Traditional leaders in Mpumalanga have called upon parents to instill traditional values in their children before sending them to school, where teachers are expected to play a parental role.
Mpumalanga House of Traditional Leaders chairperson Kgoši Mathupa Mokoena raised the concerns following an incident in which a group of learners in the province were filmed kicking one another to a pulp on school grounds.
According to a video that went viral this week, the fighting incident took place at Greendale Secondary School in Emalahleni on Tuesday involving boys clad in school uniform.
Two boys can be seen in the video punching a fellow learner with bare fists, white also kicking him in the face. A third pupil, who walked on crutches, also joined in, hitting another boy with a crutch and kicking him at the same time in full view of fellow pupils.
In a separate incident, a learner from Sitfokote Secondary School in Matsulu outside Mbombela was seen drinking during class.
“What we see happening with our children is very disappointing. As traditional leaders, we believe that the home is the first school, where children are taught about values, morality, and responsibility. It begins at home as a parent because once a child leaves your home, they are representing your family to society,” said Mokoena.
Mokoena said many parents misunderstood that the constitutional rights that are given to children are meant for their own well-being.
“The Constitution aims at protecting children, even from themselves. The challenge is that parents believe that teachers are the ones who must discipline their children. These days parents are so afraid of their own children to an extent that when they want their child to behave they threaten to report him to his class teacher,” Mokoena said.
He implored the entire society – including traditional leaders, business owners, government officials, and community-based organisations – to embark on a joint, concerted, and vigorous campaign and workshops “to bring back African values to our children before we lose them for good”.
Mokoena also called on the media to lend a hand in the campaign to rid schools of bullies and violent pupils.
Mpumalanga education authorities confirmed the two incidents this week, saying they had their hands full dealing with the disturbing incidents of children who were filmed misbehaving during school hours.
“It is not clear as to when and what time this incident occurred however, the department takes a zero-tolerance approach to underage drinking and condemns this unacceptable behavior that sets a bad example to other learners in the strongest terms possible,” said provincial education spokesperson Gerald Sambo.
Sambo said the incident was isolated and not befitting to the name of the school, Siftokotile, which is a Siswati meaning for joyful pride.
“Underage drinking is a serious problem that can lead to a number of negative consequences, such as health and mental problems, physical injuries, unsafe sexual behavior, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and academic problems.
“The department has directed the school to submit a detailed report about the incident and to institute disciplinary proceedings against the learner concerned as a corrective measure in line with the South African Schools Act and the code for learners,” he said.
Sambo said the violent incident at Greendale Secondary was deeply concerning because it resulted in the injury of a learner.
“It appears at some stage of the video that a group of boys gang up to beat another boy learner, resulting in bodily injuries.
“The department strongly condemns this violent behavior in the strongest terms possible. It is not clear at this time what caused the physical altercation. The department calls for the immediate suspension of the affected learners and expects a detailed report of the incident from the school,” he said.
The department has appealed to parents and school governing bodies to reinforce good conduct and discipline as guided by the code of conduct for learners.
Sambo said officials will be deployed to both schools to ensure that teaching and learning proceed without interruption.
Education author and community builder Moeketsi Mazibuko, from Emalahleni, called upon society to hold hands in addressing problems facing school children.
“Teaching involves a curriculum beyond the classroom. This curriculum requires that all community members come together to assist our department, school circuits, principals and teachers to do their work without worrying about the safety of children.
“We must instill discipline at the home front, where children are often exposed to domestic violence, which they may re-enact elsewhere, including schools or sporting fields. As parents, we must not only talk to our children, but we must also listen and give them the assistance they need,” said Mazibuko, who authored a book titled Born To Teach: Restoring the dignity of the education profession.