SCHOOL DAZE

‘Cosas’ thugs hold Gauteng Health MEC hostage at school

By Bheki C. Simelane 10 October 2019
Caption
Gauteng Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku. (Photo: Tebogo Letsie / Media 24)

A group of men claiming to be Congress of South African Students (Cosas) members stormed into a Soweto high school on Wednesday 9 October, manhandling teachers, pupils and a reporter from Daily Maverick.

There is some doubt as to whether the about half a dozen thugs who stormed the Sekano-Ntoane Secondary School in Soweto on Wednesday – and the day before – are indeed members of the Congress of SA Students (Cosas), and Cosas itself failed to respond to requests for comment.

Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku was at the school, his and his parents’ alma mater when the group stormed through the school gates. Once inside, they demanded to see Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, who was not at the school nor scheduled to be there. Masuku was hastily locked in the principal’s office for his own safety.

Masuku had brought a team of young doctors who have embarked on providing community health services and raising awareness on depression, teenage pregnancy, drug addiction and other social ills under the hashtag, “Doctors In My Classroom”, to the school.

The about five or six middle-aged men demanded to see the MEC and the principal. After it became clear they would not get to see either of them, they went around the school disrupting classes, to the delight of some students and annoyance of others. The confusion that followed threw the school into chaos as pupils left classes and followed the group outside.

Teachers remonstrated with the group, and one male teacher was brave enough to try and fight them off as the group attacked anyone who tried to rebuke them, including teachers.

The group manhandled this reporter when I tried to take pictures of the chaotic scenes. They demanded that I delete all videos even though at that point I had not taken any, just pictures. An unidentified school worker and the male teacher tried to help, but I managed to retain my cellphone.

Police were called as the situation got out of hand. Masuku had by then been locked into the principal’s office when it became clear the men were violent. The men tried to attack Masuku inside the office. The reason for the attack on Masuku was not clear.

One police officer, a sergeant, arrived at the school more than half an hour after the police were called, despite the fact that the nearest police station, Corona Police Station, is less than 2km away.

About half an hour later, another three officers arrived in three vans and went straight to the principal’s office where Masuku and the “Cosas” men were. The police did not arrest anyone, as some of the men left the office and headed towards the school gates while seeming to be occupied with their cellphones.

Daily Maverick was told the group had also been at the school the previous day. One teacher said they had forced their way in past the school guard. The teacher said the guard was a very dedicated worker but had expressed his desire to quit due to lawlessness. The guard, known as Babu Sishi, told Daily Maverick he had tried to stop the men from entering the school.

The reason for the school invasion appears to be related to the school initiating disciplinary hearings against some pupils. It had asked the pupils to go home and fetch their parents. Apparently, the “Cosas” men became aware of this and told the pupils to defy the school and not bring their parents to the school.

When the school insisted that they should bring their parents, the group of men then visited the school on Tuesday. But, on Tuesday they had not been as violent as they were on Wednesday.

The actions of the group overshadowed the purpose of Masuku’s visit. Daily Maverick asked Masuku what three things he was most impressed with after the end of his first 100 days in office.

Masuku said he was most impressed with improvements in morale among health department staff and also that they were supportive of the current administration’s efforts to fix the state of health in the province.

There is backing and support from staff members, there is a lot of determination,” Masuku said.

He said that 15.9-million people in the province require medical attention per year, with 26-million visits to health centres in the province annually.

Masuku said he was impressed with pockets of excellence in the health system, which sometimes went unrecognised. He singled out Professor Zach Koto and his team at the Dr George Mukhari Hospital. In 2012, Kota and his team performed the first successful South African laparoscopic operation for blockages.

Earlier, Dr Mmathabo Makhubele, 25, warned pupils at the school against substance abuse and teenage pregnancy. She encouraged them to withstand peer pressure and focus on their studies.

We want you to be great because we see greatness in you,” said Makhubele.

The young doctors told Daily Maverick Doctors ‘In My Classroom’ was started at the Pholosong Hospital in Tsakane on the East Rand. Asked what prompted the project, the doctors said there was a need for outreach work, especially in the communities of Tsakane, Duduza and KwaThema.

Management assessed the situation and came to the conclusion that young must work with young, so they sent us to these communities,” said 25-year-old Dr Ndiphe Prune.

Masuku’s spokesperson Philani Mhlungu confirmed to Daily Maverick on Wednesday afternoon that Masuku and his team had left the school safely.

Cosas provincial secretary Tebogo Magafane did not respond to Daily Maverick’s request for comment on the thugs who called themselves Cosas members. DM

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