I’m issuing more death certificates than report cards: Education MEC
The education MEC is reeling after going to the scene of yet another school stabbing, this one in Mondeor
“Rather than issuing report cards that say ‘congratulations’, I’m now issuing death certificates.”
These were the harrowing words of Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, who said on Wednesday he was devastated by having to visit the scene of yet another school tragedy.
As the term drew to a close this week, Lesufi said it had become “heavy” on him and his department to deal with how many pupils had died since school started at the beginning of the year. He said it was heartbreaking dealing with pupils’ suicides, murders and accidents in such a short space of time.
“I must be honest, my heart is entering a stage where it hadn’t entered before on consoling families. That hurts me so much,” Lesufi said.
He was speaking at a park in Mondeor, south of Johannesburg, where Grade 11 Mondeor High School pupil Kulani Mathebula had been stabbed to death while walking to school on Wednesday morning.
Kulani was stabbed – reportedly three times in the chest – just minutes after he left home to go to school.
Lesufi said Kulani was the second pupil in the province to have lost his life in just 24 hours, with a child from Hammanskraal dying on Tuesday after falling and hitting her head on the ground during a netball game.
He was expected to visit the family of the learner soon.
Lesufi also spoke about the tragedy that unfolded at Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark. In February, four pupils were crushed to death when a walkway collapsed. More than 20 others were injured.
He also mentioned instances of pupils who committed suicide. One of those incidents was a 13-year-old Grade 6 pupil from Pretoria who took her own life, reportedly after being cyberbullied.
At the time of the incident, Gauteng education spokesperson Steve Mabona said a preliminary investigation suggested the girl was “allegedly bullied by a fellow ... learner, who threatened to distribute video material depicting the deceased learner naked”.
Apart from these incidents, there had also been several schools where pupils embroiled in physical fights have been caught on camera.
In one of the more recent videos, a female pupil from Crystal Park High School in Ekurhuleni was battered by a group of female schoolmates last week.
Like countless other incidents that have happened on various school premises this year, the Crystal Park incident was caught on video and distributed on social media.
The culprits were arrested and later released into the care of their parents.
Besides fanning these fires, Lesufi has also handled incidents of rape on school premises.
Earlier this month, he rushed to the Fons Luminis Secondary School in Diepkloof, Soweto, following allegations that a Grade 8 pupil was allegedly raped by three classmates during an orientation camp that was held in Vereeniging.
Lesufi had at the time said he was heartbroken and embarrassed after hearing the news.
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga also spoke out about violence in schools, saying Wednesday’s murder came on the back of a murder in Kimberley just a few days earlier.
“The death of Kulani follows another tragic stabbing barely a week earlier, that of Boniface Ndlovu from Emmanuel Secondary School in Kimberley, whose life was cut short last week for his matric dance shoes.
“The holistic education of our learners is a societal matter, and we, as communities, parents and guardians, must instill in our children the notion that violence is not the answer,” said Motshekga.
She added communities needed to “take back control of schools and their community”.
Outside the Mondeor school on Wednesday, Dumi Chauke’s piercing cries broke the silence of the quiet suburb as she reeled at her son’s murder.
“My one and only child! Why did they have to take him away from me?”
She cried as she was led to a vehicle parked just metres away from where her son’s body lay.
“Kulani! Kulani,” the 36-year-old woman wailed as she walked away from the mortuary van.
His uncle, Themba Chauke, told the media he was shocked when he received a distraught phone call telling him to rush to the scene where Kulani had been stabbed.
“I just received a call this morning from my younger brother. He was just crying uncontrollably saying: ‘Brother, they’ve stabbed Kulani – come quickly.’
“Then I saw him – lying there, helpless,” said Chauke, breaking down.
When Times Select visited the murder scene on Wednesday morning, the sole of his pale foot was protruding from the silver foil that covered his body. His blue schoolbag was lying close by.
Forensic pathologists were combing the scene. At one point, they opened the foil to take pictures of his body, leaving community members and concerned parents shaken.
It is unclear what the motive of the attack was.
While police investigations into Mathebula’s killing were still under way, Lesufi revealed yet another potential blow to the department when he told reporters it was possible other learners could have been behind the Grade 11 boy’s murder.
“The sad part is that with the current footage we have, we have zeroed in on three other learners from other schools around the area, but whether it’s them, we are not sure,” he said, adding he was reluctant to speculate.
If the pupils are in fact linked to the murder, it would be the second horrific crime in which schoolchildren are implicated in recent weeks.
A group of schoolchildren from Limpopo made headlines when they were arrested for the brutal killing of 28-year-old Thoriso Themane, who was beaten to death in Flora Park.
Themane’s fatal assault was captured on camera and went viral on social media.
Disturbingly, another video surfaced, reportedly of a young schoolboy in school uniform boldly replying to a question on the murder, saying he was untouchable because his father was a policeman.
The boy and his alleged accomplices are currently behind bars.
Lesufi indicated, however, that his department was doing all it could to rid schools of crime.
“I’m quite excited that there’s legislation that will go to parliament later this year, and we as Gauteng, we are going to go there to make this legislation to have teeth to bite and deal with misbehavior of learners in our schools,” Lesufi said.
Without mincing his words, he suggested pupils engaged in criminal activities should be treated as criminals.
“Gone are the days to treat some of ‘these things’ as children,” he said.
“People who kill are no longer children. We need to respond appropriately and correctly. This thing of thinking people kill and we must give them roses, it’s not going to assist,” Lesufi said.
“If you kill, the law must take its course, especially that this happened outside the school premises. You can’t claim to be a student then,” he added.
Lesufi said to fix things in the provinces, schools required a complete overhaul and review that would result in strengthened laws and regulations.