The call by officials to the community members each time there is a school opening ceremony or handover of high-tech equipment is: “Take care of this school.” The onus is suddenly on vulnerable people — who live in rural areas or townships where violence, criminality and unemployment are rife — to protect the institution and its possessions.
Break-ins, vandalism and the burning of poor, under-resourced schools are not new in South Africa. In fact, a quick Google search seemed to point to this culture as being unique to this country on the continent. Schools become even more vulnerable to crime through public-private partnerships, whereby our schools are increasingly being equipped with Information Communication Technology (ICT) devices that support online learning and education technology services.
The theft of ICT equipment and, most recently, personal protective equipment (PPE) meant to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 in our schools is rampant. In May, Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga said that 1577 schools had been vandalised during lockdown. In my hometown of Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape, criminals even steal the barbed wire fencing around schools.
Covid-19 is accelerating the high unemployment rate and bellies are rumbling from hunger. In Zulu there is a saying, Indlala ibanga ulaka which, loosely translated, means hunger causes anger and violence. Our communities also have a drug and alcohol problem. Schools are particularly vulnerable because now, more than ever, anything of value is a target. Criminals see a weakness and an opportunity and they take it. This is made easier because parental and civil involvement is almost nonexistent in some areas.
But, are we naive in our expectations of our schools, parents and their surrounding communities when placing all these resources in impoverished areas, hoping for the best in the most unequal country in the world?
In addition to equipping our schools we need to ensure there is adequate security by professional companies.
Unlike our townships and rural areas which are often terrorised by gangs and criminals, quintile 5 and private schools are mostly located in leafy, gated suburbs. Yet, criminals live among us and are found in all parts of our society and these schools are not immune to criminality. So, they do the obvious thing — they invest in professional security; they don’t depend on the neighbours living in nearby homes or complexes or the workers from nearby office parks to protect their schools.
We shouldn’t conflate community involvement (which is a factor in learner success) with the protection/security of schools. Community involvement does not refer to being in close proximity to the school building, but to actual participation and communication with the various parts of the school body.
There are already unrealistic expectations placed on under-resourced schools and the communities they exist in. Now, Covid-19 has thrown them yet another curve ball and these schools will be expected to take it on the chin and produce the results, despite the circumstances they find themselves in.
We need to find another way to protect our schools.
Sean Mbusi is an edtech entrepreneur, founder at Kamva Education and a member of and contributor to Future Africa Forum, a non-partisan convening of young African leaders aimed at developing policies and agendas that advance the continent