I AM A SCHOOL FAN – Taking on violence at schools

Johannesburg, 30 AUGUST 2021: Driven by deep concern over the increase in violence at and around schools, The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) launched the “I Am a School Fan” campaign against violence in schools in 2019. The campaign aims to mobilise all stakeholders including parents, teachers, learners, and government departments to address school-related violence in all its forms. As of 30 August 2021, SADTU will partner with Old Mutual, Brand South Africa and UNICEF to gain more traction and drive awareness throughout South Africa.

Mugwena Maluleka, General Secretary of SADTU explains, “There are many extensions to this campaign. Ultimately, it focuses bettering behaviours and attitudes in students and teachers. The main focal point of the launch in August is to address the prevalence of violence within the schools. This violence exists on multiple levels”.

As a trade union in the education sphere, SADTU has called on corporate partners for financial aid and added media reach and credibility. Thembisa Mapukuta, General Manager: Alternative Distribution for Old Mutual Retail Mass Market, says, “The right to education is enshrined in the South African Constitution and by supporting the I Am a School Fan campaign, Old Mutual recognises this right and upholds it.

“As a responsible business, Old Mutual is stepping forward to ensure that the education sector’s systemic challenges are addressed both holistically and collectively. We collaborated with SADTU on this campaign, with the objective to raise awareness about violence in schools. However, over the long-term we want to ensure that through this partnership we are able to formulate tangible solutions that will eradicate violence in schools and address the issues that could threaten the future of children in South Africa. This, however, will require participation from all stakeholders; government, educators, parents and the community at large.”

I Am a School Fan addresses violence in the immediate school environment and in broader terms:

The immediate school environment (premises and those involved in this environment)

  • Violence being committed by teachers towards other teachers: (This is often gender-based) Female teachers are often ill-treated by those who have been in the system longer than them and hold a position of power. Seven out of 10 teachers are females, yet the management positions are still largely held by men.
  • Teachers committing violence against learners: This includes illegal corporal punishment, gender-based violence (for example – there have been instances of teachers withholding marks unless the pupil engages in sexual activity, and pupils being sexually assaulted by school staff).
  • Learner on learner violence: This is the most common and exists on many levels. Physical bullying, emotional bullying and cyberbullying are prevalent. Cyberbullying is still fairly new, and it is taking time for those in authority to learn how to deal with it. Cyberbullying has even, in some instances, lead to suicide. Cyberbullying reaches the child in the privacy of their home or wherever they take their phone or computer.  Due to the viral nature of the internet, humiliation can be very public and spreads far beyond the schoolyard.
  • Learners towards teachers: Teachers know that they cannot respond to physical threats as corporal punishment is not allowed. But they don’t know what systems are in place to support them when they experience abuse at the hands of the learners. The learners are very aware of their rights and use this to their advantage.

The broader environment

  • Violence committed in schools by community members: South Africa is one of the very few countries where communities destroy schools when protesting external issues such as service delivery. Vuwani in Limpopo is a good example of this phenomenon. Violence erupted in the area after it was recommended that the Malamulele and Vuwani municipalities be merged. Residents turned their anger towards 31 schools and burned them. They also prevented pupils from attending school for more than 18 months. 30 000 pupils were affected. This is a generational crisis.
  • Theft of resources: Schools are often targets of armed robberies, burglaries, and hijackings. For years, the Department of Education has tried to move with the times and implement E-Learning. But the learning and teaching materials are frequently stolen by community members. They are also sometimes resold withing the same community. This creates a market for the parts. A paradigm shift is needed within communities for education to be protected.

Maluleka adds, “All of these issues are classified as violence in schools. In 2019, we sat for our ninth congress, where members agreed that they want us to fight back against violence and mobilise all sectors of society with a positive message. It needed a name that would also contribute to that positive message, hence the birth of ‘I Am a School Fan’.

“We want to work on what we understand South Africa’s psyche to be. South Africans are sports fanatics and sport has often been a great unifier. We want to harness this and use it as a message that supports education with the same passion that one would support their favourite team”.

The campaign has been categorised to speak to all the stakeholders in the schooling community:

  1. Learners: As a learner, what is your responsibility towards ensuring that your school community is a haven? You will not bully a fellow pupil and if you witness bullying you should be the first to report it. You will also respect your teachers and not bully them.
  2. Teachers: As a teacher, you will not use corporal punishment. You will not engage in inappropriate relationships with learners. You must respect that you act in loco parentis and should take on a nurturing and supportive relationship in a child’s life.
  3. The community: Be alert and protective of the school environment.
  4. The Department of Education: Ensure enough funding and resources to ensure a safe school environment.
  5. Parents: Make sure that you participate in the school community. Support the school Code of Conduct, take an interest in the daily running of the school. Support your school management team.

Maluleka concludes, “COVID has made us more mobilised as communities. The launch is well timed as this is time when communities are banding together, following the upheaval of lockdown. We need each other more than ever.

“We need to instil mechanisms where there is recourse. For example, if a teacher administers corporal punishment, it needs to be reported and dealt with. An awareness must also be created of steps to take when these issues arrive. It’s all very well to hear the message, but then what?

“Initially, the main purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness of what each stakeholder should and shouldn’t do. We are communicating the message that, ‘as a stakeholder, you should not do this’ etcetera. And ‘as a stakeholder, you MUST do this’ etcetera. We are embarking on a social media campaign to reach education workers, which will offer support and recourse for everyone, not just SADTU members”.

For more information on SADTU and the I Am a School Fan campaign, visit http://www.sadtu.org.za/.

Issued By: The Lime Envelope
On Behalf Of:SADTU
For Media Information:Tebogo Makola
Telephone:011 467 9233/067 080 8315