Congolese pupil, Donette Ngonefi from Salt River High School was brutally attacked by classmates which hospitalised her and made her fearful for returning to school.
In a video captured by a classmate on August 27, it shows an argument taking place, where Donette was pulled from behind, while several pupils held her back, the attack led to her being forced on the floor. “My head was bumped against the board and I fell down on the floor, boys and girls were kicking my tummy, I was protecting my head and face,” she said.
Donette was first admitted to Groote Schuur Hospital after her attack on August 27, where she spent the night there. She experienced intense headaches and abdominal pains. Donette says because of shock the hospital had to give her more blood. Though weeks after the attack, she was still in pain and was admitted to the Karl Bremer hospital in Bellville for over a week in September where she was discharged on Wednesday September 18.
This fight occurred in the Grade 10 Life Orientation class and their teacher was present when the fight occurred. The teacher is seen in the video trying to break the fight up.
Donette, 20,originally from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo arrived in the country in 2009 with her family and they currently reside in Parow. She travels by train to Salt River High with her sister, Tabitha and brother Bonheur who are in Grade 9 and Grade 8 respectively.
Donette says she was made class monitor from the beginning of the year, though has received verbal abuse from the local pupils.
“As a class monitor, we check whether pupils bunk and check their attendance and must report bunking and bullying to the teacher,” she says.
“The kids in my class did not want me to be a class monitor, every time they tell me I am a foreigner and can’t be a class monitor in their country,” she said.
Donette told her class teacher as well as acting principal Fairuz Patel on three occasions that she did not want to be class monitor and was told it would be ‘handled.’
“She never handled it, she never came to our class to talk about this class monitor stuff,” said Donette.
Immediately after the incident, Donette and the pupil that started the fight appeared in the acting principals office along with the Life Orientation teacher. The teacher says she did not see what happened.
After the fight ,Donette was even prepared to make peace with her attacker, where they both apologised to each other, though when she came to class later, she was still being threatened by other pupils even though she made peace and was still in pain.
There was no urgency by the school to call an ambulance immediately, it was only towards the end of the day where Donette collapsed in class that an ambulance was called upon.
The circumstances of Donette’s attack led to a volatile situation the next day on August 28. Western Cape Education Department (WCED) spokesperson, Bronagh Hammond says parents of the pupils who were involved were informed, and were requested to accompany their children to school the next morning.
“The school was to then proceed with disciplinary action against the two pupils,” she says.
Ms Hammond said a group of pupils protested further and it escalated further when the pupils and community members demanded that the other learner be released to them so that she can be “dealt” with.
Woodstock Police was called to escort the pupil to the police station to keep her safe. Warrant Officer Hilton Malila from Woodstock Police says the injured girl brought her parents and relatives to school in an attempt to resolve the matter on Wednesday August 28 which almost led to clashes between the Congolese and Xhosa children in that class.
“During a volatile situation police was notified to diffuse the situation and brought the aggrieved parties to the police station, where we addressed the situation with them and found a mutual understanding,” he said.
Donette has not been back at school since the incident as she is still traumatized by what happened. Her younger siblings Tabitha and Bonheur also stayed out of school for over two weeks but returned last Monday September 16 and are still being victimised by other pupils. The two siblings did not return to school after Bonheur was threatened on Wednesday September 18.
Donette’s mother, Thethe Ngonefi, says she is disappointed in the country as one of the reasons they left DR Congo was to get a better education for her children in the country.
“What happened to my daughter is affecting my whole family, we do not feel safe anymore,” she says. Ms Ngonefi says her children are missing out of the exams because they’re scared and the school did not bother to ask where they are?
Congolese Community Leader in the Western Cape, Papy Sukami says xenophobia and hatred can destroy people, even professionals.
“We were about to lose the life of Donette, the principal was blinded to assist a little girl while she collapsed, but the same lady is a parent,” he said.
Mr Sukami says it also took the family seven days to get a case number from the police.
“We are going to stand up for Donette because our children as foreigners should be respected and secured by the South African law,” he said.
Ms Hammond says the investigation is still underway. “The school has engaged with the parents when they visited the school the day after the attack and on another occasion and have also informed the parents that their daughter would be able to write all her assessments and tests when she returns to school,” she said.
Ms Hammond says the school has also arranged for workshops to be conducted with pupils on how to deal with conflict and mediation.