When getting to school is a challenge

Sea Point High School held a memorial service earlier this month for the loss of a fellow pupil but the pupils suffer trauma on a daily basis according to experts.

It’s almost like living in two different worlds, constantly moving from one to the next.

These were the thoughts of Sea Point High School pupils after their school was rocked by multiple tragedies earlier this month.

Between Friday October 1 and Monday October 3 three teenagers linked to the school were killed, with the school gathering to commemorate their lives at a memorial service on Monday October 10 (“School’s triple tragedy”, Atlantic Sun, October 13).

The school’s principal, Piet Botha, told the Atlantic Sun last week that Grade 10 pupil Goitsemang Leburu had been stabbed in the neck as she tried to step in and protect her aunt who had gotten into an argument which turned violent. The incident happened in Nyanga.

Siphelele Manona, who matriculated from the school last year, was stabbed to death in Gugulethu where he lived and worked as a photographer, and Ashwin Robertson, the son of a school staffer, was shot and killed while sitting in his car. They were all under 18.

But the reality is that these are the challenges faced by many of the pupils on a daily basis.

One of them, Ghandokazi Sityata, said the challenges started as soon as they woke up on the morning. “We have to be out of the house by 5.50am otherwise we will be late for class. We have to be very careful in the morning and know which routes to take because a lot of people get robbed.”

Ghandokazi, who is 16 and in Grade 11, said they always had to be on high alert when going to school in the morning. She said that there were a lot of pupils in similar situations who had to be up that early just to make it to school on time.

Zoe January, who also lives in Gugulethu, agreed, suggesting that better communication between residents and police would help improve safety in the area.

Both pupils believed their daily lives were vastly different from those of pupils who lived closer to town. “When you come to town there are security guards and we don’t have that where we stay. For pupils who live closer to town it takes them about five or 10 minutes to get to school. Some kids have to get up at 4.30am just to be on time,” added Ghandokazi.

One of the teachers at the school, Maxine Fraser, said these were the challenges faced by pupils on a daily basis.

“It shouldn’t be that pupils should want to seek a better life away from their home. It is important to fix those communities and that includes the education system. The education closer to where these pupils stay also needs to improve,” she said.

The school’s psychologist Anneliese Brandt, said many of the pupils arrive at school already traumatised simply because of what they experience every day. She said that of the school’s 400-odd pupils, 96 percent of them came from the townships, where crime was high and they always had to be on high alert.

“The pupils are either directly or indirectly affected by violence and the living conditions. They come to school already super alert and this makes it difficult for the teachers.” She also said the lack of sleep was not good for the pupils. “They need to get at least eight or nine hours sleep but they have to get up so early in the morning.”

She said this means that many of the pupils were also tired by the time they arrived at school.

Dali Weyers, who is a senior researcher in the Safety and Justice programme at the Social Justice Coalition, said Sea Point was the fifth highest resourced area in the country and that Nyanga’s crime stats reflected 279 more murders than Sea Point. “The main concern is that police aren’t where the biggest burden of crime and violence is. Nyanga is the fourth least resourced police station. The life of the young pupil was caught between these two vastly different spaces within the same city.

“Cape Town has some of the most violent police precincts in the country. These precincts are on the whole also chronically understaffed. In order to keep all commuters, learners included, safe, police need to be where people are and where violence is. We understand resources are limited but their allocation needs to be reconsidered in consultation with the Western Cape Education Department – among others,” added Mr Weyers.

According to the SJC in Nyanga there are 144 police per one hundred thousand residents while in Sea Point there are 593 per one hundred thousand residents. In Sea Point last year there were three murders while in Nyanga there were 297 murders last year.