12 August 2019
During lunch break on Thursday, hundreds of learners from Blomvlei Primary School in Hanover Park gathered on the outskirts of the school holding signs and beating drums to raise awareness about gang violence in the area.
The children, who ranged from Grade R to Grade 7, spent their break chanting, “We want peace, we want peace!”
According to Raatiqah Tagodien, Vice Chairperson of the School Governing Board and organiser of the picket, Blomvlei is located in the middle of a gang-ridden area.
“We have to duck and dive bullets from every direction. There are gangsters on all sides shooting everyday,” said Tagodien.
The situation is so severe that the school has had to teach learners how to respond when they hear gunshots nearby.
“The kids know if they outside they have to go to the nearest classroom and hit the floor,” said Michelle Rhode, a mother of two children who now attend the high school next door.
Rhode, along with eight other women, form part of a voluntary organisation known as the Walking Bus Ladies. Every day the nine women walk children to and from school, and remain on the premises during the school day to ensure Blomvlei learners are safe from stray bullets. A member of the organisation remains on the school premises until every school child has gone home safely.
But going to and from the school itself also poses a threat. Candice Jansen, Treasurer of the School Governing Board, walks her two children to school every morning and waits for them to come out of school in the afternoons. Her youngest child is in Grade 6 at Blomvlei and, according to Jansen, his teachers believe his marks are good enough to get him into a top school outside of Hanover Park.
“But I am so afraid to send my child out of the area where he is travelling alone. So for me it is safer to have him here where I can walk him and wait for him and bring him home safe,” said Jansen.
Despite the launch of the Anti-Gang Unit in Hanover Park last year and the arrival of the South African National Defence Force in the Cape Flats last month, Blomvlei Principle Waldimar Snyders says the situation remains violent.
“Our learners must truly be admired. Despite the shootings and the violence in the area, they are still prepared to come to school sometimes dodging bullets on there way to school,” said Snyders.
Walking through the school there is evidence of bullet holes, break-ins and even stray bullets stuck in the bullet-proof fences. While organising her Grade 1 class during the picket, Joyce Hansen told GroundUp that the Education Department should prioritise learner safety.
“We as students fought for freedom in 1976, but we didn’t fight for this, said Hansen. “The kids are traumatised and it has an effect on their learning. They act out but yet our education department expects our children to get the same results as kids from affluent areas.”
According to Snyders, only a handful of students have received counselling. The Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) Safe School programme also provides counselling to teachers and staff, offering special trauma counselling to staff at Blomvlei. The school has also been provided with an alarm and intercom system, which at present requires replacing after cables were stolen.