The nature and causes of violence among learners within one primary school in Umlazi Township, Durban
Dlungwane, Angel Duduzile
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The overall aim of this study was to examine the circumstances under which violence occured among learners at Phatheka Primary School, situated in the township of Umlazi, and in doing so explore the causes of violence among learners at this school. The study further aimed to explore the complicit role of the school as an agent in shaping the manner in which learners relate to violence and vis à vis shaping learner behaviour. The research was driven by three objectives: Firstly, to investigate the gendered, class and ethnic nature of perpetrators and victims of school violence. Secondly, to examine the intra-group interactions among peers and their positioning of each other in terms of violent behaviour. Lastly, to explore how the discipline regime of the school shaped the constructions of violent and peaceful behaviour among learners. The qualitative research approach was utilised to obtain detailed and rich data. Ten educators and ten learners were purposively chosen from one urban primary school in the Umlazi Township. The ten learners that were interviewed, were identified from teachers’ observations of conflict situations at the school, in the classroom and on the playground. The ten most senior educators formed the sample of educators for this study. Seniority was determined according to the number of years the educator had been teaching at this school. Four of the most senior male educators and six of the most senior female educators were selected. The data was collected through face-to-face interviews and focus group interviews. The composition of the group consisted of learners with different interests and cultures in order to stimulate debate. The questions asked in the focus group interviews were similar to the questions used in individual interviews to broaden the data by comparing the responses of respondents when they were on their own, to their responses in a group situation.. The data analysis process was organised according to the research questions and based on themes that emerged from the contents of the interviews. A list of themes was formed of each transcript. These themes were then grouped and organised according to similarities. The list of themes was compared to the data and codes were allocated. The data was then divided and organised into categories, relevant themes and sub-themes. The findings of this study revealed that violence at this school was mainly interpersonal. Physical violence at this school took the form of hitting, kicking, punching, slapping and other acts that caused physical pain or injury. This study found that many learners believed that certain types of muthi provided advantage to the user in conflicts and fights. Many boys at this school used vernacular expressions of stick fighting to reinforce their dominance over other boys, as metaphors of manhood that bolstered their position among peers. Physical confrontation often involved the use of sticks. Labelling also served as a trigger to ignite violence among learners. Learners labelled each other in terms of their physical appearance, their citizenship as well as their academic performance. There was strong evidence from learners’ interviews that they competed and labelled each other around issues of classroom practices and academic performance. This created tension among the learners which also led to physical confrontation and violence. Many boys subscribed to certain hegemonic notions of masculinity which created a mentality where the boys demanded respect and exercised power over girls. Boys often used violence or the threat of violence to claim and exercise this power. Romantic relationships with girls often caused boys at Phatheka to get into conflict situations in their attempts to avoid humiliation, to prove heterosexuality and to enjoy a particular status at the school. This study found that a large proportion of learners who reacted with violence when provoked, had learnt this behaviour through role models provided by parents, siblings, relatives and community members, either directly or indirectly, and that this was often reinforced at school by peers, bullies and figures of authority. Role models actively encouraged learners to defend themselves, or to solve problems, by means of force and aggression, which contributed significantly to shaping violent behaviour among learners. This notion among the learners at Phatheka Primary School that violence is the best way to resolve conflict, with or without weapons, meant that fighting became the norm at this school. Although school fights are common and every fight is different, this study found that some common causes do exist. It was also found that the school complicitly contributed to the violence among learners through school policies and the disciplinary practices of educators.