Parents ‘confused’ after pupils who caught alleged cable thief were tear-gassed

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Teachers and pupils were left with burning eyes after police fired tear gas at pupils who had apprehended an alleged cable thief.PHOTO: Screen Grab
Teachers and pupils were left with burning eyes after police fired tear gas at pupils who had apprehended an alleged cable thief.PHOTO: Screen Grab

About 27 pupils from Dumisani Makhaye High School in Durban were taken to hospital on Wednesday after rubber bullets and tear gas were fired at them. This was after pupils apprehended a man in his thirties who was allegedly stealing electricity cables.

A member of the school governing body (SGB), who asked not to be named, said he was told that pupils had apprehended a person they alleged was stealing cables. 

A member of the SGB said: 

“Pupils called a teacher to inform them about what had happened and police were called to the school. The police were at the school for some time and later there was a commotion and someone closed the school gate.”

He said another group of police later arrived and fired rubber bullets at the school premises.

“I was also hit by a rubber bullet and till now, I don’t know the reason.

“After that, the police left and children had to be transported to hospital while others ran home,” he said.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson, Constable Thenjiswa Ngcobo said Chatsworth police received a complaint of burglary at the school at 7 am.

“They ... found a group of pupils assaulting a man in his thirties. The police then dispersed the crowd, which was violent.

“They managed to rescue the suspect and he was taken to hospital for medical attention,” said Ngcobo.

The member of the SGB said what happened left them confused at how the police worked. He said they could’ve spoken to the teachers instead of firing rubber bullets and tear gas at everyone who was on the school premises.

He said: 

“There’s so much fear at the school since the incident. You’d think they’d have come to the school yesterday but they didn’t. This raised so many questions about the police station in our area. We only know of 27 children that were affected but there could be more.” he said.

A PR councillor in the ward, Mhlengeni Ngcongo said pupils who were at the school around 6.30 am noticed a man in the ceiling. Ngcongo said he ran through the roof and jumped into the storeroom where the pupils apprehended him.

“The police didn’t want to arrest this man and that’s why the children assaulted him. They believed his being arrested will bring [things] to light. The school has been targeted by criminals for a long time and at times children were suspected of being involved. They wanted this man to be arrested so people wold know they are [not the ones] involved,” said Ngcongo.

One of the pupils who asked not to be named said it was a scary moment.

“We were still confused about the gate being locked and then I heard loud noise and saw everyone running.

“My eyes were burning, I struggled to move around. All I know is that a man wanted to steal electric cables at our school and no one wanted to arrest him,” the pupil said.

MEC for Education in KwaZulu-Natal, Kwazi Mshengu, commended the pupils and community members for standing up against “hooligans” who were stealing the school’s electricity cables.

“Even though it is regrettable that there was disruption in teaching and learning as a result of the altercation with the intruders, we have always encouraged that communities must be the first defence of schools against criminals, hence we commend these learners for standing up to protect the school,” said Mshengu.

He said the department has on many occasions asked communities to protect schools against vandalism and thuggery and has on various occasions also asked communities to desist from closing schools or disrupting teaching and learning if they have grievances or any issue with a school.

“The department also asks for restraint from police when learners are involved, as it is reported that there were injuries during the stand-off with the police,” said Mshengu.

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