drugs menace schools

Sne Masuku

Sne Masuku

"I became a teacher instead of a police officer because I was terrified of the risks involved, only to find that the classroom is just as dangerous as fighting crime."

These are the words of a KwaZulu-Natal teacher who, when she chose the teaching profession, thought she would be able to make a difference. She had hoped to fulfil her passion for working with and in the community.

But, she says, she wakes up every morning to go to work knowing that she faces the unknown because anything can happen while she is in her classroom.

Lily Zulu, not her real name, is a teacher at one of Durban's schools affected by misconduct and violence by pupils abusing drugs at school.

"I have been called names, pointed at with fingers and almost assaulted, just for asking a pupil why homework was not done," she said.

In recent months there have been shocking reports of violent incidents related to drug abuse at schools in KwaZulu-Natal.

Recently, a school in Umlazi, south of Durban, closed for several days after several ugly incidents involving pupils who were under the influence of drugs.

Teachers who were fed up with the bad behaviour of pupils who have a "rotten" attitude towards their fellow pupils and teachers decided to down tools to protest the rampant drug problem at the school.

In the week leading up to their protest, a pupil went totally "mad".

The teacher said no one knows if it was the first time the pupil had taken drugs or if it was a reaction to the drug, but the pupil went totally "berserk" kicking and assaulting fellow pupils, while moving from one classroom to another swearing at everyone.

The school was closed and pupils sent home, but the culprit returned the following day still "behaving like a crazy person", so the teachers decided to down tools.

Classes resumed the following Monday after the department of education and the local ward councillor and parents intervened . A task team was formed to investigate the drug problem, which is said to be a major issue at the school.

When Sowetan spoke to some of the neighbouring schools, it transpired that they were also badly affected by pupils taking drugs.

A principal at one of the high schools in the area said the drug problem in Umlazi township was enormous and would require everyone involved in education to fight it.

She said pupils were caught virtually every day smoking dagga on school the premises.

"This is the reality of everyday life at most schools in the area, and maybe the country as a whole. Many pupils smoke dagga and who knows what else? The problem is beyond our control because pupils come to school with drugs which they have brought from home," she said.

Because people on drugs react in different ways, she said teachers live in fear because they don' t know what the pupils are capable of when in a drug-induced state .

At both schools, principals said they had worked out a strategy to fight the drug problem in their schools. But it still boiled down to one essential factor.

"We do not sell the drugs. Pupils cannot and do not buy them at school, but from people in the surrounding community."

"We never know what will happen when pupils are on drugs. It is very frightening for us," she said.

One principal said her school had to ditch the First Aid box after teachers discovered that pupils used pain killers with a certain chemical, to manufacture a particular drug.

She said the teachers were challenged to keep up with and, even better, try to stay ahead of pupils' tactics and way of thinking.

Teachers in rural areas of the province said that drugs were not a major problem.