Student backpacks at COSAT

Student backpacks at COSAT


Anders Kelto

This blog post is part of a year-long series, School Year: Learning, Poverty, and Success in a South African Township. Read more on the School Year Blog.

On Monday, Mrs. Godden – an English teacher at COSAT – asked her students to give presentations in class. After one student finished speaking and returned to her desk, she noticed that her brand new pen was missing. No one confessed to having stolen it, so Mrs. Godden decided to walk around the room and ask each student to open his or her bag.

One student didn’t want to. Mrs. Godden asked if he had taken the girl’s pen, and he said no. She asked him to open his bag, and he refused. So she felt his bag, and noticed something odd. She said it felt like a long baton was stuffed inside. She opened the bag, and found a 12-inch knife wrapped in pantyhose.

A few minutes later, the boy and the weapon were in the principal’s office. Mrs. Cooper, the principal, asked the boy why he had brought a knife to school. He said he needed it for protection.

“He told me, ‘If someone’s gonna do something to me, I’m gonna do something to them,’” Mrs. Cooper later said to me.

“I asked what he was going to do, and he didn’t respond. This wasn’t a small knife. This was a knife to kill,” she said. She suspected the boy was in a gang.

Because he had violated school rules, which ban weapons on campus, the boy was suspended for one week. Mrs. Cooper said this was the first incident involving a weapon at COSAT this year, but a similar case happened last year.

Given the tremendous dangers that COSAT students face on their way to and from school, I asked Mrs. Cooper if carrying a weapon might actually be a good idea. She said no, there are better ways to stay safe, including not getting involved in gangs. And she said having a weapon on school grounds jeopardizes the safety of other students and teachers.

I asked Mrs. Godden if she felt her safety had been jeopardized. Surely, she must be shaken up, I thought. She laughed. “I come from an old-fashioned gangster school,” she said. “I’m used to this sort of thing.”

The student body will be notified of the incident at the next school assembly. In the meantime, the girl is still looking for her pen.

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