When bullets fly, pupils know they must 'hit the floor' in Hanover Park
During lunch break on Thursday, hundreds of pupils from Blomvlei Primary School in Hanover Park gathered on the outskirts of the school, holding signs and beating drums to raise awareness about gang violence in the area.
The children, who ranged from grade R to grade 7, spent their break chanting: “We want peace, we want peace!”
According to Raatiqah Tagodien, vice-chair of the school governing board and organiser of the picket, Blomvlei is in the middle of a gang-ridden area.
“We have to duck and dive bullets from every direction. There are gangsters on all sides shooting every day,” said Tagodien.
The situation is so severe that the school has had to teach pupils how to respond when they hear gunshots nearby.
“The children know if they are outside, they have to go to the nearest classroom and hit the floor,” said Michelle Rhode, a mother of two children who attend the high school next door.
Rhode, together with eight other women, is part of a voluntary organisation known as the Walking Bus Ladies. Every day the nine women walk children to and from school, and remain on the premises during the school day to ensure Blomvlei pupils are safe from stray bullets. A member of the organisation remains on the school premises until every child has gone home safely.
But going to and from the school itself also poses a threat. Candice Jansen, treasurer of the school governing board, walks her two children to school every morning, and waits for them to come out of school in the afternoons. Her youngest child is in grade 6 at Blomvlei and, according to Jansen, his teachers believe his marks are good enough to get him into a top school outside Hanover Park.
“But I am so afraid to send my child out of the area to where he is travelling alone. For me it is safer to have him here, where I can walk him and wait for him and bring him home safely,” said Jansen.
Despite the launch of the anti-gang unit in Hanover Park last year and the arrival of the South African National Defence Force in the Cape Flats last month, Blomvlei principal Waldimar Snyders says the situation remains violent.
“Our learners must truly be admired. Despite the shootings and the violence in the area, they are still prepared to come to school, sometimes dodging bullets on their way,” said Snyders.
Walking through the school, there is evidence of bullet holes, break-ins and even stray bullets stuck in the bullet-proof fences. While organising her grade 1 class during the picket, Joyce Hansen said the education department should prioritise pupil safety.
“As students we fought for freedom in 1976, but we didn’t fight for this," said Hansen. “The children are traumatised and it has an effect on their learning. They act out, but our education department expects our children to get the same results as children from affluent areas.”
According to Snyders, only a handful of students has received counselling. The Western Cape education department’s "safe school" programme provides counselling to teachers and staff, offering special trauma counselling to staff at Blomvlei. The school has also been provided with an alarm and intercom system, which requires replacing after cables were stolen.
- The writer is a Daily Maverick intern seconded to GroundUp.