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Drugs, gangs and pangas — the Soweto high school beset by violence and lawlessness

Drugs, gangs and pangas — the Soweto high school beset by violence and lawlessness
Gauteng MEC for community safety Faith Mazibuko (right) at Altmont Secondary School and Protea South, Soweto. The school has a problem with gangsterism, drugs and violence. (Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips)

Gauteng MEC for Community Safety Faith Mazibuko says the Altmont Technical High School is one of the most problematic in Soweto. A member of the school’s governing body says many of the problem learners are aged between 22 and 24, and some are as old as 26.

On 11 September, a panga-wielding man disembarked from a Toyota Corolla sedan inside the premises of Altmont Technical High School. He was apparently about to assault a learner, but was stopped by parents and community activists a few metres from his intended victim.

This journalist witnessed the incident after meeting the school governing body (SGB) to investigate challenges faced by the school in Protea South, Soweto.

soweto school violence

Altmont Secondary School in Protea South, Soweto. The school has a problem with gangsterism, drugs and violence. (Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips)

Coincidentally, shortly before Daily Maverick arrived, a contingent of SAPS officers, metro police, Gauteng Crime Prevention Wardens known as amaPanyaza and school patrollers conducted a search and seizure operation at the school. The Gauteng MEC for community safety, Faith Mazibuko, was present.

The panga-wielding man was detained by police who arrived on the scene. Daily Maverick understands that he sought revenge after discovering that the schoolbags of his two children had been snatched by learners who are believed to be gang members.

The school is one of 245 in Gauteng considered by authorities to be “high risk” because of incidents of violence, misbehaviour and lawlessness.

The education and community safety committees in the Gauteng legislature are formulating a report on how to deal with the situation at the schools.

soweto school violence

Crime prevention wardens are deployed with the help of the SAPS at Altmont Secondary School and Protea South, Soweto. (Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips)

Stakeholder engagement sessions were held in August and September with activists, political parties, civil society organisations, parents and learners.

Read in Daily Maverick: Parents call for drastic measures to combat rising violence in Gauteng schools 

Gauteng police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Mavela Masondo did not respond to questions about the panga incident and three arrests relating to drug possession, which Daily Maverick witnessed on streets close to the school.

soweto school violence

A man was arrested after being found with drugs and multiple cell phones at his home near Altmont Secondary School. (Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips)

But, Masondo’s colleague Brigadier Brenda Muridili said the operation at the school was part of the Adopt a Cop school safety programme between the SA Police Service and the Department of Basic Education.

“Police officers conduct random searches at schools as and when requested through the Adopt a Cop [programme] by the principal. Following the searches, the police address the learners on crime prevention hints and bullying as well as SAPS careers,” Muridili said.

She said no arrests were made at the school and no dangerous weapons or drugs were found.

‘Problematic school’

Gauteng community safety MEC Mazibuko told Daily Maverick that Altmont was one of the most problematic schools in Soweto, with parents frequently lodging complaints.

Mazibuko said that on the day of the police operation at the school, “ringleaders” jumped over a fence and ran away.

soweto school violence

Learners are seen during a school break at Altmont Secondary School in Protea South, Soweto. (Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips)

Mazibuko said there was a need to “zoom in” on problematic schools in the province. “We’ve realised that gangsters start to recruit in schools,” she said.

Despite the police stating no drugs were uncovered during their search at the school, Mazibuko said crystal meth and dagga were found on a learner during the operation.

This was confirmed by SGB members and community activists.

Mazibuko said the learner claimed that he was forced by a schoolmate to carry the bag containing the drugs.

Attempted interventions

SGB member Thenjiwe Makhubu said gangsterism was rife in their community and had spilt over into Altmont Technical High School. She said some learners came to school armed with pangas and it was not unusual to get reports of learners stabbing one another on the school premises — often as a result of weekend disputes. 

Makhubu said council and police officials had arranged tours to correctional facilities for learners as part of a strategy to motivate them to change their ways, but this had not been successful. 

soweto school violence

A traffic officer during school break at Altmont Secondary School in Protea South, Soweto. (Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips)

She said officials were continuing to organise social service programmes to deal with the challenges faced by the 1,440 learners, 51 teachers and nine support staff members at the school.

Makhubu said about 30 learners at the school were affiliated with gangs and that about 60 troublesome learners had been identified.

Most of the problematic learners, she said, were aged between 22 and 24. There were also 26-year-old learners in Grade 10 at the school.

“Such a person is not a child. That’s an adult,” Makhubu said.

Izangoma and gangster network

Makhubu said another challenge was learners disrupting classes and demanding to conduct rituals to consult with their ancestors. 

She said the school had reported cases of violence and gang-related incidents to the authorities. In some of these cases, learners were detained and later released.

The SGB, she said, had also conducted disciplinary cases against some of the learners. But the children of SGB members had been threatened and forced not to testify. Some parents even feared their own children because they were affiliated with gangs.

Community activist Gugulethu Maseko said there was a network of gangs at Soweto schools.

“You will find out that some of them are 13-year-olds and that they join gangs while in primary schools,” Maseko said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • William Dryden says:

    Soweto is prime example of lawlessness in every aspects, residents don’t pay their electricity bills despite debt’s being written off soon after Mandella came on the scene. Illegal connections, drug wars in and out of schools, and a total disregard for law enforcement.

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