Fear at schools after robberies

Local schools in greater Lwandle are in the process of tightening up their security following a spate of robberies at four schools in Khayelitsha and Gugulethu.

After the incidents came to light, City Vision contacted three local school principals who all admitted the current learning and teaching environment was not safe.

They raised concern and expressed shock following four separate incidents of armed robbery at four Cape Town schools.

The schools targeted were Ummangaliso Primary in Site B, Khayelitsha (Wednesday 16 May), Intshayalelo Primary in Lingelethu West (Thursday 24 May), Lwandle Primary in Lingelethu West (Tuesday 29 May) and Vukhukhanye Primary in Gugulethu (Wednesday 30 May).

Chris Mgubanto, principal of Nomzamo High School, described the incidents as “highly concerning”.

“We are not at ease at all,” he said. “If you hear any sound outside, you always wonder whether the thugs have arrived. We do not feel safe or secure at all, despite having our own security measures in place.”

Xolani Gontsi, principal of Solomon Qatyana Primary, said his school is “shocked” to hear of incidents at other schools. “Schools are respected institutions in our communities,” he pointed out.

“At Solomon Qatyana we have since tried to ensure we always have security personnel at our gates. People who enter the school premises must be thoroughly vetted and verified, even if they are parents. These incidents have forced us to be alert at all times.”

Umnqophiso Primary School in Lwandle has been targeted by burglars and vandals since the start of the academic year. School principal Mxolisi Msingizeni said: “The environment is not conducive to learning and teaching. Anything can happen at any time, and we are waiting for the next incident.”

He added it seems criminals are targeting the school and “pouncing” at certain times. “For instance, these incidents occur when the gates are opened for learners to go home. We really find ourselves in trouble,” he said.

In a statement, the provincial education department concurred with Msingizeni, stating that the recent armed robberies were timed to take place just after the school day had ended, with learners and teachers still participating in after-school activities and meetings.

“Teachers and staff were threatened at gunpoint and robbed of personal items. School ICT equipment was stolen and, in one case, a vehicle was hijacked on the premises,” said Debbie Schäfer, provincial education minister.

“I am just extremely grateful that no learner or teacher was fatally harmed during these attacks. In all four incidents, however, it has left our staff traumatised and in fear of their safety. I do not blame them.”

She added that the department has provided additional security at the affected schools as well as trauma counselling for teachers and learners.

“However, this will not prevent another attack from happening at another school,” Schäfer pointed out.

It is unclear whether the incidents are related. “But there is a clear indication that our schools are being targeted for specific reasons and at a certain time of the day,” the minister said.

“These criminals need to be stopped before they attack another school. That is why I am issuing a reward of R10 000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of these individuals. The reward will be shared if there is more than one person who provides evidence that results in a conviction, and if more than one person provides the same information the reward will be given to the first person who comes forward.”

The reward will be paid in cash and the anonymity of the caller will be secured, unless they are required to personally give evidence, the department confirmed, Schäfer said.

The department said it is not a security agency and cannot investigate and make arrests. “But we are determined to do what we can to assist in securing convictions to prevent similar attacks on our schools,” the minister said.

Anyone with information pertaining to the incidents is implored to contact the Safe Schools hotline on 0800 45 46 47 (toll free number).

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