by Christine James
American Reporter Correspondent
Johannesburg, South Africa
October 12, 2006
SCHOOL VIOLENCE AN AFRICAN PROBLEM, TOO
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- "Children will be children. They merely did things teenagers do." These were the words of a South African diplomat working at the South African High Commissioner's Office who, along with his family, was requested by the British Government to be out of Britain by October 17.
The request was made following the misdemeanors of the diplomat's two teenage sons. One, a 19-year-old, had taken part in an armed robbery, the other, 12, had been caught brandishing what turned out to be a toy gun at his primary school.
Meanwhile, back in South Africa it's almost the end of the school year and most parents know that their kids start acting strangely at this time. They're tired, they're stressed, and many of them are about to write their final exams and leave school forever. Whether it is the cause of this year's sudden surge of violence in schools is purely speculation, but the happenings of the past month in South Africa have some parents hesitating to send their children to school at all.
August began with the headline "Pupils stab each other." At a school in the Western Cape, two boys, one 17 and the other 18, were involved in an argument. They both pulled out knives and both ended up in hospital with stab wounds.
On August 30, in the province of Kwa Zulu Natal, an 11th grade high school student died after being stabbed by a ninth-grade boy during an argument over a cigarette. If this was an isolated incident it would be easier to understand, but the report goes on to say that several pupils have been killed or injured in school violence in the province in the past few months.
Five days later, at a school in Pretoria, an 18-year-old boy was beaten with a "sjambok" (a leather whip) and kicked in the head by four students from rival schools. The school neither called the police nor took the student to a doctor for treatment. The news report says, "This was the umpteenth incident of violence in which pupils were involved during the past couple of months."
The following week, an eighth-grade pupil about 14 years old was left with serious brain damage after being hit with a crowbar by a classmate. He had apparently asked his attacker not to copy his work.
Just two days later, a schoolgirl was lashed on her head with a belt by a fellow pupil after refusing to hand over money. Subsequent X-rays showed brain damage which her doctors say may lead to seizures.
By the end of September, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) was told that schools are "urban war zones" where teachers are struggling to cope with unruly pupils. The Director of the Child Accident Prevention Foundation, Professor Sebastion van As, stated that children are more likely to be violated at school than at any other place, making schools very dangerous places. Van As was one of more than 50 witnesses heard by the SAHRC during a two-day public hearing into violence at schools.
Unfortunately, on October 9, van As's statement proved all too true for a 19-year-old boy in Johannesburg who was stabbed to death at school by a 14-year-old student. The attacker was subsequently arrested. Teachers and pupils of the school are undergoing trauma counseling.
These and similar cases have left South African schools reeling. Corporal punishment has long been outlawed, but some teachers are reported as saying "it's the only thing that works," while others believe that it perpetuates violence. Random searches of pupils for drugs and weapons have been suggested, along with increased security in the form of fences and closed-circuit surveillance cameras. The way forward seems very unclear at this stage, as each and every school has different problems.
Whether the cause of the violence is social and academic stress, poor role models, violent video games, too much television, poverty or one of many other reasons is not clear, but sadly, in the expelled South African diplomat's words, "Children will be children. They merely did things teenagers do."
Those words have proved to have a chilling truth.
AR Correspondent Christine James is based in South Africa. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.