Fatal stabbing at Geluksdal Secondary was only a matter of time
Department of Education accused of not taking preventive action
- Shawn Mphela, a learner at Geluksdal Secondary School, was fatally stabbed last week.
- The school has a history of violence and poor discipline, and there are racial tensions in the community.
- Learners, parents, community members and organisations say nothing has been done although serious concerns about safety at the school had been raised numerous times in the past year.
We reported on violence at Geluksdal Secondary last August, when police had to be called in to monitor the school. “Our children learning at the school are living in fear,” a member of the school governing board told us then.
We reported again in September last year, when parents shut down the school because, they said, their concerns over violence were not being addressed. “We are tired because nothing is being done and there is a safety threat facing our children,” a community representative told us. At the time, the Department of Education downplayed the seriousness of the situation and was almost in denial when we asked for comment.
Now, just outside a residential home right across the street from the school, a candle, a red ribbon and an envelope in his memory mark the spot where Shawn Mphela died on 2 February at the age of 18. He was in grade 10.
According to learners, there was a pepper spraying incident earlier that day between black and coloured students during school hours. The parties promised to finish their fight after school. A learner who said they witnessed the fatal stabbing, says Shawn was stabbed in the after-school fight and that some adults were also involved.
The accused, an adult and not a learner, will appear again in court on 15 February.
Learners and community members in Geluksdal, Tsakane and surrounding areas have expressed anger and outrage. They say in the past year the issue of violence at the school had been raised at several meetings. Learners had also reported issues of drug dealing and ill discipline.
“Last year we handed over a memorandum to the Department of Education addressing the very same issues,” says Portia Brink, a community representative.
“On the issue of violence, we asked for metro police to be permanently deployed outside the school following [an incident in August]. But police were only deployed for a few days and we continued to hear reports of gangs and violence in the school. Our children are clearly not safe and what happened to Shawn is evidence of that,” said Brink.
“Why did the department have to wait until someone’s death to act?” asked Chairperson of Pan Africanist Student Organization (PASO) Samkhelo Mthethwa.
“Issues of racism in school, violence, bullying, discrimination and shortage of equipment at Geluksdal Secondary School have been reported to us as a student organisation,” he said.
Mthethwa said PASO had raised these issues with the district’s education officials, who promised to investigate, but nothing had been done.
There are also safety concerns at other schools in Kwathema, Tsakane and Duduza, he said.
On Monday, dozens of students demanding “Justice for Shawn”, led by PASO, marched to the Tsakane Magistrate Court, where the murder suspect was appearing for the first time.
PASO member Mpho Nkosi said, “The Department of Education and the police are failing us. There is no security in schools and we as students are going to take action. What happened to Shawn could have been prevented if the district director had listened to us. They never fixed anything. This issue of racism in the school could be behind us by now.”
Shawn Mphela lived in Tsakane. Geluksdal Secondary is located in a previously predominantly coloured area. His death has further stoked racial tensions. Residents of Geluksdal say they have received threats from people living in Tsakane who are “racialising things”. Some parents have opted to keep their children out of school until the situation has calmed down.
“Racial tensions have been brewing in Geluksdal for a long time,” said Thapelo Thobela, of Kwathema Concerned Residents. “A principal was chased away because they were black. They are creating a situation of hatred between blacks and coloureds in that community. It’s as if we’ve gone back to apartheid. These issues must be resolved to create a harmonious environment between black and coloured students in the school.”
Selwyn Afrikander, a newly elected SGB member, said meetings were currently being held with delegates from the Department of Education. He called for unity among South Africans.
On Sunday, a delegation from the Department of Education addressed parents at the school and said it would soon begin investigations into Shawn’s death and invited anyone with valuable information to come forward.
Meanwhile security officers have been deployed at the school while SAPS and Metro Police are monitoring the area.
Asked what had the department done following last year’s incidents, Gauteng Department of Education spokesperson Steve Mabona did not answer the question.
Mabona also shifted responsiblity back to the school and the community: “Schools are urged to enforce their codes of conduct to deal with bullying and other disciplinary matters … Although security has been beefed up, we however call upon parents and learner organisations to work with the Department for the betterment of the situation at the school.”
Mabona said security had been enhanced “until the situation is calm”, investigations had been launched, and an independent law firm will be appointed to investigate allegations of discrimination.
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