Hundreds of parents, teachers, principals, religious leaders and organisation representatives came together at a mass meeting on Monday October 17 to strategise a way forward to ensure the safety of pupils and staff at schools in Lavender Hill.
The meeting was called by the Lavender Hill safe schools cluster which includes Prince George Drive, Levana and Hillwood primary schools and Lavender Hill High School.
Levana and Hillwood primary schools have been the worst affected by gang violence as they are situated in the heart of the gang turf war where shootings have taken place almost daily.
In the last month, two people have been shot and killed in the alleyway that separates the schools – the same thoroughfare used by pupils and residents.
Teaching staff and pupils had to lie face down last week when about 40 shots were fired, the bullets ripping through school windows.
Although police are unable to provide numbers, several people have been killed and dozens more injured in gang-related shootings in the volatile area. Warrant Officer John Bartlett, spokesperson for Steenberg police, confirmed the shootings on Monday October 10 and Tuesday October 11.
He said the cause of the shootings can be attributed to a retaliationfor previous shootings at gang members.
On Thursday October 13, teachers, principals and parents held a picket along Prince George Drive to show their frustration at the continued drug trade and gang war (See page 2).
At the meeting which was held at Hillwood Primary School on Monday, several roleplayers sat on the panel including Education MEC Debbie Shafer and Community Safety MEC Dan Plato, ward councillors Shannen Rossouw, Marita Petersen and Gerry Gordon, South African Teacher’s Union representative Noel Isaacs, CPF chairperson Lucinda Evans, Steenberg police station commander Colonel Jan Alexander and other Western Cape Education Department (WCED) reprentatives.
Teachers had an opportunity to inform the panel about the difficulties they face daily. They gave harrowing accounts of the violence which has caused depression, stress, and trauma for themselves and the pupils.
Many say they try to teach as best they can in a very abnormal situation but admit that the violence has taken its toll with many doubting whether they still want to continue teaching.
Teachers also handed over a memorandum of demands to the department of safety and security, the education department as well as the police – asking for assistance. Some of the requests included more visible policing, particularly during the times pupils walk to and from school, secure fencing, more security, the closure of the lane between Hillwood and Levana primary schools and meaningful engagement and programmes for youngsters in the area.
Ms Shafer was met with a lot of hostility from the crowd when she told them that the WCED cannot do much. “We empathise with the situation and we support the call for a safe learning environment but it is not within our mandate to deal with safety outside of the schools. It also needs to be understood that there are very limited things the department can do because of financial constraints and many of the things on the list of demands will not be able to be met because the finances are just not there,” said Ms Shafer. “The safety of pupils as well as teachers outside of the school is the mandate of the police. Throwing money at the problem also may not necessarily solve the problems of shootings so a long-term solution needs to be looked at,” said Ms Shafer.
Colonel Alexander said his precinct is doing their best with the limited resources and manpower they have.
“We have 22 schools in our precinct but we have been concentrating on Lavender Hill. Other law enforcement agencies have come on board and we have many operations in the area and in due time we will roll out the adopt-a-cop initiative at the schools,” said Colonel Alexander.
“Hopefully through this initiative we will build relationships with the school and when there are incidents at the school we will have a direct link to the school and we can respond accordingly,” he said.
“Although an immediate resolution wasn’t reached on Monday, another meeting will be held where all stakeholders will come together to brainstorm suggestions that were made on Monday.
Mr Plato said they are willing to come to the table to discuss further programmes and interventions that will hopefully help teachers as well as pupils. “We have started the walking bus in the area with the hope of it helping children on their way to and from school. We acknowledge that these residents who volunteer risk their lives doing what they do but we will look at further measures that can be taken to ensure the safety of pupils,” said Mr Plato. In the interim, councillors for wards 110 and 66 have set aside money for CCTV cameras to be installed in their areas. The installation and monitoring of the live streaming from the cameras will hopefully help alleviate not only crime but also gang activities.