Give kids the right to grow up with hope

There we go again. There is a temptation to think that schoolyard violence is old hat. South Africa is a violent society and schools are a mere reflection of society, we have been told many times over.

There we go again. There is a temptation to think that schoolyard violence is old hat. South Africa is a violent society and schools are a mere reflection of society, we have been told many times over.

Some of us went to schools that prided themselves on being more violent than the others in their neighbourhood.

We bragged about the numbers of thugs our schools had in comparison to others.

Those were wild days when schooling was a chore the government of the day reluctantly performed, rather than an effort to create productive citizens. That regime could not care whether we learnt anything, let alone passed.

The line we crossed on that day in April 1994 was meant to end all that and other evils.

But, sadly, the day came but the nightmare of apartheid lasted well into the next morning.

Many of our schools are still places where we keep youths from being idle. There are still too few of them who come out of those institutions equipped to handle the rigours of the real world.

Still, what happened last week at Florida Park High School, west of Johannesburg, must never be allowed to become commonplace. Today a young man is traumatised after being stabbed by his schoolmate inside the schoolyard.

The poor child's fault was to inform the thug that he needed to wear a school uniform like all the other kids.

Fellow pupils, and most certainly their parents, must be in shock. Apparently the perpetrator is a gangster who has refused to be governed by the same rules that apply to other children.

The story did not make the front pages because the child did not die.

There must be something wrong with a society so desensitised to violence that unless a child dies at school it is just another day in South Africa.

But the fact that a terrible situation recurs cannot make that situation acceptable. We must never make the abnormal normal.

Logical as it is to accept that schools are reflections of society, we need to create islands of hope. We need to create those spaces where the ills in our society stop at the gate. Schools, especially in black communities, have been the beacons of that hope.

It seems we are regressing. Sending children to school is becoming as nerve-racking as sending miners down a mine shaft. Not even sending them to the former whites-only schools reduces their chances of being hurt or worse.

We must not allow this. Children should be allowed to be children.

I intentionally call them children instead of learners, students or whatever fancy names kids in school are called these days.

This by no means suggests that we should subscribe to the outdated theories that assume that adults are all-knowing. They are not and in many instances our children have valuable insights that can make our lives better.

As South Africans we know this too well. Our struggle for freedom was led by children.

Still, there was a downside to this. We created generations that have culminated in the person of Julius Malema. A group of people who thought that adults were dispensable or not deserving of respect because they were not as "militant" as the children.

We - government, parents, pupils and the media - need to take back our schools and give our children the right to worry about pimples and wet dreams or what they will wear at the matric dance. Not whether they will live to see the next day.

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