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OPINION: Gangs offer a tempting 'home' to frustrated, unhappy youngsters

This article first appeared on _ The Conversation._

The Conversation

Society would benefit greatly if the police, school and community focused their efforts on prevention instead of tackling the aftermath of gangsterism among learners.

In South Africa, policing is a national government responsibility. The state should provide specialised policing resources and introduce expert drug units to control gangsterism and drug abuse in the Cape Flats.

You're very critical of the Western Cape Education Department in your research, arguing that it could be seen to deliberately have let the situation in Cape Flats schools get out of control. Why do you say this?

It is unfortunate that inequality in schooling is not being addressed. It is ironic to note that the Western Cape Department of Education has decided to close low-income, low- performing schools and is ignoring the social needs of struggling communities in the Cape Flats. Poor communities like those on the Cape Flats seem to be on the fringe of the department's agenda.

It is also concerning that there has been no urgency by the national education department to develop, implement and evaluate school-based interventions.

For instance, the national Drug Abuse Policy Framework stipulates that teachers receive suitable training to equip them to deal with social problems as they arise in the classroom. Teachers on the Cape Flats have not received such specialist training.

What are some immediate, concrete steps that the government, schools and communities can take to really start turning the situation around?

Community development needs serious consideration in any efforts to address poverty and social ills. The capitalist democracy foregrounds the interests of business, profits and the middle class. This happens at the expense of poor communities, which has resulted in the increased levels of poverty and crime seen in some areas. These schools don't exist in a vacuum, so providing them with basic educational resources, organising leadership seminars for principals that focus on tackling social problems and setting up feeding schemes for the children who go to school hungry could make a huge difference.

There also needs to be better support for pupils with behavioural problems. All schools once had guidance counsellors - this position should be recreated and filled in every school on the Cape Flats. He or she should be tasked with implementing, monitoring and evaluating the substance abuse prevention programme in schools.

A collaborative strategic intervention programme should be formulated that involves communities, schools, the education department - provincially and nationally.

Importantly, data is needed to identify spatial patterns of drug abuse and gangsterism in schools. Policy makers and service planners could use this data to allocate resources for prevention and treatment at schools with the highest level of problems.

Rajendra Chetty is Head of Research, faculty of Education, Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

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