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Schoolyard violence is a mirror of our society

A disturbing number of schoolyard murders and other acts of violence have shocked South Africa in the last week. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya argues that given the celebration of violence and toxic masculinity in the entertainment industry, we should not be shocked that schools are scenes of the violence we have seen. The Church’s voice needs to be louder and heard before the damage is done.

A few weeks ago, coaches of two local football teams, Cape Town City and Orlando Pirates, exchanged words on the touchline – as coaches are wont to do.

After the match, local journalists asked them about the incident in a manner that suggested that they were disappointed that the confrontation between City’s Benni McCarthy and Pirates’ Rhulani Mokwena ended in words and not in fisticuffs.

Reading post-match reports and watching after-game interviews, it could be argued with some justification that the South African football media was spoiling for a fistfight between two adult men. Social media, too, seemed to have felt let down that the side-line exchanges did not deliver more drama to a match that had seen six goals shared evenly.

… the South African football media was spoiling for a fistfight between two adult men.

McCarthy seemed a bit more puffed up. “It wasn’t a fight man, if it’s a fight, he won’t come out on top, that I can assure you. He won’t come out. But listen, I am saying if there was fighting, I say the coach [Mokwena] would not have come out on top. But there was no fight.”

McCarthy is South Africa’s all-time top goal scorer. He is a hero to many youngsters and one of the best known players on the continent. This was after he was the joint top goal scorer at the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Burkina Faso where he scored seven goals, including a memorable four in 13 minutes in a match against Namibia.

So his chest-beating declaration that he would have beaten Mokwena is more than a side-line bust-up between two competitive athletes. It is an example of how pervasive toxic masculinity is. And no one seems to call him (and others like him) out about it.

School violence as a mirror for society

Incidents such as the one featuring McCarthy and Mokwena are readily forgotten, while at the same time media feigns shock at reports that three Mossel Bay high school pupils were expected to be charged with murder following the fatal stabbing of Hillcrest Secondary School grade 9 pupil, 16-year-old Khuselo Ndanda, on 7 October.

According to the police, the three arrested pupils were between the ages of 16 and 18, in grades 8 to 12.

The incident occurred during first break when the group of boys allegedly attacked the deceased several times with sharp objects. On his way to the principal’s office, Ndanda had collapsed. He was rushed to hospital and died as a result of his injuries.

In another incident, a 15-year-old boy stabbed a fellow pupil with a pair of scissors at a school in Sebokeng, in the Vaal area. The media reported that the incident had happened in full view of classmates. The boy was released on Wednesday after charges against him were provisionally withdrawn.

In the same week, a 15-year-old girl was arrested for stabbing her classmate in Isipingo, south of Durban.

By the time Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga told parliament this week just how violent our schools are, she did not have to explain too much. It is clear for everyone to see.

She said: “Studies have shown that where communities take ownership of their schools, the rate of violence is low. School violence most often occurs on school premises, but it also takes place on the way to and from schools. Bullying is increasingly taking place online and with the use of mobile devices”.

What Motshekga did not say, however, is schools are merely theatres of the violent society in which we live.

Schools are merely theatres of the violent society in which we live.

Schools cannot be islands of peace and magnanimity in a sea of easy violence and death. By the same logic, neither can churches be – unless they live in their own world disconnected from their society.

Alter servers, youth confirmation candidates and other young people are the same kids who are either victims of perpetrators of violence in schools.

The Church’s voice has mostly been missing in how society has normalised violence – in word and in deed. Instead of seeing schoolyard violence as a symptom of a broken society crying out for some kind of redemption, many of us in the Church reduce it to juvenile delinquency.

Sooner or later, the culture of violence will manifest itself inside the Church. We must not wait for that day to arrive. The Church must be unequivocal that there is no place for violence, whether it be speech or deed, anywhere in our society.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.