Here is the thing: we South Africans we are reactionary. We are outraged by something this week and next week we are outraged by something else. For the past two weeks we have been angered by the killing of a Forest Hill High School pupil by another learner; the Mpumalanga teacher who carried a gun while invigilating an exam; and the killing of a KwaZulu-Natal primary school teacher by thugs in full view of everyone at the school.
But violence at schools is not a new phenomenon. Last year it was the 24-year-old teacher from Zeerust, in North West, who was stabbed to death by a learner. Six years ago it was a video showing 18-year-old Bongani Nkabinde being killed at Sizimisele High School in KwaZulu-Natal, in full view of other pupils, just after assembly. Police later found dangerous weapons such as pangas, knobkerries and sticks used by learners who were involved in the fight.
But, on every one of those occasions, by the next week we have moved on and become angered by something else.
That’s a problem. It means we don’t stop and channel our outrage to fix things. For years schools have been war zones and targets for thugs. No one is safe.
We can no longer see all schools as safe spaces. Safety is something reserved for private schools and the former Model C schools, which can afford to hire private security guards, erect razor wire fences and provide access control.
Township and rural schools, where the majority of learners are found, are not safe. These schools have not only become targets for thugs and battlegrounds for rival gangs of pupils, they are also the first point of call when disgruntled residents are looking for a government building to torch.
The violence in schools is a ticking time bomb that needs an urgent solution. But there seems to be little in the way of solutions.
The departments involved in education pay lip service to school security, only sometimes ensuring that there is enough money to hire guards. But having a guard at a school gate, whose only duty is to register the cars that come in or ask people where they are going, is not security.
This lack of care has created a vacuum, which is filled by those with vested interests who offer solutions such as having armed guards patrol school premises, or armed teachers ready to shoot back.
That’s nonsensical and the sort of solutions reserved for countries with a broken moral compass.
Children are the future. They carry with them the damage done by broken parents and a society struggling with violence. But if we don’t create safe spaces for learners, we will remain stuck in violence. If we don’t act now as a country to fix our schools then we must be prepared to be outraged by the violence coming out of our schools for a lifetime.
Our anger needs to translate into action at every level. Everyone, from the state to teachers, parents and learners, need to come together and reclaim schools from thugs.
The time for indabas that discuss school safety but do not come up with concrete and practical safety plans for schools are over.