Some Mpumalanga teachers have boycotted classes, saying they fear for their lives after a spate of criminal attacks on them and pupils within school premises.
Educators from about 50 schools in Marite, Bushbuckridge say they and their pupils are victims of burglaries and robberies by gun-wielding criminals.
In a memorandum prepared by the teachers and seen by Sunday World, the affected teachers say thugs who regularly ransack schools and make off with food and equipment also rob them of their personal belongings.
One female teacher said she feared the possibility of being raped.
The teachers protested outside the Mpumalanga department of education circuit office in Marite last week under heavy police guard.
Brian Ngobeni, South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) branch chairperson in Marite, submitted the memorandum on behalf of the teachers.
“There are many criminal activities happening in our schools but authorities are not doing anything about it,” Ngobeni said.
“We decided to demonstrate to the local circuit and hand over the letter of demand. Teachers from more than 10 schools have not gone to work since the schools reopened for the fourth quarter.
“Criminals go to schools armed to rob the teachers of their belongings and abuse pupils. Teachers and pupils’ lives are in danger.
“In some of the schools food and equipment have been stolen. As I am talking to you now, we are not going back to school unless the government fences our schools properly and also deploys armed law-enforcement agencies.
“We will return to work as soon as we are sure the safety measures are in place.”
In the memorandum, the teachers demanded the implementation of safety measures, including visible police patrols, urgent intervention by the national or provincial police commissioner, and the immediate placement of armed security personnel in schools.
The memorandum also states that the teachers need proper security, clear-view fencing in all schools, and frequent random searches in schools.
“Schools in Marite are experiencing burglary and robbery of educators and learners during classes,” the memorandum reads.
Teachers who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation said they were under siege from criminals.
They said teachers were attacked and mugged in broad daylight.
“I am from one of the schools that were robbed but I cannot tell you how that happened because the thugs will be able to identify me and seek revenge for exposing them.
“The reason I am part of the march is that as women, we are not safe at all because next time the criminals will rape us,” said the female teacher.
Patrick Mkhonto, the provincial education department’s deputy director of labour in the Bohlabela district, accepted the memorandum.
He told the demonstrators that the department would consider the concerns raised with a response.
Ngobeni added that they met with the Calcutta police station representatives to discuss the problem, and would get feedback on what to do next on Monday.
Jasper Zwane, spokesperson for the education department in Mpumalanga, said the department commends the teachers’ union for taking a stand against violence, gangsterism, and other forms of crime in schools.
“We share their deep concern about the negative impact that crime is having on the quest to improve learning and teaching,” Zwane said.
“Crime in schools is a serious problem that can have a devastating impact on learners and teachers. It can create a climate of fear and anxiety, which can make it difficult for learners to learn and teachers to teach.”
He added that the department is committed to working with the teachers’ union and other stakeholders to create a safe learning and teaching environment.
“Crime can also lead to property damage and theft, which can disrupt the educational process and deprive schools of essential resources,” said Zwane.
It’s not the first time that local residents have spoken out against crime.
A few months ago, residents of Marite told Mpumalanga MEC for community safety, security and liaison Vusi Shongwe that they were being harassed by criminals who were in cahoots with local police.
Shongwe was in the area as part of the government’s public participation programme (Imbizo), whereby community members were encouraged to speak out about the criminal activities taking place in the area.
Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Selvy Moihlala did not respond to questions sent to him via WhatsApp.
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