Almost 23 000 South Africans had, by Tuesday evening, signed an online petition lobbying Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to investigate the full extent of violence in the country’s schools.
The campaign, spearheaded by global lobby group Avaaz, also calls on Motshekga to review life orientation, the subject often criticised for failing to impart necessary skills to pupils.
Nic Mackay, a global campaigner for Avaaz, told the Mail & Guardian the petition was spurred on by the incident in which four white pupils raped a black pupil with a broomstick at Jan Kempdorp High School in the Northern Cape three weeks ago.
A video of the incident showed the boy tied to a school bed, crying and screaming while the pupils rubbed a white substance on his body and raped him, the M&G reported.
“It does seem that South African schools are plagued by violence. The rape in the Northern Cape is part of a bigger problem. It’s important that the department knows the extent of the violence,” said Mackay.
Fix it, don’t scrap it
The M&G has seen a letter Avaaz sent to Motshekga on Monday, in which Mackay tells her: “I am writing to you on behalf of over 22 000 South African citizens who have joined [the] campaign urging you to help end school violence, following the horrific rape of a grade 12 boy in the Northern Cape.”
The proposed nationwide investigation should be conducted with a view of developing “additional actions needed to keep our youth safe”, on top of safety measures already used in schools.
Mackay said if Motshekga had data of the full extent of violence in schools, the government would be in better position to determine proper measures to avert abuses.
Mike Baillie, also a campaigner at Avaaz, said the initiative was “about learners, teachers and everyday citizens taking a proactive stance on the school violence. Not just complaining about it, but actively pushing for a solution.”
The letter to Motshekga urged her to review life orientation to “ensure” the subject “equip[s] learners to engage with the issues and attitudes that underpin violence”.
“You recently said life orientation is ‘the one subject where [we] truly equip children for life’. Though there are currently significant problems – including content, delivery and assessment – like you, we believe this means it should be fixed, not scrapped.”
Violence in schools is out of hand
“The subject curriculum should be such that it allows pupils to ‘engage positively on race, gender, and diversity in general’. We want classrooms that enable learners to become the thoughtful and caring citizens of tomorrow.”
Subsequent to the rape in the Northern Cape, another video emerged last week of school abuse in KwaZulu-Natal. This one showed a group of female pupils at Vukuzakhe High School in Umlazi slapping, kicking and shoving to the floor a fellow pupil inside their dormitory.
The M&G reported two years ago that more than half of the pupils surveyed in a study by Unisa on school violence said they had been victims of abuse – and mostly in their classrooms.
Titled “The Dynamics of Violence in Schools in South Africa”, the study considered bullying, assault, sexual harassment and theft as acts of violence. About 55% of pupils who were surveyed reported that they had experienced violence in one or more of these forms.
Fifteen Unisa researchers conducted the study in 2011 and 2012 across six provinces, incorporating written responses from more than 1http://mg.co.za/article/2013-04-12-class-warfare-rife-among-sa-schools200 grade nine pupils and interviewing 144 pupils, teachers, principals and school governing body members.
Most bullying and fighting occurred in the classroom when a teacher was not there, Vusi Mncube, a Unisa professor specialising in international management and policy in education and coleader of the study, said at the time.
The study concluded that increasing basic levels of good management in schools was key to ending the violence. “A well-ordered school is also a less violent school.”
The Avaaz letter pointed out that while it was common knowledge that violence was not limited to schools, “and often stems from family and society”, Motshekga has a responsibility towards pupils.
“The department of basic education has significant influence and we believe this is an opportunity for you as minister to demonstrate the leadership you have shown in the past.”
Avaaz campaigners asked Motshekga for a meeting next week “to present the petition and discuss how we can contribute to reforms that bring tangible and positive outcomes for learners”.
“In the meantime, we will continue with our campaign – including pursuing all available media and advocacy opportunities – while we wait for your response.”
Elijah Mhlanga, spokesperson for Motshekga, had not responded to the M&G’s request for comment at the time of publishing.