The Democratic Alliance (DA) in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is deeply saddened by the recent murder of a Grade 8 learner at Folweni High School, South of Durban – allegedly by a group of Grade 9 pupils in what is claimed to be ongoing gang-related violence.

In a video circulating on social media, a group of more than 10 school pupils can be seen assaulting a pupil with open fists and kicking him. Some pupils can be heard screaming in the background. The incident has led to several learners being sent home and told to come back with their parents. This after having identified themselves as gang members.

The DA condemns this horrific act in the strongest possible terms. We also extend our most sincere condolences to the family of the deceased learner and call on the South African Police Service (SAPS) to ensure that no stone is left unturned in a bid to bring about swift justice. This must include every effort to get to the bottom of serious claims of gang-related violence at this school – allegedly as a result of drugs – so that there is no further wanton loss of life.

Folweni High School is clearly a school under siege. According to reports, the majority of learners fear for their lives while a number no longer come to school. This is also the same school where a security guard was shot by unknown people in an incident that took place in June last year.

Unfortunately, what is happening at this school is not an isolated incident and has yet again exposed the inability of KZN’s Department of Education (DoE) to deal with this ongoing and serious issue. It has also revealed that MEC Kwazi Mshengu’s hastily launched school safety programme [SSP] last year remains a good-for-nothing political stunt.

The DA has consistently maintained that our schools are a microcosm of our society. Gangsterism is not new to KZN’s schools, just as it is not a new phenomenon in our communities. The overflow of this scourge into our educational facilities was also highlighted during recent school oversight inspections, even within rural districts such as Umkhanyakude where we were informed by a principal that gangs operating in the community had a substantial effect on the learning and teaching environment.

It is these same gangs that are also sometimes implicated in severe vandalism of school property, sexual violence, increased drug abuse and bullying. We know that gangsterism has a multiplicity of origins ranging from poverty, a lack of after school care, the breakdown of family units including absent fathers, drugs and poor policing. To end the terror that these gangs bring, both inside and outside of our schools, government not only needs to work to ensure that school safety is prioritised, it also needs to ensure a well-resourced police service.

If MEC Mshengu and his DoE want to turn the tide and make sure the SSP runs properly, they first need to ensure that it is properly budgeted for – which was not done. Then they need to ensure that personnel are better equipped -not just with uniforms and batons – but in several aspects regarding the sensitive terrain that exists within our schools and which can and does result in loss of life. This is particularly relevant when it comes to hot spot areas.

Equipping educators, staff and security personnel to recognise early warning signs of potential disasters is paramount. This will require more than taking on Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP) staff from the province’s Department of Community Safety, as done to roll out the SSP. It will also require roping in experts in the field to ensure both the setting up of safety committees in hot spot schools and training them.

If there is no monitoring, no prevention measures and no early intervention procedures in place, the reality is that this message of condolence is set to be followed by many more. By the same token, if gangsterism within our schools reaches crisis levels – due to poor planning, lack of insight and cheap political stunts – then MEC Mshengu will have a lot to answer for going forward.