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Township parents urge police to end violence

South Africa

Parents have called for police raids on schools to halt growing gang activity and playground violence after pupils formed self-defence units and asked for weapons.

They say violence and intimidation on playgrounds and in areas surrounding schools in Eldorado Park, a sprawling township west of Johannesburg, has reached critical levels.

Last month a 14-year-old boy was shot by two of his classmates and there have been reports of gangs running amok in school grounds and mugging pupils in toilets.

Charmaine Arendse, chairwoman of the Willow Crescent secondary school's governing body and a member of the steering committee for high schools in Eldorado Park, has invited school principals to meet local police to find ways of combating the problem after parents demanded urgent action.

"Parents from all over the community have said police action may be the only way to help make their kids safe at school," Mrs Arendse said.

Inspector Nati de Jager, a spokesman for the provincial commissioner's office, said police would be willing to raid schools at the community's request. But school managers, parents and children say pupils are scared of possible reprisals if they report any incident.

"The gangs will come back and make your life hell if you speak so most kids just keep quiet," said one pupil.

At the Silver Oaks secondary school teachers are now conducting regular searches of pupils and their property. A wall has also been constructed around the school to keep outsiders out and the main gates are locked to keep pupils in.

Raids by teachers are also carried out at other schools in the area to check for weapons and drugs, but pupils complain that their actions are leaving them defenceless.

Some children say they are targeted by the gangs on their way to schools or on the way home.

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