Nolubabalo Mbotshwa, PRAESA’s early childhood language and literacy mentor, reflects on a distressing day for the young children she was on her way to work with.
When I arrived at school today, there were two police vans in the parking lot. As I walked into the school, I saw one of the security guards and I asked her why the police were at the school. She told me that a Grade 5 boy had been stabbed in the stomach by a Grade 7 boy. The police had been called to search all the pupils for knives or other weapons and to search the school premises. There were police dogs and about five men walking around the school, looking in bins and in drains to see if they could find anything.
The security guard gave me a talk about how children these days don’t listen and they have no respect whatsoever for the teachers and parents. She tells me that ‘the children are so rude’. She says she doesn’t even enjoy coming to work anymore because the children act like gangsters instead of children. She also tells me that last week Friday they had to keep the children inside the school because a gang from another school up the road wanted some boys at their school; she said it was chaos. The principal had to phone the boys’ parents to come fetch them because they feared that the other gang would hurt them.
The police are shouting at the children, searching them and telling them to open their bags. It’s like a proper, real full raid going on; the teachers are standing aside and letting the police do their work. The fear and sadness on the children’s faces is devastating to watch – they don’t feel safe in their own classroom.
This was a very sad ordeal for me. School is a place for learning and being with your friends; you spend six to seven hours together with your peers.
Parents don’t send their children to primary school expecting them to get hurt or stabbed by gangsters.
I feel upset as I walk towards the Grade R class where I am about to do a Storyplay session. Next I see three men going into the class and I quickly follow them because I want to see what they are doing or what they want. As I get to the class, the three men are searching the children’s bags and the children are sitting quietly on the mat and looking at the men. This is their classroom, their place of learning, their place of having fun but for those five minutes or so it doesn’t feel like their classroom. The grade R children are so young, and are not quite sure what is going on, and are sitting there terrified as the act of their bags being searched makes them feel unsafe.
When the men left, I greeted the children and they got up to hug me. The teacher briefed me about what had happened. She told me they must search all the children’s bags – the older children sometimes put weapons in the younger children’s bags because they know that they won’t be searched. So now they are searching all the children’s bags – just in case.
It was heartening that at least for the next hour, the children would be able to express themselves as they wanted to in a space where their voices would be heard and valued.