Primary schools of crime: “We’re fighting a losing battle”

By MATT MEDVED

Manenberg Primary School principal Ebrahim Cader opens a door with a mangled lock and motions inside at the rows of gutted toilets.

“After the first break-in, we started using plastic instead of copper in the plumbing, but it didn’t stop the thieves from breaking in three more times while we tried to repair the damage,” he says. “They even came back for the urinal.

“All this money we spend for safety and infrastructure, millions every year, and there’s still no deterrence. It could all be going towards education.”

Manenberg Primary School is one of the 109 schools identified by Premier Ebrahim Rasool as “high risk” and has therefore received a police reservist as well as five Bambanani volunteers as part of an ongoing campaign to crack down on crime at schools.

However, since they introduced the programme, the school has still suffered between 30 and 40 break-ins since January, including R18 000 in damages after its mobile kitchen unit was stripped this month.

Cader says he has seen shootings take place directly outside the school grounds, which he surrounded with barbed-wire fencing after he became principal 11 years ago.

“I’ve seen gang members dropping off their weapons and pretending to be bystanders in a crowd after gunning people down,” he says.

He recounts a time when he heard gunshots and witnessed a shoot-out between a motorist and police officers in front of the main entrance. The gunman turned out to be the parent of one of his pupils, who had run a red light and was behaving violently while under the influence of drugs. “The pupils and teachers were severely traumatised; they experience this on a daily basis.”

More common, however, have been instances of intimidation and violence. Just earlier that morning, five youths who were trespassing were escorted off the premises.

Although he believes crime is “under better control” since the deployment, he says the city can do more. “The Manenberg police need to patrol the area more. They only come out when an incident has already occurred,” he says.

Cader points at a growing cluster of children, parents and loiterers next to a tuckshop. “That’s a gathering point. All of the children who live here are on tik. The drop-outs hang around here and sell drugs and the scrap collectors steal whatever they can after dark.”

The reservist approaches, flanked by two volunteers. A sergeant with the Manenberg police, who refused to be named, said she did not bring her gun to work yesterday.

“I was scared to walk through the gang-controlled area with a gun,” she says.

“Are you wearing a bullet-proof vest?” asks Cader. She shakes her head. “They ran out at the station,” she says.

“The primary schools are worse than the high schools,” says the reservist. “We’ve had to confiscate knives on a number of occasions. Without more police and volunteers, I promise you this school will be lost.”

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~ by Matt Medved on May 29, 2007.

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