Crime-fighter gran not afraid
Sophia Hendricks is a domestic worker. But in the evening the 67-year-old granny is a crime fighter at a school in the heart of gangland.
She is not the only one. Her army consists of about 20 parents and other residents of Hanover Park, Cape Town, who fight crime to keep the doors of Athwood Primary School open. The school could be shut because of break-ins - sometimes as many as three a week - and vandalism.
School governing body chairman Edna Adams said the school might merge with another.
"But to get to the other school our children have to cross two very busy roads. The traffic is heavy, taxis drive recklessly and, of course, gangsters often have shoot-outs there. So we are afraid that our children might die if they go there," said Adams.
Residents started patrolling in February.
Hendricks, who has three grandchildren at the school, signed up and once spent a night patrolling with just one woman.
"I'm not scared. We prayed all night because, as I always say, if you have God with you, no one can be against you," said Hendricks.
"It was difficult in the beginning. We would ask youngsters to leave but they were very disrespectful. We had arguments and once I even had to smack a boy. But, we had to take a stand," said Wayne Bartess, one of the men who now takes the late-night shift.
The men recalled spine-chilling stories of watching men carrying guns pass through the school on their watch.
"When we hear shots, we lock all the gates so no one can come in and hide," said another parent.
Five to six men patrol at night and take turns sleeping on a thin foam mattress.
In the past thieves have ripped out the fluorescent lights at the school to get a "small piece of copper" that they would sell. They would even steal chalk, paint and books.
Since the patrols started, there have been no burglaries.
The provincial education department identifies schools for closure every year.
Bronagh Casey, spokesman for education MEC Donald Grant, said he has issued notices to 27 schools based on recommendations by the department.
"In the majority of the 27 cases the reason for the recommendation has been related to dwindling learner numbers at small rural schools where there is no expected learner growth in the future," said Casey.
But in Athwood Primary School's case, the department said theft and burglary on a regular basis had "rendered the school unsafe".
It also noted that it has become "economically unviable" to maintain the school because of vandalism.
Before the MEC decides, the governing body will have an opportunity to make recommendations and there will be a public participation process.
"If the decision to close the school is made, the department will ensure pupils are accommodated in schools in the area," said Casey.