Call in the army, says MEC

Bernadino Heights High School.

The army needs to help under-resourced police quell gang violence in Kraaifontein because it’s costing schoolchildren their futures, says Education MEC Debbie Schafer.

Ms Schafer says the flare-up of gang violence in the area is hurting school pupils and staff.

The violence, she said in a statement, was depriving pupils of an education, creating a “destructive cycle of violence and disruption”, as those who lost out on a proper schooling were at greater risk of being sucked into gang activities.

“The only solution to this ongoing gang violence that is negatively impacting the education and safety of our learners would be to increase the SAPS presence on the ground, and especially around our schools; bring back the specialised gang units, and deploy the army to gang-ridden areas on a temporary basis to stabilise the areas,” she said.

According to her, the department has issued an urgent warning to schools to have their safety plans reviewed.

All schools should have safety committees, she said.

“Schools need to ensure that these committees are well-functioning and that staff members are aware of their relevant responsibilities should any emergencies arise.”

However, she added, no safety plan could compensate for lack of police presence around schools.

“The reality is that without more police presence, gang violence cannot be brought under control.”

She said shots were fired near Bernadino Heights High School at the end of the school day last month, but only one police van with one officer had been available to respond but had been unable to do so without back-up, and back-up had never arrived.

Bernadino Heights High declined to comment on this to the Northern News.

Ms Schafer said the army could support SAPS operations, as an interim peace-keeping measure in gang-ridden areas.

Scottsdene High School principal Peter Links has lost five pupils to gang violence since April.

“Three learners were shot and two of them had been stabbed. This really has affected the morale of the learners,” he said.

Pupils are searched with metal detectors daily before entering the school grounds.

However, Mr Links said they were on their own and vulnerable once they left the school grounds.

He wants to see more police vans patrolling the area when schools close in the afternoons.

Morning and afternoon patrols by neighbourhood watches could also help.

“It remains the police’s responsibility to guarantee the safety of the community.

“The police are trained to combat and prevent crime. Therefore, the responsibility lies with them to secure people’s safety.

“Everyone is aware that poverty is the main cause of gangsterism, and if we want a change in the community, the government needs to step in and tackle unemployment,” he said.

Parkdene Primary School deputy principal Carmen Erasmus said gangsters didn’t care about pupils’ safety as the violence often flared up as pupils were either on their way to school or about to return home.

“We have strict systems and policies regarding entry onto school premises (with regular searches conducted). We have also requested bulletproof fencing to further ensure the safety of our learners.”

Bernadino Heights High School principal Deon Mertheim said his pupils were exposed to violence daily and some pupils had been caught in the crossfire in the past.

Some parents were keeping their children home or taking them out of the school altogether to find schools in safer neighbourhoods.

And teachers were also looking for posts outside the area.

Mr Mertheim said “drastic” action was needed.

“We need more police patrols or private security companies patrolling in the areas.”

Kraaifontein Community Policing Forum secretary Clement Solomons said school governing bodies or safety teams did not discuss safety plans with the CPF and he would like to see that change.

“We are very concerned about the gang violence threatening our communities.

“Each kid has the right to learn and play in a safe environment.”

He said the CPF worked with SAPS, sector managers and neighbourhood watches to help with patrols and the searching of school pupils.

Northern News sent questions to the Kraaifontein police on Friday last week, but they had not responded by the time this edition went to print.