Fewer staff and pupils at schools during lockdowns, assisted criminals in their silent but deliberate war on our children's future, writes Panyaza Lesufi.
There is little doubt that the year 2020 was a major disruptor to most people's lives – mainly because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which literally brought the entire world to a standstill from the first quarter of the year.
Many people lost their lives and many more lost their livelihoods. Workers were forced to look for new ways of working; some either had to work fulltime at home or adapt to the "new normal" of working shorter, rotational weeks.
Sadder still, the virus disrupted the schooling year for many learners - forcing school closures and disrupting learning for months on end; some even went to court to demand an end to the school year. Our matriculants were, without a doubt, hardest hit by Covid-19 as preparations for the final Grade 12 exams were negatively affected.
Covid-19, because of its restrictions on movement and fewer staff and learner presence at schools, also provided criminal elements with an opportunity to wage a silent, but deliberate, war on the future of our children by looting infrastructure, vandalising property and even burning our schools.
R121 million lost due to vandalism
Last year, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) lost more than R121 million due to acts of vandalism in about 262 schools in the province. Criminals target the technology intended to arm our learners to be more competitive in the Information Age, such as laptops and tablets. Others brazenly break into school store rooms to steal food meant for our children. Cases of theft and vandalism were reported in all these matters.
By May 2020 – as we entered the second month of the national lockdown – the number of schools either looted, burnt or vandalised increased by almost a hundred more than the total reported in 2019, with 336 Gauteng schools affected. The cost of the school vandalism in 2020 will certainly be much higher than last year's R121 million simply because by May, we had already surpassed last year's reported cases.
Depressingly, these wanton acts of school vandalism and looting have, predictably, continued – despite the concerted efforts of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the GDE in sensitising communities to the massive impact this crime has on the future of our children. One of the latest incidents of school vandalism was reported on Thursday, 19 November 2020. Criminals broke into Bophelong Secondary School in Sedibeng and accessed a store room in which they stole 2019 Grade 11 surplus exam papers. The thugs had the gall to return to the said school and rob it again on Friday, 20 November 2020; this time pilfering eight smart boards from Grade 12 classrooms which were used for exams.
We continue the clarion call to communities to join hands in protecting schools as these facilities are really community assets meant for the benefit of all of us. The fact is, there is always someone who knows the perpetrators of these crimes against the future of our children.
Don't buy stolen goods
As we close schools for the December festive season, we again plead for communities to come on board and help to protect our schools. This can be done by reporting any suspicious behaviour in and around our schools to the nearest law enforcement agency immediately. We also wish to call upon community members to stop buying stolen goods, especially from our schools. Possession of any stolen property is a crime. Further, by continuing to purchase these stolen goods, we create a market for thieves to continue stealing because it is lucrative. It is common cause that our law enforcement agencies arrested some perpetrators who are currently before different courts of law and as such, we are indebted to them for their swift response.
We plead with the public to protect Gauteng public school infrastructure by promptly reporting any acts of vandalism and not buying items stolen from schools.
The cost to the GDE may be quantifiable, but the significant cost of this senseless crime will be felt in years to come.
- Panyaza Lesufi is the Gauteng Education MEC.
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