Q&A with Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi…

The authorities seem powerless to prevent violence against teachers. Chris Barron asked Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi

23 September 2018 - 00:00 By Chris Barron

Are you taking the issue seriously enough?
We've got no choice. That's why we've persuaded the minister to convene all roleplayers so we can attend to the issue as soon as possible.
It goes back years. Why so little success?
We've had success in Gauteng .
In all, 150 pupils were expelled from your schools last year for lawlessness, around 40 for violence against teachers. Doesn't that suggest you're not coping?
No, actually the opposite. It confirms that where it raises its ugly head, we know who the perpetrators are and we act.
Doesn't it suggest there is still a fundamental absence of discipline at your schools?
I would not put it that way. I would say the current plans to combat school violence are not working.
Because there's an absence of discipline at your schools?
We've got 2.3-million learners in Gauteng. Only 150 have been found to be in conflict with the law.
Unions and teachers say that's the tip of the iceberg.
If they don't report then we can't know. These are the ones that have been reported. But check the police crime stats. It would be a miracle if schools were not affected by that kind of environment.
Teachers feel they're not getting enough departmental support.
I'm sympathetic to that feeling because our schools must be teacher-friendly. But they must also be learner-friendly.
Is the balance too much in favour of the pupils?
If educators don't feel safe there's a process and mechanism for them to report and the perpetrator can be removed. The problem is they only want to report when it has reached an uncontrollable stage. That's why I'm taken aback when teacher formations say violence is under-reported. It's because they don't report.
Because they're afraid of being embroiled in a bureaucratic quagmire if they do?
In the absence of bureaucracy what do you have? An eye for an eye? People who don't follow the law to the letter? If you suspend a learner without going through all the processes, you've got the Human Rights Commission that will come to you tomorrow, you've got NGOs that will take you to court. So there is a need for bureaucracy.
Is there also a need for swifter consequences?
Our rules and regulations say that the SGB [school governing body] can meet now and in the next two hours suspend or expel that learner. The only area we can improve on is to declare our schools a no-weapons zone, so if someone brings a knife or gun he is expelled immediately.
Do schools have the capacity to screen for them?
It's not us, it's the law-enforcement agencies. It's their mandate. They must execute their mandate, they must not transfer it to us. Our mandate is to teach.
Which can only happen if there's some kind of discipline?
Of course.
When you come down on teachers for enforcing things like hair codes, don't you undermine their authority?
I've not come down on teachers, I've come down on the SGBs.

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