Fear of going to school is the real crime

There have been mixed interpretations of the latest crime statistics released by the SAPS yesterday. While these stats measure trends in murder, assault, sexual abuse and other violent crimes, what they don’t measure is how crime – or the threat of crime – makes people feel. At Social Innovations, we run after school academies across the provinces to help primary school learners improve their foundations in literacy and numeracy. Often, it is the fear of crime or the broader impacts of criminal behaviour that impact on how learners can benefit – or not – from these programmes. Early September in Khayelitsha, my colleague is leaving our centre in Khayelitsha close to Mey Way Road. Unionised workers are on strike. She drives

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through throngs of toy-toying crowds waving knobkerries. She is a woman alone and accelerates through the crowd in fear of her safety. A rock hits her windscreen, but she escapes physically unhurt but shaken. In consultation with the school, we cancel all other visits to this school for the month as we cannot put our staff or service providers in danger. The school loses, our after school center loses, and the learners who are meant to benefit from this intervention are the biggest losers of all. I spoke to the principal of the host school this morning. He advises that we keep our visits on hold and review after the holidays. He tells me that absenteeism from school in September has been high. Parents who live far from the school would rather keep their children at home than run the risk of travelling to school. Some parents complained of petrol shortages in Khayelitsha during the strikes and didn’t drive their children to school during this time. While the Western Cape is portrayed as the evil ganglands of the country, gangs have also found a home in the seemingly quiet city of Bloemfontein. A colleague visited our after school center at a school in Mangaung this week to find a dampened mood at the school. Parents were coming to take their children out of school early despite the benefit of the after school classes. Learners in class were distracted and on edge. Why? A learner at a nearby school had been stabbed – it is not clear by whom. Rumours abound that a gang with links to Satanism – Born to Kill – is targeting learners and has their sights on the school. The name of the gang suggests that the aim is to kill. This is rumour and speculation, but enough to instil fear into the hearts of parents and 10 year old kids who don’t feel safe at their own school. Over the last six years we have hosted about 9000 learners in after school academies in what are reported to be some of the most dangerous areas of South Africa. We have had one fatality due to crime. In 2009 a learner in Nyanga was walking home from the academy. At the same time, a bunch of thugs were being chased by police. This 10-year-old boy was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was taken out by a high speed car chase and was killed on the spot. One fatality out of 9000 learners is one fatality too many. But of those 9000 learners, how many of them have felt threatened at school or at home? How many are growing up with the images of violence that surrounds them imprinted on their psyches? How many are missing out on the – often limited – opportunities that are in front of them because of a fear of crime? This is something

we can’t measure. But if we could, this would give a truer picture of the effects of crime and our successes or failures as a nation to combat the effects of crime.

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