School yobs have become a symbol of Botswana’s juvenile delinquency, and Education Minister, Jacob Nkate, is rolling up his sleeves ÔÇô Writes SUNDAY STANDARD REPORTER
You are sitting on the front seat of a Gaborone commuter mini bus, starring out the window with Monday morning drowsiness, when suddenly you come to a lurching stop. Just then, young boys in grey pants and blue shirts clamber in.
The boys, all decked out in school uniform, move towards the back and begin, in an exuberant way, to make a ruckus ÔÇô shrieking, laughing and speaking in a particular adolescent patois.
There isn’t menace in their adolescent singsong, exactly, but its brazenness makes their message clear: “We own this combi.” You grip the head rest of the seat in front, stare stiffly forward, your lips tight, hoping that whatever the boys are saying does not concern you. This is a familiar scene for morning commuters who share the combi with students.
Police say these students move in groups and think nothing of taking turns, raping female students. Sub Inspector Alfred Gaamangwe Kebinakgabo this week disclosed that amid the rise in crime at schools, gang rape was “very common and topped the list of offences.”
How big is the problem of anti social behavior in Botswana schools? Now picture this: Botswana Defence Force soldiers with machine guns slung over their shoulders were last Wednesday chasing drunken Gantsi Secondary School students down the school corridors.
Rowdy mobs of students were spilling out of bars and rampaging through the village roughing up each other and anyone else unfortunate enough to cross their drunken path. They disrupted studies, harassed female students, threw stones at the matron’s house and went on to trash the school causing P3 million worth of damage. Police officers could not contain them and BDF officers had to be called in.
Education Minister, Jacob Nkate, this week told Parliament that to put this problem “into perspective; in the past five years, ten schools have had hostels, science labs and other facilities burnt or otherwise vandalized.
In most of these cases arson was suspected or there had been tempering with electrical installations. Unfortunately, in most cases the police have not been able to collect enough evidence to prosecute.
In nine incidents where hostels were involved, six of them were boys’ hostels. I have personally observed unauthorized electrical connections in some of the hostels I visited. The net cost of damage done so far just in five years is P20 million.”
To sit at Gaborone bar counters these days is to hear vivid tales of harassment, vandalism, and mugging by students. Hatsalatladi Secondary School head teacher, Nnanaakoko, recently told the media about this growing breed of miscreant youths who cruise dark streets and school corridors looking to create mayhem.
This is what is often perceived as “yob culture”. For sometime, the usual suspects included unemployed lager louts and teenagers who hang out on street corners. Botswana schools are, however, beginning to see a wave of yob related crime.
Nnanaakoko was recently quoted in the media as saying the students’ behavior, which culminated in the destruction of more than 50 classroom windows, began early this year.
“Many of them started displaying an affinity for carrying knives and often come to school high on alcohol or dagga.”
Juliet Thebolo, a teacher at the school related how she was roused out of her sleep by a commotion at the door. A group of unruly yobs had come knocking on her door demanding accommodation for the night.
“I told them to go away, but they insisted that I should open up. They threatened that if I didn’t, they would break in. Fortunately the burglar bar saved me. The following day I packed my bags and moved to Molepolole, 28 kilometers away. Since then I have been commuting to work every morning with some of my colleagues.”
But in the consciousness of the average Motswana or in the official discourse of a governmental body such as Parliament, the problem hardly registered ÔÇô until this week. Education Minister, Jacob Nkate on Friday underlined government’s eagerness to address the problem when he threatened to “deal most severely with students who exhibit anti-social behavior.”
Nkate told Parliament that “in the past five years, we have observed an increase in incidents of vandalism of school property, especially in secondary schools. In fact, completing students in some schools have made it a tradition\culture to trash school buildings, furniture and equipment. This behavior even extends to beating up junior students and even school staff.”
Nkate told parliament how an ugly incident “was averted at Moeding College due to the responsible behavior of some students who reported what was planned hence pre-emptive action was taken by school management and the police.”
Francistown Secondary School headmaster, Othusitse Othusitse, recalls how he woke up to trashed lockers and a vandalized school and stolen property after the school had accommodated students from another school.
He, however, does not absolve his students from the anti-social behavior. There have been instances where windows were smashed deliberately and emergency fire buttons were vandalized.