12 March 2014

South Africa: Manenberg Gets Bullet-Proof Schools

Gang violence in Manenberg is not decreasing, despite efforts from schools, government departments, and community organisations.


Last week numerous incidents of violence were reported. This included two in-school knife fights at Silverstream High School.

"A teacher was attacked at Silverstream last week, and after the incident, when the parents came, children were throwing bricks at them and threatening to stab the parents," said Leslie Knight, a teacher at Manenberg's Edendale Primary. "Silverstream is a volatile school," said Knight.

Sherylle Dass of Equal Education's (EE) law centre says, "Schools need immediate relief. Silverstream school has taken things into their own hands. After school incidents on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, where kids armed with knives were fighting between themselves, they took it upon themselves to fundraise and hire private security, which was implemented this week."

Knight said that after last week's incidents, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) provided R6000 for the school's security budget to help with short term violence prevention.

Millicent Merton, directorate of communication for the WCED, said, "The WCED provides schools with emergency security. For example, at Silverstream Secondary School, Safe Schools has provided two security guards, in addition to three guards paid for by the School Governing Body and one Bambanani volunteer."

Equal Education law centre negotiates with Education Department

The EE law centre representing teachers of Manenberg schools is in negotiations with the provincial education department (WCED). They met with the WCED on Wednesday last week. Dass said, "The department promised certain info/time frames to comply with certain demands of security ... by 20 March, all schools are to have bullet resistant fencing."

EE had applied to the court to order the WCED to provide specific safety for the teachers at Manenberg's schools.

Merton said,"THe WCED opposed the court order because the application to the court did not include authorities responsible for ensuring security (including SAPS, the Department of Community Safety and the City of Cape Town)."

"The order required the department to ensure security outside school premises where the police have the mandate ... . We will continue to take whatever steps we can to ensure the safety of our staff and learners ... This includes our full-cooperation with SAPS and other agencies responsible for the safety of the community," said Merton

The WCED made it clear that the department also shared the concerns of teachers and learners.

The EE law centre will continue to monitor the implementation of the Education department's promises. The law centre asked for the budget on school safety and the request has been granted.

Security for schools

"All 14 schools want security personnel on their campuses and improved security infrastructure," says Dass.

Knight says, "The fences are a big help. They will help to keep certain elements off our grounds. We can hope that the WCED live up to the deadline. Usually they simply tell police to put better plans in place."

Merton confirmed that following a meeting in August 2013, the WCED decided to provide 14 schools in Manenberg with bullet reflective fences.

"The fences have already been erected at two schools and the contractors are currently busy with the installation at the other schools," said Merton.

In a meeting between the EE law centre and SAPS last week, SAPS said that they would extend the visible policing for the rest of the term and reassess the situation over the holidays. Dass said they are "satisfied with policing and will continue to engage with the police department."

Leslie Knight confirmed that police had been present and patrolling on the school grounds, "although we haven't seen them much this week. The city police (metro) are on the schools in the mornings and evenings," said Knight.

Coordination and community

Various community organisations and NGOs are facing up to the challenge of gang violence. The Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum (WCRLF) is running a Safe Manenberg Campaign.

Waheed Sookool, spokesperson for WCRLF, said the Manenberg violence "is a very complex situation ... fixing a broken community and organisations is important. Making schools safe is achievable if we strengthen the organisations already present in the community."

India Baird, founder of Rock Girl, a grassroots movement that works to encourage and invest in women and girls, works with youth in Manenberg schools.

Baird says, "We have to address the problem with a sustainable long term approach, not (only) whenever there is violence. The police come, and then they go away, and the problem remains ... There is also evidence that private security is not effective in the long term."

"Younger and younger kids are armed. We need to look at why they are armed ... Bullet proof fencing is good, but it is short term."

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