Gauteng to deploy armed guards at high-risk schools in response to alarming violence, gangsterism and bullying
The Gauteng government will implement new security measures, including deploying armed guards and installing cameras at the province’s most dangerous schools. Not everyone is convinced it’s the right move.
Gauteng’s Department of Education is beefing up security at schools beset by lawlessness, a move that has left stakeholders divided.
The department said the drastic security measures were to tackle rampant violence, gangsterism, bullying and substance abuse by learners.
“These continue to be a matter of concern to the department,” said Department of Education spokesperson Steve Mabona.
“Some of our schools are best characterised as war zones, and learners, educators and staff members do not feel safe.”
Speaking at Sizwe High School in Germiston, Ekurhuleni, last week, Gauteng Education MEC Matome Chiloane said the security measures would include deploying armed security guards and installing CCTV cameras, panic buttons and metal detectors.
Chiloane said 75 schools had been earmarked for prioritisation in the school safety programme, named “Operation Kgutla Molao”. The 75 schools are among 245 in Gauteng that have been deemed high-risk.
In a response to questions in the provincial legislature from Democratic Alliance shadow education MEC Khume Ramulifho in March, the provincial department listed alarming incidents of violence at Gauteng schools.
Chiloane said that in the last five years, seven learners, one teacher and one principal had been killed at eight schools.
He said in that period there had been six incidents of learner-on-teacher violence and four incidents of teacher-on-learner violence. There were 45 incidents of learner-on-learner violence and 26 incidents linked to gangsterism. Four learners were killed by “outsiders”.
There were 40 stabbing incidents, 10 shootings involving teachers and learners, and 16 incidents involving other violent crimes.
All these cases yielded only one known conviction.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Gauteng officials intend to beef up school security after Grade 10 pupil is killed at Geluksdal Secondary
Concerns over guards
The decision to beef up security at schools, especially the deployment of armed guards, has drawn contrasting reactions.
Paul Sauer, the vice-president of the teachers’ union Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie, said the organisation was not in favour of deploying armed guards. He said he supported having low-key security guards for access control and disciplinary issues.
“Armed guards will be an extra attraction to unwanted elements. To implement armed guards at schools will only strengthen the violence trend that is happening in certain communities,” Sauer said.
However, education activist Hendrick Makaneta believes, “The deployment of armed guards at high-risk schools is necessary.
“There is no doubt that crime is very high in the country and unless we deal with acts of criminality in the schooling system, we may find it difficult to defeat it in the broader society at large.”
National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) CEO Gaylin Bowles said the deployment of armed security guards was necessary at certain schools to mitigate violence, gangsterism and burglaries.
He was, however, not entirely comfortable with the operation of armed guards during the day. “Maybe at night,” Bowles said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Drugs, gangs and pangas — the Soweto high school beset by violence and lawlessness
Daily Maverick asked some of the stakeholders whether they thought the presence of armed guards at schools would cause anxiety in learners.
“When any of us walk into an area where an ATM is being serviced, with armed guards, or when a cash-in-transit vehicle is close to you, you immediately associate it with a higher level of danger for yourself and change your path since it is an attraction for a robbery that is maybe accompanied by explicit violence,” Sauer said.
“The heightened anxiety level in learners will most possibly be escalated, especially where learners have been exposed to any violent acts.”
“The presence of armed guards will certainly create great anxiety among learners. What is important is to take the learners into confidence by explaining the importance of search operations by law enforcement officers such as police, which is in the best interest of the general wellbeing and safety of all learners,” Makaneta said.
Regarding concerns that the CCTV cameras might violate the privacy of learners, teachers and visitors, Makaneta said there were exceptions to the right to privacy in such cases.
“The installation of CCTV cameras does infringe on the right to privacy. But at the same time, section 36 of the Constitution … dictates that the rights in the Bill of Rights can be limited if doing so is reasonable and justifiable in a democratic society,’’ Makaneta said, stressing the balance between the right to privacy and the right to safety.
Naptosa’s Bowles said the technology should be seen for its primary purpose — the safety of teachers and learners.
The Department of Education’s Mabona said consultation with stakeholders on the implementation of the extra security measures was ongoing.
“Consultation with all necessary stakeholders is the cornerstone of this school safety programme.
“Operation Kgutla Molao is one of the comprehensive interventions outlined within the Gauteng School Safety Action Plan, aimed at reducing incidents of violence, bullying, suicide, substance abuse and sexual harassment at schools.
“Installation of CCTV cameras will assist this process and, as such, we do not anticipate interference with privacy. Parents at schools which have benefitted from such installations are very happy and satisfied,” Mabona said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Parents call for drastic measures to combat rising violence in Gauteng schools
Makaneta said, “The deployment of armed guards in schools tells the story of a troubled nation that is often held at ransom by criminals.
“We know that a school is a reflection of the community it serves and in South Africa, in many a community, violence is at the doorstep of learners and in the streets they live in.” DM