Addressing Violence in South African Schools

Addressing Violence in South African Schools – Understand


Violence in schools is a global phenomenon, with South Africa being no exception. Each year, around the world, about 246 million children are affected by school violence (UNESCO, 2017). In South Africa, violence in schools violates learners’ constitutional right to ‘‘freedom and security of the person, which includes the right to be free from all forms of violence’’ (Constitution of RSA, Act 108 of 1996). Further, school violence violates the right to basic education for learners. 

School Violence

‘‘School violence …is typically defined as any acts of violence that take place inside an educational institution, when travelling to and from school or a school-related event, or during such an event. These school-based acts of violence can be both physical and non-physical and may or may not result in bodily or emotional harm to the victim. This violence typically takes the form of learner-on-learner, learner-on-educator, educator-on-educator, and educator-on-learner violence and severely disrupts the normal functioning of the schooling system.’’ 

(Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention, 2016, p.5)

Violence in schools occurs in different forms and intersects with violence occurring in a learner’s home and their broader community. Some learners experience violence during school hours, in after-school programmes, and on their way to and from school (Lamb & Warton, 2017). Further, many learners experience violence online in the form of cyberbullying (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). In South Africa, two of the primary risk factors for school violence are: easy access to weapons (Ngqela & Lewis, 2012; Burton, Leoschut & Bonora, 2009) and high rates of violence in the surrounding neighbourhood (Ngqela & Lewis, 2012; Cluver, Bowes & Gardner, 2010). 

It is important to address school violence for the following reasons: a) it violates the rights of the child and the educator; b) it negatively impacts on the educator’s ability to teach and on the child’s ability to learn; c) it has a negative impact on surrounding communities; d) it negatively impacts a country’s development goals; and e) it has extensive health and economic costs for the country (Burton & Leoschut, 2013).

When addressing school violence, it is important to focus not just on actual incidents of crime and violence but also the fear thereof and the impact this fear has on learner and educator well-being, school attendance, and the ability to teach and learn. Learners and educators should not only be free from crime and violence, but they should be free from the fear thereof.

Safe schools form a part of the National Development Plan’s objective that, ‘‘in 2030 people living in South Africa… feel safe at home, at school and at work, and they enjoy an active community life free of fear’’ (NDP 2030, 2012, p. 73).  

Prevalence of School Violence in South Africa

In 2008, the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) conducted the first National School Violence Study (NSVS) with more than 12,794 learners, 521 educators and 264 principals (Leoschut, 2008; Burton, 2008). Participants were recruited from primary and secondary schools across all nine provinces of South Africa. Most learners, however, were from KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo (Leoschut, 2008). The researchers looked at the prevalence and nature of school violence experienced by learners in the previous year. Of all learners, 15.3% had been victimized (Burton, 2008). Of the secondary school learners, 22% had been victimized (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). Four years later, the CJCP conducted another nationally representative study with 5,939 secondary school learners, 239 educators and 121 principals. The prevalence rate for violence victimization was very similar, at 22.2%. 

Types of School Violence in South Africa

Violence in South African schools includes threats of violence, psychological abuse, robbery, physical assaults, gang violence, corporal punishment, sexual violence and bullying (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). The majority of school violence is learners-on learner violence (Burton & Leoschut, 2013; HSRC, 2017). The same learners may be both victims and perpetrators.


Physical Violence

‘’Physical violence can be any form of physical aggression with intention to hurt, and it includes corporal punishment and physical bullying by adults and other children.’’ (UNESCO, 2017, p.14)

Corporal Punishment

‘’Any deliberate act against a child that inflicts pain or physical discomfort to punish or contain him/her. This includes, but is not limited to, spanking, slapping, pinching, paddling or hitting a child with a hand or with an object; denying or restricting a child’s use of the toilet; denying meals, drink, heat and shelter, pushing or pulling a child with force, forcing the child to do exercise.’’ (Department of Education, 2000, p.6.)


‘’An act of intentionally inflicting injury or discomfort upon another person (through physical contact, through words or in other ways) repeatedly and over time for the purpose of intimidation and/or control.’’ (CDC, p.2)

Sexual Violence

Sexual violence includes forced exposure to sexual acts or pornographic material, sexual harassment, grooming, sexual coercion, sexual exploitation, unwanted touching, sexual assault and rape (including statutory sexual assault and rape). 

Physical Violence

In high violence neighbourhoods where weapons are easily available, physical violence at school can include stabbings and shootings (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). Another form of physical violence at schools is corporal punishment by educators (Department of Education, 2000). 


School bullying involves repeated incidents of abuse (UNESCO, 2017; Burton & Leoschut, 2013). If not effectively addressed, the bullying behaviour often escalates over time. With increasing access to social media, learners are also at risk of cyberbullying from fellow learners (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). Owing to the nature of cyberbullying, victims are often unable to escape this even when they leave the school environment.

Sexual Violence 

Prevalence rates for sexual offences amongst South African children are similar for boys and girls (Burton et al., 2015). Girls are far more likely to experience ‘’contact’’ sexual violence, such as rape and sexual assault; while boys are far more likely to experience ‘’non-contact’’ sexual violence, such as being forced to witness sexual acts or view pornographic material.

Hotspots in Schools

The majority of violence occurring in schools takes place in the classroom (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). This violence often occurs when educators are unable to manage and control their class or when the class is left without supervision. Classroom violence poses a significant barrier to learning. 

School sports grounds and playing areas are the next most frequent locations for violence perpetration. According to the CJCP’s 2012 NSVS study, within the school premises, school toilets were the area most feared by learners. Findings indicated that school toilets are sites of increased risk for sexual violence, accounting for the location of more than 12.5% of sexual assaults in schools. Female learners, in particular, reported cases where male learners had sexually violated them, in the school toilets. 

Many learners in South Africa not only feel unsafe on the school premises, but also on their way to and from school. Since not all children and adolescents can afford private transport, many children in South Africa walk or rely on public transport to get to and from school. Unaccompanied school children who rely on public transport or walking, are vulnerable to general violence in their communities (Burton & Leoschut, 2013; CJCP, 2016; Equal Education, 2016). For female learners, who walk or use public transport, there is an increased risk of sexual violence victimization (Burton & Leoschut, 2013; UN CEDAW, 2011). 

What are the Risk Factors? 

According to the ecological model, various risk and protective factors interact to increase or decrease the likelihood of a learner experiencing or perpetrating violence at school. These include risk and protective factors at the individual-, relationship- and community level. 

Individual Factors

Individual risk factors, including gender and age, can increase the risk for certain forms of violence victimisation and perpetration. The 2012 NSVS findings indicated that female learners (24.3%) reported a higher rate of violence victimisation than male learners (19.7%) (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). With regards to sexual violence at school, 7.6% of girls and 1.4% of boys  reported experiencing sexual assault in the previous year. For physical assault, violent threats and robbery, the rates were similar for girls and boys, only being slightly higher among boys. 

With regards to age as a risk factor, violence victimization at school was highest among 15-16 year-old learners. Comparatively, theft was more commonly experienced by 12-14 year old learners (Burton, 2006) and bullying was also found to be more prevalent among Grade 8 learners, than older learners (Flisher et al., 2006; Liang et al., 2007).

Relationship Factors

In the home context, the attitudes and actions of parents, caregivers and siblings has a strong impact on a child’s behaviour as well as their norms and attitudes (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). This influences how the child interacts with those in their school and community. Learners who have been victimised at home are at increased risk for violence victimization at school. Further, if a child’s friends or peers bring illegal drugs or weapons to school, the child is at increased risk of experiencing violence (Burton & Leoschut, 2013; Brown, Simelane  & Malan, 2016).

Community Factors

The community in which a learner grows up also influences their risk for violence victimization at school (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). There is an increased risk of witnessing and/ or experiencing school violence in schools situated in communities where alcohol, drugs and weapons are easily available. These communities are often very violent themselves (Leoschut, 2008). Alcohol, drugs and weapons can serve to facilitate and/or exacerbate violence. The 2008 NSVS found that learners who could easily access alcohol and illicit substances in their communities, were significantly more likely to experience violence victimization at school. These learners are also at increased risk when travelling to and from school (Equal Education, 2016; Burton & Leoschut, 2013). The Human Sciences Research Council, in collaboration with the Department of Basic Education, undertook a survey with over 20 000 educators at 1,380 schools in South Africa (HSRC, 2017). Survey findings indicated that 20% of educators perceived the school environment as violent and believed that their colleagues and the learners at their school could be carrying weapons. Further, approximately 17% of educators had witnessed violent interactions involving weapons at their school.

In communities where gangs predominate, gang violence can affect learners on their way to and from school (Mncube & Harber, 2013). This violence can also erupt in schools, particularly where: learners at the school are members of a gang; schools have inadequate safey infrastructure around the school premises; and/ or access control is poorly monitored (Equal Education, 2016). This gang activity, in and around schools, includes: gangs robbing and/ or threatening learners; fighting – often including weapons;  and selling drugs to learners (Mncube & Harber, 2013). Gang violence is a particular risk factor for school violence in the Western Cape (Burton & Leoschut, 2013; Brown, Simelane  & Malan, 2016). 

While violence in communities can increase the risk for violence in schools, this is not inevitable. Well managed, safe schools can play a role in mitigating this risk (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). Protective factors at the school-level which can mitigate the risks posed by being situated in a violent neighbourhood include: effective, non-violent discipline; a clear code of conduct; good relationships between educators and learners; and encouragement and empowerment of learners to achieve academically. Further, safe schools can have a positive influence on the safety of surrounding communities, particularly with regards to altering community norms on violence.

The Impact of School Violence 

Consequences of School Violence

''Experience and exposure to violence in any environment at a young age increase the risk of later victimisation, as well as perpetration of violence and other antisocial behaviour. Schools, if considered holistically, are environments where children not only acquire scholastic knowledge, but also where they learn to know, to be, to do and to live together. Violence in schools impacts negatively on all these processes, creating instead, a place where children learn fear and distrust, where they develop distorted perceptions of identity, self and worth, and where they acquire negative social capital, if the violence and safety-related threats are not effectively managed. Thus, school safety is a fundamental precondition for learning rather than being an addition.'' 

(Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention, 2016, p.6)


Violence in schools has short and long-term consequences for the victims as well as for the perpetrators and bystanders (UNESCO, 2017; Burton & Leoschut, 2013). School violence transforms the school environment into one of fear and anxiety (UNESCO, 2017). This hampers the educational environment and consequently prevents young people from accessing and/or fully benefiting from their educational opportunities. School violence can have physical, emotional, psycho-social, and academic repercussions. Low self-esteem, social isolation from peers and depressive symptoms can result from victimization (UNESCO, 2017; Burton & Leoschut, 2013). Depressive symptoms, in turn, may further hamper the learner’s ability to perform academically and to engage in positive social interactions (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). Following the incident/s, victims often experience decreased motivation and may struggle to concentrate at school. Learners may miss classes and sometimes even drop out of school, in order to avoid revictimization and/or because of their academic struggles (UNESCO, 2017; Burton & Leoschut, 2013). These academic repercussions, consequently negatively impact on the learners’ long term academic and career potential (UNESCO, 2017). Further, this experience of violence can increase the risk of learners subsequently engaging in crime and violence (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). With regards to bullying, bullying at schools increases the risk for the victim experiencing other forms of violence.

In addition to the psycho-social, emotional and academic consequences of school-related sexual violence, this also has particular health consequences for the victim (CALS, AVON Foundation for Women & Ford Foundation, 2014). Contact sexual offences in schools increase the risk for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, owing to its high prevalence in South Africa. Sexual offences in schools also increase the risk for unwanted pregnancies (CALS, AVON Foundation for Women & Ford Foundation, 2014; UNESCO, 2017). 

The impact of crime and violence on educators and support staff must not be overlooked (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). For example, ‘‘chronic exposure to school violence has led to the identification of the ‘battered educator syndrome’ ’’ (CJCP, 2016, p.8). Violence and crime can result in higher educator turn-over at schools, negatively impact on the ability to teach, and result in strained relationships between learners and staff (Burton & Leoschut, 2013.; Brown, Simelane  & Malan, 2016).

Addressing School Violence: Policies and Frameworks 

The Department of Basic Education is responsible for a) developing national policies and guidelines concerning school safety and b) monitoring and evaluating school safety interventions across the country (CJCP, 2016). The South African Council for Educators is the national statutory body for educators in South Africa (South African Council for Educators, 2017). Its legislative mandate is detailed in the South African Council for Educators, Act 31 of 2000 [as amended]. Educators must adhere to the South African Council for Educators Code of Conduct (CJCP, 2016). If an educator is found to have been involved in a criminal act or act of violence, then this must be reported to the South African Council for Educators, who will handle the matter accordingly.

Key policies informing and guiding school safety in South Africa include, the National School Safety Framework, Safety in Education Partnership Protocol between the Department of Basic Education and the South African Police Service, the Regulations for Safety Measures at Public Schools, the National Strategy for the Prevention and Management of Alcohol and Drug Use amongst Learners in Schools, the National Drug Master Plan and the National Anti-Gangsterism Strategy.

The National School Safety Framework

The National School Safety Framework, developed by the Department of Basic Education (DBE), CJCP, and other key-governmental stakeholders, focuses on a ‘’whole of school approach’’ to violence prevention and safety promotion in schools (CJCP, 2016; European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2013; Shaw, 2005). In other words, this Framework identifies the essential role of all school stakeholders in ensuring a comprehensive approach to safety in the school environment. The purpose of this Framework is ‘’to create a safe, violence- and threat-free, supportive learning environment for learners, educators, principals, school governing bodies and administration’’ (CJCP, 2016, p.10). 

The National School Safety Framework, together with the Regulations for Safety Measures in Public Schools, require every school to implement the following policies: a School Safety Policy; a School Safety Plan; a policy on non-violent discipline; and a Code of Conduct for Learners. School safety interventions are monitored by the Safe School Committee in every school (CJCP, 2016).

To better understand the safety situation, each school is required to conduct a yearly survey. The National School Safety Framework provides the survey templates for these annual audits, which are to be conducted with all school stakeholders including learners, educators and principals. The findings of the survey are to be compiled into an annual school safety report that needs to be submitted to the respective District Safe School Coordinator. 

Cases of violent crime experienced or perpetrated by learners are to be reported to the local police station. If it is strongly suspected that a child is being abused at home, the school principal is required to report the case to the school social worker and the local police station (CJCP, 2016).

In 2015, the Council of Education Ministers approved the rollout of the National School Safety Framework in all schools across South Africa (DBE, 2015). 

One of the short-comings is that there is a lack of follow-up, effective monitoring and evaluation of how schools across South Africa are implementing this Framework. For more information see Be Inspired: National School Safety Framework (NSSF).

Safety in Education Partnership Protocol 

In 2011, the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the DBE drew up the Safety in Education Partnership Protocol (RSA, 2013; DBE, 2016; CALS, AVON Foundation for Women & Ford Foundation, 2014). This Protocol identifies these two government stakeholders as primarily responsible for ensuring safety in schools, during school hours (CJCP, 2016; RSA, 2013; DBE, 2016). It requires them to work together to create functional safety committees in schools and to ensure that all schools are connected with a local police station (RSA, 2013; DBE, 2016). It calls for school-based crime prevention programs to prevent and reduce criminal activity among learners and improve the overall safety in schools and Early Childhood Development Centres (CJCP, 2016; DBE, RSA, & SAPS, 2011). Another key aspect of this Protocol is the requirement for all schools to develop safety incident reporting mechanisms; ensure stringent access control; and enforce the prohibition of access to dangerous weapons and illegal substances at school (DBE, RSA, & SAPS, 2011). 

Regulations for Safety Measures at Public Schools

The Regulations for Safety Measures at Public Schools, Regulation 1128 of 2006, stipulates that all schools in South Africa are to be free of drugs, alcohol and dangerous weapons. As part of these regulations individuals are prohibited from entering a school if they have consumed alcohol or illicit substances, or if they have a dangerous weapon with them. If there is a strong reason to believe that someone at a school is carrying any of these items, then a policeman, the principal of that school, or a specifically designated person is allowed to search this individual. 

Additional strategies aimed at addressing and responding to the use of alcohol and ilicit substances in schools are the National Strategy for the Prevention and Management of Alcohol and Drug Use amongst Learners in Schools and the National Drug Master Plan.

National Anti-Gangsterism Strategy

In June 2016, the South African Cabinet approved the National Anti-Gangsterism Strategy (WC DOCS, 2017). This Strategy acknowledges the significant negative impact that gangsterism  has on schools situated in gang-ridden neighbourhoods (NICOC, 2015). The Strategy further seeks to prevent and respond to gang violence and remediate the impact of this violence, through a number of initiatives. These initiatives include school-based as well as community-based interventions. The Strategy reiterates the importance of ensuring the successful implementation of the National School Safety Framework, the National Strategy for the Prevention and Management of Alcohol and Drug Use amongst Learners in Schools, and the Safety in Education Partnership Protocol. A limitation, however, is that it does not itself provide any new policy recommendations or practical suggestions for effectively addressing school violence.  

Addressing School Violence: Interventions

There are numerous examples of school violence interventions which have been implemented around the country. Below are a few examples of these interventions, including those which have been profiled on SaferSpaces.

Schools-based Crime Prevention Programme

Over the last few years, SAPS have prioritised school safety. This focus was re-emphasised in the 2016/17 SAPS Annual Report. In addition to the Safety in Education Partnership Protocol, SAPS and DBE have also developed a Schools-based Crime Prevention Programme. The Medium Term Strategic Frameworks (2015-2019) of both Departments support the implementation of this Programme 

The objectives of the Programme include the following: 

  • The strengthening of Safe School Committees in addressing crime and violence in schools;
  • Connecting schools with local police stations;
  • Mobilising communities to take ownership of schools in their areas;
  • Raising awareness amongst learners about violence and its impact;
  • Encouraging schools to establish crime/safety reporting system at their school;
  • Implementing of schools-based crime prevention programmes in collaboration with relevant provincial, district and local officials;
  • Specialised operations for hotspot schools, including visible policing and patrols; and
  • The closure of illegal shebeens and liquor outlets within a 500m radius of schools.

For more information read SAPS School Safety pamphlet.

School Safety Guidelines

Gevers and Flisher (2012) outline recommendations for preventing violence in schools based on recommendations developed by Burton (2008). These recommendations are quoted in the table below:

School Safety Recommendations (Gevers & Flisher, 2012, p. 206 -207)
  • The Department of Basic Education should monitor schools’ adherence to minimum safety standards and efforts at preventing and responding to school violence, particularly by collecting regular data on school violence and prevention programmes.
  • School policies and procedures, including a detailed code of conduct, promoting non-violence and setting out appropriate responses and consequences for violence in accordance with the Department of Basic Education’s minimum standards of safety need to be implemented and clearly communicated to all those within the school community.
  • School staff need to be taught and supported in effective and appropriate classroom management and be held accountable for violence within the schools by enforcing school non-violence policies with appropriate means and any staff who perpetrate violence in the school need to be swiftly and decisively disciplined.
  • Security infrastructure at schools needs to be updated, maintained and monitored to keep the school premises safe and secure.
  • Through collaboration with the South African Police Service, Department of Social Development and local government as well as school and community initiatives, the environment surrounding schools should be cleared of drugs, alcohol and weapons.
  • Safe transit to and from schools needs to be established so that learners and educators have access to reliable, safe and affordable transport between their homes and the school.
  • Children and youths experiencing violence in the home or community need to be identified and provided with appropriate support services, including counselling.
  • Planned, co-ordinated and consistent extramural activities should be organised to involve learners in positive leisure activities after formal school hours.
  • Get youths’ input when designing such programmes and be sure to make them available throughout the year and accessible to all.
  • Research efforts need to be increased so that programmes are effectively monitored and evaluated to inform programme improvement and generalisability to other schools.

STOP, WALK, TALK Anti-Bullying Programme

In April 2018, DBE initiatied the ‘STOP, WALK, TALK’ programme, with the aim of preventing bullying in schools across South Africa (DBE, 2018). As part of this programme, the DBE created a manual, Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Bullying in Schools, to guide educators on how to manage cases of bullying. In addition, E-Safety Guidelines were developed to deal with the emerging challenge of cyberbullying. 

Bullying Interventions in Schools

Here are some general guidelines, based on international best practice: 

  • No tolerance for bullying at school. This should be included within the school policy and all teachers and staff must be trained in how to monitor and intervene when bullying occurs (Olweus & Limber, 2010).
  • Clearly displayed classroom rules against bullying, which outline consequences for such behaviour.
  • Children should not be left without supervision when they are at school, as this increases the likelihood of bullying (Farrington & Ttofi, 2009).
  • Schools must refrain from victim blaming and ensure that perpetrators receive firm discipline in a timely manner (Olweus & Limber, 2010).
  • Behavioural interventions with children who are identified as bullies, to encourage pro-social behaviour (Olweus & Limber, 2010; Farrington & Ttofi, 2009).
  • The school should meet with the parents of both the perpetrator and the victim (Farrington & Ttofi, 2009).

Masifunde Learner Development and the Umhlali Project

In 2012, Masifunde Learner Development implemented the Youth for Safer Communities project in schools in Nelson Mandela Bay, Eastern Cape (Zali, 2018). This provides academic support to previously disadvantaged learners, hereby improving their future opportunities and decreasing the likelihood of them engaging in crime and violence. A challenge has been insufficient assistance and engagement from the public sector in the implementation and capacitation of this project. 

The Umhlali Project was a crime and violence prevention project which was implemented between June 2015 and June 2018, in Walmer Township, Eastern Cape (Jules-Macquet, 2017; Böhr, 2018a). The initiative was developed by the CJCP in collaboration with Masifunde Learner Development. The aim of this project was, ‘’to enhance evidence-based youth resilience against crime and offending behaviour through early prevention interventions that include, school safety, family preservation, early childhood development, access to further learning and skills development opportunities, child protection and social functioning’’ (Jules-Macquet, 2017). The Umhali Project intervention in schools included: after-school programmes; providing unemployed youth and youth who had dropped out of school with information on positive opportunities which they could engage in; improving the services provided by early childhood development centres in the area; and capacity-builiding and support for two schools in implementing the National School Safety Framework. 

Despite the official completion of the Umhlali Project in June 2018, half of the Umhlali interventions were part of Masifunde Learner Development's core programmes and these activities have continued (Schumacher, 2018).The interventions which have continued include: life skill activities for children and youth; encouraging children and youth to be active citizens; academic support; and extra-mural activities such a drama, choir, visual arts and sports. Furthermore, Masifunde Learner Development continues to work closely with all three schools in Walmer Township and facilitates capacity training for school management teams and staff. The Umhlali Centre is now run as a centre for out-of-school-youth. This Centre offers: career guidance, vocational training, educational opportunities and entrepreneurship training. Umhlali’s pre-school initiatives have also continued.

The interventions which have ceased, with the completion of the Umhlali Project, are:

  • The alcohol and drug prevention intervention, which has become a cross-cutting theme of all programmes;
  • Family services provided by three full-time social workers;
  • Supporting of two schools in implementing the National School Safety Framework;
  • Community awareness against corporal punishment, which has become a cross-cutting theme of all programmes; and
  • Gender equality interventions, which have also become a cross-cutting theme of all programmes. 

For more information see Be Inspired: Umhlali - Building safer communities through youth resilience and Be Inspired: Youth for Safer Communities.

Addressing Sexual Violence against young girls in Schools in South Africa (SeVISSA)

The Sexual Violence against young girls in Schools in South Africa (SeVISSA), is an initiative implemented by the CJCP in collaboration with the University of Cape Town and Comic Relief. The SeVISSA project is currently being run in 40 schools in Gauteng, Limpopo, Eastern Cape and the Western Cape. The purpose of this project is ‘’to reduce violence against children, but particularly girls, in South African schools, and thereby improve their access and performance at school, enhancing their educational outcomes, and that of all school children’’ (CJCP, 2017a). The intervention involves a) implementing of the National School Safety Framework in the schools involved in the project; b) sharing key outcomes and lessons learned from the intervention with external stakeholders, including presenting on the intervention at conferences; and c) publishing research findings. 

Two key learning points from this intervention are that: 

  • A whole-of-school approach and a collaborative, intersectoral approach are key to the efficacy of safety initiatives in schools.
  • Many learners have little to do after school, and are at risk of engaging in delinquent behaviour. Consequently, there is a real need for the development of positive after-school programmes at schools. 

For more information see Be Inspired: Addressing Sexual Violence against young girls in schools in South Africa.

Programme for the Prevention of Violence against Women and Girls in Southern Africa 

In collaboration with various stakeholders, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH’s Programme for the Prevention of Violence against Women and Girls in Southern Africa (GIZ VAWG) is planning a Gender Based Violence project in schools, starting in 2019/2020 (Böhr, 2018b). In August/September 2018, GIZ VAWG will be hosting the first planning workshop for this project with a core group of stakeholders. 

Birds and the Bees peer-education programme

In 2006, Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust started the Birds and the Bees peer-educator programme initiative in high schools in Athlone and Khayelitsha, in the Western Cape (RCCTT, 2017). The purpose of this intervention is ‘’to challenge the negative attitudes and social norms that promote sexual violence and prevent survivors from speaking out, and creating in its place a culture of consent where learners can feel safe in their schools’’. As part of this intervention, Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust trains learners to become peer-educators. These peer-educators are trained on issues pertaining to sexual violence, including rape myths, issues around consent, and harmful social norms which enable and exacerbate sexual violence. Following this training, the peer-educators are involved in developing safety plans as well as in conducting awareness-raising activities in their schools. Further, these peer-educators serve as a point of contact for victims of sexual offences in their schools. 

A challenge is that peer-educators can face resistance when they challenge harmful norms and behaviours around sexual violence in their schools and communities. These learners need support in being able to remain committed to positive gender norms and pro-social behaviour. For more information see Be Inspired: Birds and the Bees peer-education programme: challenging harmful norms around sexual violence

Safe Schools Programme 

The Safe Schools Programme is an initiative of the Western Cape Education Department, which was launched in 2000 (Equal Education, 2016). This Programme involves the Western Cape Department of Education working with schools to ensure that they are safe, and consequently provide an enabling and supportive learning environment (WCED, 2018). The Safe Schools’ sub-programmes are: a) the Environmental Programmes, which include installing security systems; b) the Developmental Programmes, which include interventions to addressing learner behaviour; and c) the Systems Programmes, which involve addressing and responding to gang violence and weapons and substances at schools. 

Safe Schools collaborates with community organisations and the police in implementing its programmes. For more information see Be Inspired: Safe Schools Programme.

Walking Bus Project

The Walking Bus Project is an initiative of the Western Cape Department of Community Safety in collaboration with the South African Police Service, local schools, local neighbourhood watches, ward councillors and community volunteers (WCG, 2016a; WCG, 2016b). This Project involves parents and community volunteers walking groups of children to and from school, with the purpose of keeping these learners safe. When possible, the Walking Bus volunteers monitor the perimetres of schools in their community. 

This Project was developed with the aim of ensuring the safety of learners walking to and from school, in Cape Town communities with high levels of gang violence. For more information see Be Inspired: The Walking Bus Project.

After School Game Changer Programme

The After-School Game Changer is a collaborative initiative between the Western Cape Government, the City of Cape Town and numerous NGOs and civil society organizations (WCG, 2018). This intervention was initiated in January 2016 in the Western Cape, as one of the Western Cape Government’s seven game changer projects (WC ASGC, 2017). The rationale for this programme is “that regular and consistent participation of learners in after school programmes will improve learner outcomes, reduce school dropout rates and reduce risk taking behaviour’’(WCG, 2018). 

Challenges include the difficulty in ensuring that the locations in which the After-School programmes are, remain safe (WC ASGC, 2017). In addition, there is a challenge in ensuring the safety of learners and facilitators on their way to and from these programmes. A further challenge, is the financial cost of ensuring the continuous, effective functioning of the 300  programmes, which form part of the After-School Game Changer Programme. For more information see Be Inspired: After-School Game Changer Programme.

Other school safety interventions include or have included: Bom Combat School Intervention; the Sozo Educentre and Butterfly Art Project’s Sozo Educentre Programme; Gun Free South Africa’s Gun Free Zones in Schools initiative, the International Centre of Non-Violence’s project Promoting Non-Violence in Schools and the Bridges School Drug and Alcohol Programme.


South Africa has a robust policy framework dedicated to preventing and responding to school violence. The National School Safety Framework, in particular, is a comprehensive, clear, evidence-based framework on school safety. A major challenge, however, lies in the lack of monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of these school safety frameworks, policies and protocols. For example, while officially the National School Safety Framework has been rolled out in schools across the country, it is unclear: a) to what extent it has been implemented in public schools; and b) the impact it has had in the schools in which it has been implemented. Monitoring and evaluation of school safety policies and interventions are essential in determining what is effective and, consequently, where our energies and limited resources should be devoted. 

A further challenge is that there is a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities in the school safety sector. This can result in overlapping mandates on the one hand and gaps in service provision, on the other. Consequently, the key stakeholders in the school safety sector should adopt a more coordinated and integrated approach to school safety, embedded in a broader social crime prevention strategy (CJCP, 2017b). This approach should be characterised by improved communication and collaboration, clearly defined mandates and effective accountability mechanisms.  

School violence is rife in South Africa. To effectively address this violence, it is essential that a ‘’whole of school approach’’ to school safety be adopted. Such an approach highlights the key role of school management, educators, learners and community members in combating violence and promoting safety in schools.

Safe schools are not only essential in ensuring the right of learners and educators to ‘’freedom from all forms of violence’’ and the right of learners to a basic education, but safe, well-functioning schools have a positive impact on the communities in which they are situated and the society more broadly. Safe schools can play an integral role in building a safer South Africa for all (NDP 2030, 2012). 


*A special thank-you to the following individuals for their inputs: Guy Lamb, UCT SaVI; Jessie Böhr, GIZ South Africa; Nazeem Sheik-Ismail,  Safe Schools Program, Western Cape Government; Jonas Schumacher, Masifunde Learner Development; and Shiralee Mcdonald and Zeenat Hendricks of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. 


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