School thieves are stealing our children's education

Despite the burglary at Menzi and others in the past, I am still committed to a province and a country where every kid has a laptop, an educational iPad and teaching is electronic based, writes Panyaza Lesufi.

Shattered, guttered, angry and emotionally devastated by the break-in at the recently opened state-of-the-art primary school in Tsakane, I was reminded of the Western movie I watched growing up. 

You know the story line: A gang of thugs takes over a small town, terrorising communities with guns and murdering locals at will. One of the locals resolves to join the police force to help arrest the thieves, but he cannot succeed alone. 

The moral of the story? It's only when the members of the communities say enough is enough and back law enforcement officers that the thugs lose. 

I am appalled and galled by burglaries, break-ins and vandalism at some of our provincial schools, the latest being Menzi Primary School in Tsakane.

READ: Lesufi demands answers from community for school break-in

The thieves did not just steal information communication technology equipment, they tried to steal our children's education, frustrating our strategy of infrastructure, innovation and education.

And the people who buy stolen goods are supporting the proceeds of theft and its criminal profits. 

Of course there are steps our local government and the cities can take. More police can be put into the neighbourhoods where crime is rampant. Ekurhuleni can make neighbourhoods better with improved infrastructure. It can help create jobs that give people stability and hope for the future. Those are tasks that rightfully fall to government.  

But if Tsakane is going to get rid of the thugs who targeted Menzi Primary school and made off with 185 pupils' tablets, eight teachers' laptops, two data projectors, three desk top computers, a Plasma TV, petty cash of less than R500 and a digital Video Recorder (DVR) for cameras (hard drive) and cut off the pipeline that leads to more burglaries, we need the backing of communities, churches, civic associations, the neighbourhood groups. 

While we are working incredibly hard with schools, the police and security experts to try and reduce burglaries, we are cognisant that schools are places of learning, not fortresses. Every cent spent on security or repairing damage is a cent not spent on books or equipment. 

Indeed, the fact that schools need alarms is a sad sign of the times. More of our schools are now using alarms to protect expensive computers and equipment – as well as any students and staff members who work after hours – because of burglaries like the ones at Menzi and other towns. 

Crime is disgusting. But it is more disgusting when people are stealing from schools. The addition of information communication technology (ICT) equipment in urban schools has made them attractive propositions to thieves. It is a pity that new technology which is replacing the traditional chalk and blackboard in schools has brought an added risk – high-tech thieves. 

It is sad that interactive whiteboards which use a computer and overhead projector to beam images on to a classroom wall and allow students to actively participate in lessons, have also made schools the targets of thieves.

If there is going to be uninterrupted education, if the culture is going to be changed, it will begin with the communities, not with the provincial and national government. 

Our communities have to say, no more, and mean it – this week, next week, this year, next year and the years to come. 

Reducing crime and making neighbourhoods feel safer is a joint effort, it needs a range of public, private and voluntary groups in a community to work together

We need to encourage good citizenship amongst young people, including reducing anti-social behaviour and educational underachievement; reduce the number of violent crimes, particularly harassment and assaults; reduce the level of property crime, including number of burglaries in the home and crimes against business premises and schools; reduce the impact of drugs and alcohol, with emphasis on enforcement, rehabilitation and education and making communities safer.

Our strategy should be about implementing local solutions for local problems. That will address the real issues affecting quality of life in communities, identifying ways to combat crime and substance abuse and encouraging social inclusion and good citizenship by young people.

Indeed, the break-ins and thievery are frustrating our strategy of infrastructure, innovation and education.

Lest we forget that the National Development Plan (NDP), wants 11 million more jobs to be created by 2030, the labour-intensive manufacturing and export sectors need to be expanded, money has to be allocated to key infrastructure projects as an enabler for job creation, and the quality of education and skills development is crucial, and ownership of production should be less concentrated and more diverse.

Just as our former and late president Nelson Mandela said, "Rhetoric is not important. Actions are." The opening line of the NDP says "Our Future - Make It Work", it is time to put the NDP to work.

Investing as heavily in road, buildings and all kinds of infrastructure is central to our nation's development. Having the right core infrastructure in all levels, including in schools, is what levels the playing field on all social and economic fronts.

Despite the burglary at Menzi and others in the past, I am still committed to a province and a country where every kid has a laptop, an educational iPad and teaching is electronic based. 

The criminals must know that whether they like it or not, information communication technology is going to be a central part of everyday life to make sure our children are properly equipped to carry on learning and interacting in a productive way.

We are committed to reducing school crime and ensuring that children don't suffer because of the reckless, damaging acts of a few vandals and thieves.

- Panyaza Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for Education.

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