‘Gang school’ transforms

2014-06-30 00:00

IN a remarkable resurrection, a local school described as a “war zone” and threatened with closure, was runner up in the Youth Citizens’ Action Programme (YCAP) National Championships held in Durban over the weekend.

Umlulama Senior Secondary School at Hopewell, located between Pietermaritzburg and Richmond, became synonymous with gang fighting, which led to the deaths of a number of pupils and ex-pupils and saw police arresting pupils as young as 14 on charges of assault and murder.

In May last year, Senzo Mchunu, now KZN premier but then MEC for Education, said the “school is dying” and warned parents and the community that it would be closed if the fighting continued. Now the pupils themselves have turned the situation around after creating a project to end the gangsterism, which was backed by YCAP and the Department of Basic Education.

“You were in the news for all the wrong reasons and now you’ve put yourself back into the news for all the right reasons,” said judge Jennifer Charlton announcing their award.

The school received a cheque for R7 500 to be spent on the continuation of the project.

YCAP is a competition-based programme active in all nine provinces and it encourages Grade 10 pupils from schools, often underperforming ones, to initiate a project to address an identified problem within their school or community.

“We took as our project addressing the negative impact of gangsterism in our school on teaching and learning,” explained Grade 10 pupil Sindiswa Ngubane when presenting the project to the judges.

Ngubane said that the gangs were modelled on prison gangs — “the 26 gang for the junior gang and the 28 gang for seniors”. Admission to a gang required killing someone and continued membership required sexual assault.

To combat this, the team of pupils running the project brought on board the school authorities, including the School Governing Body, and formed a Peace Club for the pupils. The community also became involved and a mobile police station was set up near the school.

“There has been no stabbing or fighting at the school after we started the project,” said pupil Thobile Mbhele.

Teacher Nolwazi Shazi, who worked alongside the pupils on the project, said there had been a turnaround at the school. “Things have changed a lot. All the community participated and now there is a smooth interaction between pupils and teachers.”

The winning school, Wrenchville High from Kuruman in the Northern Cape, who received a R10 000 cheque, addressed the issue of rape in their school and community. Their awareness campaign saw the teenage pregnancy rate drop in the school, as well as the end of “sugar daddies” coming to collect pupils.

“The youth know the problems they face,” said YCAP founder and CEO Amanda Blankfield-Koseff. “Let them address them rather than have adults dictating to them.”

Third prize went to Groenberg Secondary in Grabouw the Western Cape, who won R5 000 to use in their project on teenage pregnancy.

The Great Effort award for an inspiring project that needed further implementation was won by Isolomzi Senior Secondary, near Centane in the Eastern Cape, which tackled faction fighting.

Other projects ranged from a homework help club, starting a school library, making a school sign and environmental projects

The award for Best Quality project and Best Participation was a tie awarded to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Other participating schools were New Hope Secondary (Gauteng); Majeng Secondary (North West); Calamaza Secondary (Mpumalanga); Lenyora La Thuto Comprehensive (Free State) and Sekgosese Secondary (Limpopo).

Last year Pietermaritzburg’s Russell High was second in the YCAP competition for its action against litter campaign.

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