Mountview High School in Cape Town, where the matric pass rate rose from 63% to 72% in the same period.

A survey published earlier this year by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention found that 15,3% of learners in grades three to 12 have been victims of school violence, while 11% of primary learners and 15% of secondary learners say they have been threatened with violence.

The implication, said the centre’s Faeza Khan, was that many children live in constant fear of a violent confrontation at school.

The centre’s head, Eric Pelser, said it is difficult to gauge whether violence at schools has worsened since the study was conducted last year. A follow-up survey would be needed in two or three years to monitor the situation.

The Hlayiseka project involves three-day training courses in schools, which include a survey of learners’ perceptions of safety and danger areas, as well as a survey of teachers’ perceptions.

‘We look at physical safety, such as whether toilets are being monitored,” Khan said. ‘We develop interventions. For example, if there is substance abuse, we look at a service provider who can help.”

Meanwhile, it appears principals are increasingly using last year’s legislative amendment allowing the police to be called in unannounced to search for weapons and drugs. But learners can be arrested only in the presence of a parent.

The deputy principal of a high school in Roodepoort, Gauteng, said it is common to find learners with knives, screwdrivers and sometimes guns. Children who carry weapons are usually ‘learners who display irregular behaviour such as bunking classes and basically being unruly”.

The principal, who wishes not to be named, said the school has noticed an increase in student drug abuse. The school bought its own drug test-kit, but cannot afford metal detectors.

Another principal of a Johannesburg inner-city school, who also wants to remain anonymous, said: ‘Now and then we conduct random searches and we often find learners with screwdrivers and penknives, but, so far, no guns.

‘When we asked the learners why they carry such weapons they say they use them to protect themselves in the street.”

She said her school has a security guard at the main gate who conducts body searches when necessary. She said she did not favour installing a metal detector, but given increasing violence, might consider it.

The principal suggested that the wave of violence in schools is a seasonal phenomenon. ‘Every year at [about] this time we see an increase in violent attacks among learners. I don’t know the cause. I always advise staff to be extra vigilant about learners’ behaviour at this time of the year.”

Professor Andy Dawes, of the University of Cape Town’s psychology department, said that for children to resort to violence ‘there has to be a considerable and sustained exposure to extreme violent situations” at home or in wider society.

Dawes said schools are critical sites that should have clear rules on violence and bullying and that children should be taught to resolve their differences peaceably.

Thomas Blaser, education researcher at the South African Institute for Race Relations, underscored the role of weak management in schools.

Incentives and consequences for performance or non-performance were lacking, while in some schools teachers barely put in an appearance. District officials were also not giving principals adequate support. ‘Schools need to have people who take pride and
interest in what goes on. If schools are well managed, problems will be picked up and monitored.”

Unisa academic psychologist Ilse Ferns highlighted the impact of violent popular culture on children.

American studies showed that ‘more often than not teenagers committing acts of severe violence have intense and abnormal fascination with heavy metal rock music and lyrics that are aggressive and continuously refer to ‘dark’ topics such as death, violence, killing and anger”.

Ferns cited lyrics of the US heavy metal band Slipknot, of which Morne Harmse, the alleged Samurai sword killer, was apparently a fan. These included: ‘I wanna slit your throat and fuck the wound / I wanna push my face in and feel the swoon / I wanna dig inside, find a little bit of me / ‘Cuz the line gets crossed when you don’t come clean” and ‘I’m not supposed to be here ... All I have is dead, so I’ll take you with me / Feel like I’m erased, so kill me just in case”.

She added that children and teenagers deprived of emotional security and attachments at home are more susceptible to violent influences.

Police searches won’t help
‘Hell no—we don’t need no police searches, remote controls and metal detectors at my school. What for?
‘If the school lets the police search us it means they don’t care about our privacy and don’t trust us,” Zandile Nsele (19) of Hoër Skool Bastion in Witpoortjie told Monako Dibetle.

But Nsele, who claimed to have been shocked by the sword-killing this week, said the killing has left learners wondering what might happen next.

Hoerskool Bastion appears to be relatively violence-free. ‘We don’t usually have problems at our school,” Nsele said, ‘although we had an incident last year when the teachers confiscated a knife from one student after he threatened to stab others.

‘I think measures such as more security guards should be implemented, not sniffer dogs and police officers in our schools.”

Hazel Nzimela (16), of Madiba Comprehensive School in Kagiso on the West Rand, was also opposed to random police searches—despite criminals being active there.

‘They won’t help us. I know the people at my school anyway. If the police come here, they’ll get what they want,” she explained.

‘The searches will only waste time and create clashes between the learners and police.”

Nzimela’s school has no security other than a guard at the gate. Learners complain that thugs have easy access to the school premises, even during the day.

‘Thugs sell cigarettes and dagga to learners from the school fence and they try to disturb us all the time by making noises from the streets,” she said.

Sfundo Nkutu (17), who is also from Madiba Comprehensive, believes that the school is most dangerous on Fridays because learners tend to settle scores on that day.

‘We have had many incidents where the teachers have found knives, screwdrivers and dagga zols on students. We’re not saying police searches are bad, but we feel that they might end up causing more problems. Learners and police don’t usually mix,” said Nkutu.

Nkutu believes school troublemakers tend to be students who have repeated classes more than once.

‘They’re always in trouble. I think they bring weapons to school to scare the little ones. It’s also prestigeous to carry sharp objects and guns at school.”

Siphiwe Makhele (19), who goes to school in Westbury, a coloured area of Johannesburg, said police regularly conduct searches at his school, ‘especially on Mondays and Fridays”.

‘Every week the police find stuff on learners. Last week the teachers confiscated four okapis [knives] from a girl. This week drugs were found hidden in the boys’ toilets,” said Makhele.

He said he knows schools in Westbury have a bad reputation and are not always safe. ‘But it is not as bad as before, when learners were found with hand-made guns.”

‘People come in and out as they please and some of them are not even learners here. That’s why you find people with knives, dagga, adult magazines and screwdrivers all the time.”

The blame game
In the Seventies it was the shock rock of Alice Cooper, in the Eighties it was the bat-eating exploits of Ozzy Osbourne, in the Nineties it was ‘satanic” Marilyn Manson—and now it’s Slipknot, writes Lloyd Gedye.

For decades heavy metal has been getting the dirty end of the stick from politicians, the media, religious groups and parents.

The latest band to be vilified is the Ohio nine-piece, Slipknot, accused of influencing a young Nic Diederichs Technical High School learner to murder one of his fellow pupils with a Samurai sword.

Slipknot, who exploded on to the scene in 1995 with their debut album, Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat, have pioneered the new wave of American heavy metal. The band is known for its attention-grabbing image, which includes home-made masks and matching red overalls.

Because the sword-killer was a Slipknot fan who wore a home-made mask, the media has sensationalised the links between the band and the samurai sword attacks. The connection is an extremely tenuous one.

Hundreds of thousands of fans buy Slipknot albums and go to their concerts without going on to commit murder. A psychologist interviewed by the Star hit the nail on the head, saying: if heavy metal was really creating killers, we’d all be dead.

When tragedy strikes everyone looks for a scapegoat. It was the same pattern after the bloody rampage in 1999 at Columbine High School, when Marilyn Manson was blamed.

What drove the teenager to cut the throat of a classmate—a heavy-metal act or deep psychological problems specific to him? The media is confusing the form of the violence and its cause.

When an Afrikaans man in the Vaal area recently murdered his wife and children and then shot himself, no one scoured his music collection and declared war on sokkietreffers.

Of course, heavy metal is loud, aggressive music that uses violent lyrics and imagery on stage. But Johnny Cash made a career out of romanticising murderers—and no one vilifies him. Ultimately, heavy metal offers a fantasy of rebellion and anti-social behaviour to kids who want to shock their elders. It is a pose, which can be changed at will with no loss of credibility. Consider Britney Spears, who morphed effortlessly from virgin to tramp.

By demonising bands such as Slipknot, the media, politicians, religious groups and parents are merely driving a deeper wedge between teenagers and themselves. The right approach is an effective early warning system and open channels of communication that pick up the propensity for violence ­—not censorship.

  • Lloyd Gedye hates the music of Slipknot

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