Newspaper cutting  - The Cape Argus – 24 February 2009

Weapons searches at schools “cut violence”

Cape Town principals say that random searches for weapons are helping to reduce serious incidents of violence at their schools.

Police have indicated they will be following a tough approach to dangerous weapons and drugs in schools. A sharp increase in stabbings involving pupils have been noted by the provincial Department of Education’s Safe Schools Division with 29 reported this year, compared with only four between January and March last year. The Safe Schools Division is to ask schools to tighten measures for the control of weapons.

Kayalethu Boesman, principal of Masibambisane Secondary in Delft, where police have been conducting random searches, said that, unlike last year, the school was not experiencing problems with drugs or stabbings. Last year a Masibambisane pupil stabbed a gangster to death in self-defence on the school grounds.
            “It is really sad that we’ve reached a stage where we need to conduct searches and keep our gates closed but it is necessary.”
He said other changes had also been made at the school.
            “We are focusing on basics like pupils wearing uniforms, neatness and instilling discipline. Parents and community members are also being asked to take ownership of the school.”
He said for the searches to be effective, they had to be conducted consistently.

Mongezeleli Bonani, principal of Kwamfundo Secondary in Khayelitsha, said police had conducted random searches at the school from time to time.
            “Our learners are exposed to violence in society and we must be conscious of this. We have had no incidents this year and I believe the searches are a deterrent.”

Fasseg Manie, principal of Lavender Hill Secondary, said the school had on occasion confiscated weapons from pupils but no serious incidents were reported this year. He said that when pupils entered the grounds, Bambanani volunteers looked out for weapons and the school also worked with the police.
            “One can’t live with one’s head in the sand and assume learners won’t come to school with weapons. We have to take pre-emptive action.”

Director Robbie Robberts, commander of the police’s Cape Town cluster, which consists of eight police stations including Sea Point, Woodstock, Kensington and Pinelands, said police planned to visit schools in these areas during assemblies and create awareness around searches and seizures, as well as the dangers of weapons and drugs.

He said the principals would also be asked to introduce amnesty periods during which pupils could bring weapons to school without facing disciplinary action. He said random searches with sniffer dogs would be conducted and if drugs or weapons were found they would be confiscated by police. School governing bodies and parents would be asked to deal with first-time offenders but repeat offenders could face arrest, he said.

The Safe Schools Division plans to issue hand-held metal detectors to 109 schools at high risk of violence by July.