21 August 2009

Violence on our playgrounds

School violence is rife in South Africa. Fatal stabbings are reported regularly. So why are our schools so violent, and what can be done about it?


Twelve Parktown Boys High School pupils are appearing in court this week on charges of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm stemming from an initiation ceremony earlier this year.

School violence is rife in South Africa. Fatal stabbings are reported regularly. So why are our schools so violent, and what can be done about it?

Emotional effect of violence in schools
Apart from the obvious physical danger to learners, this increase in violence is also causing stress and depression among both teachers and learners.

“It’s not only the escalating violence which is the source of stress, but also increasing levels of unacceptably bad behaviour both in and out of the classroom, as well as poor parenting, a lack of resources and increased administrative demands,” said Shelton Kartun, director of The Anger and Stress Management Centre of SA.

He said there were a number of reasons for the rising levels of violence in schools:

  • Drug abuse
  • Gangs
  • A lack of strict forms of punishment as part of a disciplinary policy which has ‘disempowered’ teachers
  • Exposure to violence on television and electronic games
  • Over-crowded classrooms and a lack or resources
  • A complete lack of empathy as well as an inability to take responsibility by the learner
  • Growing up in a rough environment where violence and aggression are a way of life
  • The use of cellphones for things such as filming violent acts as ‘entertainment’ to send to others

Cause or result?
The big question is, of course whether stress is the cause or the result of violent behaviour.

“Young people are under a huge amount of stress and the growing violence in schools doesn't help. School is often the only safe place a child has and now, due to the violence, that too has become a place of danger and fear,” according to Janine Shamos, Senior Counsellor and Trainer at The South African Depression and Anxiety Group.

She added that the effects of stress and depression on learners would have a direct impact on their studies.

“They won’t be able to concentrate, pay attention in class, won’t perform tasks as required and will make many more mistakes in their work. They may daydream a lot or may fall asleep in class because they are awake at night worrying.”

Since the numbers of violent incidents usually take place at high schools, Shamos put this down to a combination of teenage hormones, aggression and ‘the massive pressure put on high school learners’.

“The teen suicide rate is on the increase and all too often it is assumed that our children and teens are OK when they're not,” she added.

“Teachers on the other hand, are expected to be mother, nurse, psychologist and sporting coach, in addition to teaching the children. And the reward they get is almost non-existent. Many parents have opted out and expect the school to do the parenting and discipline. In addition, the deadlines placed on teachers are ridiculous and the hours they work are long,” she said.

What’s the solution?
“It is vital to have a safe place for teens to talk about their problems and schools need to have counsellors and policies in place, or at least tell kids about the services such as Sadag's toll-free crisis line (0800-567-567) and SMS line (31393) which are open seven days a week from 8am to 8pm.

Regarding a solution for the teachers, Shamos said there was a need to let teachers know that they are allowed to feel stressed and that they are not alone.

“There also needs to be more support from the top - from headmasters and the government.

More rules needed
“I think some rules need to be laid down so that parents, teachers and the children learn to take some responsibility for their actions. There also needs to be support for the teachers and a more disciplined environment,” said Kartun.

He also suggested the following:

  • Zero tolerance towards violence and bullying in schools
  • Tougher disciplinary and behavioural policies
  • Involving parents more and requiring them to be responsible and accountable
  • Running programmes in schools for learners and teachers such as anger and behaviour management
  • Support for teachers who are stressed and depressed
  • Creating of specialist schools or centres that can work with learners unable to remain in mainstream education due to exclusion
  • Security at schools such as guards, police, CCTV

Victim and bully need help
Shamos said that children who are victims of violence and bullying at school need to find a teacher that they trust and tell them what is happening.

“Nothing can be done if no-one knows about it. Schools also need to have anti-bullying programmes and policies in place - and take a proactive stance against it.”

In the case of a school bully inflicting violence on fellow classmates, Shamos claimed that more often than not, children who bully are often caught up in the midst of their own emotional or family problems and they need help just as much as the victim.

“They need to go for counselling to learn anger management and increase their self-esteem,” she said.

What to do in case of an emergency
Should a stabbing incident occur, Dollman advises:

  • Do not remove the knife
  • Find someone who has a first aid kit and knows what they are doing
  • Remember your own safety comes first, so make sure the situation is defused
  • Wear protective latex gloves
  • Apply direct pressure to any bleeding
  • Do not remove any bandages as this may start the bleeding again;
  • Call the emergency services and police

Nick Dollman, Netcare 911,
Shelton Kartun, The Anger and Stress management Centre of SA (
Janine Shamos, The South African Depression and Anxiety Group,

(Amy Henderson,, September 2007)


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