Education Society

How gangsterism affects the culture of learning and teaching in SA Schools.



KEY WORDS: violence, gangsterism, volatile, culture, attitude, fast capitalism, Life-Course Persistent Offender, Seneca’s cliff, 

  1. Preamble

Given that Education on a global scale is moving to support the move of ‘fast capitalism’ 

i.e. where minority groups control the means of production in varying degrees of 

monopoly control thus, creating a mass employment market for skilled professionals and 

unskilled apprentices, it becomes necessary that we train people to become independent 

such that they themselves become the ‘movers’ of fast capitalism.  In effect, the 

monopoly of control is then spread across a broader band of people educated enough to 

invent new opportunities to satisfy the physiological needs of the masses such that more 

and more reach self-actualisation thus, prospering their own life through a culture of self-

reliance. However, this can happen when a strong culture of teaching and learning

prevails in all schools where the tempo is aligned with the government’s vision and

mission on education.  The culture of teaching and learning when compromised

destabilizes education.  Gangsterism as a social phenomenon affects the fabric of society

which in turn compromises the culture of teaching and learning in schools. The impetus 

given by this review is to illustrate that violence and gangsterism disrupts the culture of 

teaching and learning. Therefore, insight and analysis layer the review to illustrate that 

gangsterism and associated social ills are the catalysts for the perilous situation at schools.

The culture of teaching and learning  (B.M Zulu, 2004)  refers to the attitude of educators and 

learners towards teaching and learning, and the spirit of dedication and commitment in a 

school which arises through the joint effort of school management, the input of educators, the 

personal characteristics of learners, factors in the family life of learners, school-related 

factors as well as societal factors. 

In this project the aim was to investigate how gangsterism affects the culture of 

teaching and learning therefore, making the study of the school as a holistic environment a 

focus by looking at how teachers, pupils, parents and management are affected.

  1. Aims and Objective

The aim of this assignment is to:

  • Unpack what violence in South African schools. 
  • Describe the nature of gangsterism in South African schools.
  • Expose how violence and gangsterism affect the culture of learning and teaching in South African schools. 

The objective is to suggest a rehabilitative environment in schools that can assist in reducing violence and gangsterism so that the culture of learning and teaching can be restored.

  1. Introduction and rationale

The purpose of this assignment is to unpack how violence in schools affects that the culture of learning and teaching in South African schools. To develop a logical argument, I present the aim and objectives of this assignment.  I thereafter, explain what violence in schools mean. This is followed by a description of gangsterism generally, after which the culture of teaching and learning is described. I then expand on how gangsterism in schools affects that culture of learning and teaching, under various aspects. Lastly, I suggest what I think could be a rehabilitative environment in the South African schools.

Violence in South African schools is escalating resulting in increasing the barriers to learning 

due to extenuating circumstances. Harber and Muthukrishna (Wet, 2016 May) link school violence with gangsterism, noting that ‘schools in urban areas, particularly townships are regularly prey to gangsterism. Poverty, unemployment, rural-urban-drift, the availability of guns and general legacy of violence has created a context where gangsters rob schools and kill and rape teachers and students in the process. Violence in schools is not unique to South Africa. It is a worldwide phenomenon which is exacerbated by socio-economic factors. It is a worldwide concern, especially in emerging economies such as South Africa, where children are vulnerable, due to challenges such as racism and poverty (D, 2014). Violence in schools is an overarching problem that has social, political, economic and cultural implications which have to be contextualised therefore, De Wet cites researchers in the USA, Russia, Britain and South Africa finding that youth gang ‘membership has a profound negative influence on school and community safety. Furthermore, the violence in schools receive much attention in the news and this inflames the general view that South Africa is crime ridden and the fact that violence in schools accounts for more than a quarter of the international school-related news (Wet, 2016 May), it is important to note that gangsterism is just one segment of crime that is reported and sensationalised too. When reported in the news the school’s reputation is badly tarnished and it gives the deep impressions that teachers in the Western Cape for example are teaching in warlike situations. (Wet, 2016 May).

Gangsterism in schools is the focus of this review to illustrate how it affects the culture of teaching and learning. In perspective then, teachers within schools where gangsterism is rife are under immense stress to teach and at the same time offer the concrete reinforcement to the pupils that they can be successful however, it is the gang culture that dominates  role modelling. A critical point here on role modelling is illustrated by De Wet mentioning that a 15 year old boy said, ‘When I go to jail I want to go when I’m weak and I want to get strong in jail.’ (Wet, 2016 May) This striking revelation brings on the discussion to understand gangsterism in schools as part of a wider socio-economic culture and not as a phenomenon in the school alone. 

What is gangsterism?

The need to understand gangsterism is paramount to the aims and objectives of this essay because it is the cause of many societal evils which establish volatile situations that lead to the breakdown of family structure, good values, self-discipline and respect for law and order.

Gangsterism has been defined as an ‘anti-social way of life that pitches loyalty to the gang against loyalty to institutions of civilised society, such as the school, the family, the church and the justice system.’ (Reis, 2007). What is more striking is that gangs are highly patriarchal and therefore an expression of perverse masculinity which in many ways demean women and subjugate them. Furthermore (Standing, 2005) asserts that the disregard for women in gangs is celebrated through rape and exploitation for the sex industry and refers to the gang culture as a culture of the uneducated and unsophisticated. 

The international scenario is the same because gangsterism is a societal problem enmeshed with the political context of the country in question too. It is not isolated from the rest of the socio-economic apparatus of a country. Therefore, it is apt to consider (Cureton, 2010), an American researcher who studied the gangsterism; when he says (2010), Lost souls of society become hypnotized by gangsterism. In order to gain better insight about gangsterism perhaps there is a need to examine our life course for those experiences that equip us with the frame of reference that would allow comprehension of what it means to be identified and treated as statistical casualties of urban warfare. In order to understand South Central’s gang mentality attention should be directed towards the possibility that South Central (despite the name change to South, Los Angles) is still a community where black males engage in situational ethics governed by gangster politics, which yields organized confusion and depravity. Hence, the South Central black male experience is best described as an attempt to negotiate manhood in an environment with economic, resource and social stress factors that manifest as oppressive and overwhelming strains, which literally forces a hasty gravitation towards gangsterism.

From the above it becomes very clear that gangsterism is a society within a society and it enforces a kind of culture that pervades law and order because it appears to offer a better life as it gives an identity which is an awe of presence and dominance. Therefore, (Reis, 2007) is accurate to illustrate the fact that gang members may range from youngsters to adults between the ages of 20 and 40 years. Membership extends to persons within prisons too and operate also from within and outside prison which lends itself to been invincible in character and above the law in operations. This said, it is accurate to state that gangsterism can be perceived to be dangerous, unethical, ubiquitously frightening in its social context and therefore a very anti-law culture which threatens the fabric of a law-abiding community and society. Schools therefore, as a bastion of hope to change society though education becomes a target of gangsterism which leads to a perverted culture of violence within schools that further erodes the fabric of society.

How gangs are formed

The causes of gang violence in South Africa has been argued to be the result of Apartheid legislation because it was these laws that separated people. As a case in point, (Reis, 2007) cites Pinnock (1985:40) and Nott, Shapiro and Theron (1999:1) who argue that the apartheid legislation has greatly contributed to the growth of gangsterism in the so called coloured and urban communities. Furthermore, forced removals broke up communities, separated families and established a migrant type labour system which left the home vulnerable as both parents were now forced to travel far for work. In effect, the gangs began to form to fill the void of the extended family which was now broken down. The Group Areas Act was cause for this mayhem of family disruptions and the breakdown of culture. The consequences were that it increased poverty, which is a main reason for the formation of gangs. Gangsters share a thread of common conditions of deprivation which led them to become part of a society within a society that operate on their own rules in “their own unwritten codes of behaviour.” (Reis, 2007). 

In relation to the above aspects of social cohesion than emanates, the school going child is affected to such an extent that he/she believes that these negative social mores are the hallmarks of a normal society. The fact that is not, it would be in conflict with the social norms and values of the school therefore, having a direct impact on the culture of teaching and learning. 

Gangsterism in the Post-Apartheid context.

1994 saw the official end of Apartheid and consequently there was a change of laws and the end of the Group Areas Act as one example amongst many other oppressive legislations. However, there was a struggle to get all political parties united and cohesive to fight crime therefore, the gang activity evolved rapidly into organised crime syndicates that began to operate with more vigour and force. South Africa went into free trade agreements with other countries and their borders were open which resulted in more fertile transnational criminal environment (Reis, 2007). This opened the door to new criminal operators of the underworld that included the Russian and Chinese Mafia amongst others that eventually come up against the existing gangs in South Africa. 

The most striking result of post-apartheid gangsterism is that it fuelled the breakdown of the family in a very surprising way. We fully acknowledge the destructive nature of the migrant labour system during the Apartheid years but we have not yet understood the effects of the Black Economic Empowerment policy. This BEE policy is favouring black and coloured women as preferred candidates for many jobs leaving their men unemployed. According to (Reis, 2007), many men feel redundant and cannot fulfil their role as ‘breadwinners’. They then take out their frustrations by joining gangs and victimising women. The balance of society is compromised and therefore, the escalation of crime increases.

Post-Apartheid gangs operate with more flair for living the life of luxury which is more attractive and inviting than ever before. Therefore, gangs have become more influential and developed syndicated crime operations that relates to money laundering, creating loan schemes, providing resources for certain sections of communities and establishing a sense of community pride which makes them feel above the law because people would not report their crimes. Their operations have also included bribery and corruption of police, judges and lawyers. The result of this is that more and more young people are attracted to this so-called life of fast-capitalism that is remote from the current trend of the 21st century Industrial revolution that is governed by technological progress, invention, ingenuity, entrepreneurism, advanced social networking and social cohesion beyond the physical domain but also in the virtual domain through the myriad of social media. 

Consequences of gangsterism

The consequence of gangsterism are many fold. The one striking consequence of gangsterism is that it establishes a culture of violence that is very pervasive. This pervasive culture of violence as an example extends into schools which become violent too and the spiral becomes ever so wide. It is important that attention is given to what Kalie Barnes, Susette Brynard and Corene de Wet (Kalie Barnes, 2012) say about South African school because it illustrates the consequences of gangsterism. They state that according to the South African Institute for Race Relations, South African schools are viewed as the most dangerous in the world. If the problem is not addressed, it could influence the education and training of many learners negatively. 

It is worthy to note (Kinnes, 2018) when mention is made that the common factor of violence as a disruptor of communities and as extension of gang governance is a consequence of gangsterism keeping a grip over their territory/ies  and their business. This emphasises the point that gangs uses violence to pursue their aims and therefore, those that are affected by gangs also begin to arm themselves and fight back. Related to how gangsterism affects schools, Kinnes points out that school-going boys are recruited into the gang lifestyle through that subculture that is based on a game of stone-throwing. “Here youths form groups on the playground and throw stones at each other in a game. Often things escalate into conflict between the rival groups when individual members become injured and it is expected of fellow members or ‘brothers’ to avenge and retaliate. The conflict then spills over from the schoolyard into the streets where the established gangs watch and observe. The gangs will then identify potential recruits, and extend their protection over the youngsters in exchange for them joining the gangs. In this way, young boys are conditioned into internalising the gang values of loyalty towards the group, as well as the obligation to retaliate if any member of the one’s group is injured or disrespected by a rival group.” (Kinnes, 2018)

The above makes abundantly clear that the major consequence of gangsterism is the disruption of the family unit and to undo the respect for law and order in society. Therefore, to recruit more young members because there is strength in numbers becomes a major day-to-day goal. This makes society vulnerable to the subculture of gangs when they have encroached on higher authorities and have influenced them to support their ‘business’, for example, Colonel Johan Prinsloo who was charged with selling firearms to gang members in Cape Town. 

The fact that gangs need money too and have to defend their territory/ies they need a cash-flow. Their cash flow is made up through the sale of drugs as a major source of income. Unfortunately, children are most vulnerable to the scourge of drugs and gangs (Reis, 2007) points out that gangs use schools to operate their business. This has a knock-on effect as drug addiction breeds more horror and shocking societal evils that gives gangs and gangsterism more clout and influence. This is the subculture that schools have to combat, and it is not easy in communities like the Western Cape and Eastern Cape where gangsterism has attained such prominence that the police force find it difficult to fight effectively. 

In the preamble mention is made of fast capitalism and the consequence of gangsterism is also the illusion that it opens the doors to quick riches and a lavish style. On a broader scale it can be seen that the consumer culture the world over exacerbates the negative social norms including gangsterism as the media reports show the lavish lifestyle of gang leaders for example, Pablo Escobar  (Wikipedia, 2018) Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈpaβ̞lo eˈmiljo eskoˈβ̞aɾ ɣ̞aˈβ̞iɾja]; 1 December 1949 – 2 December 1993) was a Colombian drug lord and narcoterrorist. His cartel supplied an estimated 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the United States at the height of his career, turning over US$21.9 billion a year in personal income.[2][3] He was often called “The King of Cocaine” and was the wealthiest criminal in history, with an estimated known net worth of between US$25 and US$30 billion by the early 1990s (equivalent to between about $48.5 and $56 billion as of 2017),[4][5] making him one of the richest men in the world in his prime.[

Evidence points to the fact that his syndicate that stretched countries made use of gangs and therefore inspired a gangster subculture that conflicted with law, order, ethics, fairness, justice and respect.  

Gangsterism in South African Schools.

Gangsterism is (Madikizela-Madiya, 2014) the evolution of an urban identity determined along racial and economic lines. It includes the formation of groups with the aim of committing violence and crime, and to defend themselves physically against violence of other groups. The pathway to becoming a gang member has its own rites of passage and schools are breeding area for this. In the main there are three types gangs namely scavenger gangs, territorial gangs and corporate gangs. (Madikizela-Madiya, 2014). The one that has a stronger root in schools that extends to violence and consequently compromising the culture of teaching and learning is the scavenger gang. Scavenger gangs are described as gangs without a strategy. The similarity is that of a vulture who would eat carrion after the lion for example has hunted with precision. The crimes committed by scavenger gangs are not planned extensively and they do not involve themselves in long term turf wars. Their members are low achievers and school dropouts. The recruitment into scavenger gangs are easier because the context is such that the school is already plagued with violence. This situation is well poised for scavenger gang members to work themselves into territorial gangs which are well-organized and have many initiation rites and then towards corporate gangs which are highly structured and organised to run drug cartels amongst others too. Symbolisms and names are critical to the identity and status. In relation to the symbols of schooling education, gang symbols and rites of passage are in conflict therefore, the most dominating force will prevail in context. In light of the reality that schools are a social phenomenon, gangs emerge from within communities themselves especially where poverty and deprivation are common place. 

The above explicitly alludes to the ground forces that establish reasons in the hearts of the children to join gangs. The Portfolio Committee on Education (Education, 2002) corroborates Last (L, 2001) who contends that there are many reasons why young children choose to join a gang. In school setting learners who become easy recruits for gangsterism are those learners who are underachievers, poor learners, or have language difficulties see themselves as losers in the academic setting (Madikizela-Madiya, 2014). Maslov’s hierarchy of needs with self-actualisation as the top most fulfilment rests on the basis on physiological and the need to be loved becomes clear when studies show that young boys are lured into gangs because it provides a ‘family’ with whom that can spend more time (Madikizela-Madiya, 2014) reflects on the poor social fabric of the family unit in poverty stricken communities. Gangs therefore, become the home because they are promised fraternity and brotherhood.  (Harber, 2014)

The transition from childhood to adulthood is problematic for children that are challenged by poverty, destitution, discordant and dysfunctional families therefore, they are also made to feel accepted by and important in a society that is ruled by gang leaders (Barbarin OA, 2001). It is clear that gangs are a societal problem that is dynamic and cannot be viewed in isolation of the broader community. When children do join gangs they also suffer psychological trauma and encounter social alienation, resentment and suspicion from their families (Harber, 2014) and as a result the family distances itself from the child and vis-versa. 

How violence affects the culture of teaching and learning in South African Schools.

 “This new culture of learning can augment learning in nearly every facet of education and every stage of life. It is a core part of what we think of as ‘arc of life’ learning, which compromises the activities in our daily lives that keep us learning, growing, and exploring” (Weeks, 2012) What is suggested by the above is that the 21st century learner is vastly different because needs have rapidly evolved thus, educational practices that focus on the transfer of static knowledge cannot meet the demands of fourth industrial revolution. In this ‘knowledge economy’ (Weeks, 2012) students new more diversified skills for career pathways because if not fostered then they will be vulnerable to socio-economic problems that result as a consequence of the fourth industrial revolution. 

Violence therefore interrupts this culture of teaching and learning that attempts to enrich the skills potentials of students at all levels. It is imperative to state the following finding to illustrate how the culture of teaching and learning is affected by violence:

According to a conflict Resolution and Crime Prevention Practioner mentioned that some learners involved in gangs attended school every day, but not for educational purposes. 

“They come to school specifically work on teachers nerves to disrupt. There was an incident where a learner brought a firearm to school and wanted to shoot another. Educators must also take responsibility. They ought to take care of learners. But it is difficult because these learners demand to be respected by teachers and at the same time teachers want to be respected by their learners.” (Mabunda, 2014). This effects the learners’ ability with coping with curriculum and syllabus coverage because there is a tremendous difficulty in keeping a school systematically functional. 

The culture of teaching and learning is further exacerbated when police are called in to conduct searches and to contain violence in the schools. This disrupts the order of teaching and compromises the learning environment. The study by (Mabunda, 2014) reveals that gangsterism in the Western Cape for example is so far reaching that police have not been able to contain the situation furthermore, endangering the lives of innocent children and adversely affecting academic growth and the continuous effort made to improve the teaching and learning context. 

(Reis, 2007) makes the chilling account from local newspaper, Athlone News, on the Cape Flats dated from February to June 2006 more real and gripping in stating this in her study :

“…ongoing reports of gangsterism affecting schools…reports include the vandalism of schools, educators and learners robbed and, even more chilling, reports of learners killed in crossfire or learners belonging to gangs being killed by rival gangs. Peterson (2006:3) wrote the following excerpt as an example of gangsterism affecting schools:….Our windows are regularly broken by people throwing stones. We also have to fix the fencing as gang members in the area break it down so they can use our school as a quick getaway…bullets can easily go through our walls and in the past incidents that have occurred, luckily no one was hurt.”

The above illustrates that the culture of teaching and learning is severely challenged and marginalised because gangs rule the territory with violence and schools are gateway for establishing influence and to stem their authority. This generates a phobia and results in pupils staying away from schools or coming to school to show loyalty to their gang’s warfare and turf war failing which they can be victims outside the school by rival members.  

The Erosion of academic performance in schools

The erosion of academic performance in schools relates to the influence of violence on the school climate and the school’s culture. The imperative is that the morale of the educators are severely challenged and diminished as a result of violence and in this review, it will show that gangsterism has very negative influence on the morale of educators. Thus, the erosion of academic performance sets in. Educators are the bedrock of schools and play a vital role in education and therefore are also key role-players in the community. When teachers are faced with gangsterism hopelessness sets in because it is found that gangsterism affects the whole community – educators, learners and parents. It is a powerful yet destructive phenomenon and has a negative effect on the educator. (Reis, 2007)

The Seneca Cliff


It is interesting to cite Seneca, Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote to his friend 

Licilius noting that “growth is slow, but ruin is rapid”. This has become known as the Seneca 

effect. That is, systems may collapse when just one of the elements that compose them fails. 

That may lead to the failure of the elements that surround it. These, in turn, cause the failure 

of other elements of the system, and so it goes. The result is what we call an “avalanche” 

and, as Seneca said, “ruin is rapid”. It is a feature of the systems we call “networks”, which 

have undergone a very rapid development of studies in this regard. (Bardi, April 25, 2018)

When the symptoms of violence are not addressed effectively erosion sets in and the decline 

is gradual but, the fall to destruction is very fast. As Salim Vally pointed out that the 

violent atmosphere in schools reflects the broader society therefore, the school begins to 

erode as one of its major systems is adversely affected namely, teaching and learning. 

In effect, the academic performance begins to suffer. When there is an erosion of academic 

performance as a result of the violence in schools there establishes a sense of academic 

tension. (Kalie Barnes, 2012)

Citing Seneca’s cliff is to illustrate the problems of how an erosion of culture of learning is 

gradual but, the decline is very fast. In light of South Africa’s general education woes

it is clear that erosion is setting in and the effects of gangsterism as just one part in sectors of

South Africa adding to the problems that lead to decline. This means that we need to stem the 

tide. The way to stem the tide to understand of gangsterism affects the children because they 

are sandwiched between their own aspirations, that of their parents, teachers and; those 

enforced upon them by overwhelming negative socio-economic forces. 

How gangsterism affects the learners

The African proverb, ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’ is critical to note because it is 

the environment that shapes the child. When the ‘village’ is contaminated by violence and 

gangsterism for example, the influence will definitely shape the child’s worldview and that 

mindset becomes a way of life. When the focus is on the learner in the school having to 

combat gangsterism, it becomes clear that the problems extend beyond the classroom into

the homes of the learners and the communities in which they reside too.

 (Fleur A.Souverein, 2015) offers the term Life-Course Persistent Offender for children who 

show antisocial behaviour in more than one setting and are more likely to persist than those 

who show this behaviour only in one setting. This is contrasted with Adolescent-limited 

offender who would engage in antisocial behaviour during their adolescence but would desist 

from crime as they mature. The distinction between these two types of children is vital to 

understand how gangsterism affects them within the school. 

Impact of gang culture in schools

The impact of gang culture in schools amount to great frustration and immense tension that affects the psyche of the children. The nature of gangs is that it tends towards a lifestyle of violence and living dangerously but it is also a life that youngsters want to escape from because it impacts on their general well-being and affects their self-actualisation to cite Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is imperative to note that De Wet (Wet, 2016 May), cites the portrayal of violence in newspapers as doing a fair job and creating a greater awareness. De Wet uses the example of a student who says, “I want to be a normal child again and focus on my future or go to jail.” This is easier said than done because the impact of gangs on schools changes the day-to-day routine. If there is threat of gang violence school closures for the day becomes a reality however, (Wet, 2016 May) mentions that schools closures will inadvertently intensify gang violence: Learners told her that they r“…fear violence that would break out between rival gangs (at school and on the walk to school) if they are relocated to high schools in neighbouring Bishop Lavis.” Furthermore an article published on 26 July 2012, (Wet, 2016 May) reports that there were 30 stabbings attacks in the schools in the Western Cape during the first semester of 2012. This adds to schools becoming very unstable and it’s the main reason for the eventual decline in the school’s daily routine and readiness. This also makes the scenario of Seneca’s cliff more real. 

The impact of the gang culture extends to vandalism, violent protests at schools, burning of tyres, breaking of windows, doors and furniture. What is more disturbing is the that teachers were targeted and their cars were also vandalised. In light of this the teachers do not aspire to have extra-mural activities, involve the pupils in sport, take pupils on excursions and the likes because the fear is that there would be a violent disruption. 

(Wet, 2016 May) goes on to state that educators are also identified as victims and perpetrators of school violence which adds to the serious impact of gangs on the school’s culture creating a tense and hostile atmosphere where trust is compromised dramatically. 

The impact of gang culture in the schools is that absenteeism is very high and widespread on the Cape Flats therefore, therefore compromising the day-to-day order at the school where good attendance is not common. The school therefore, is not seen and perceived as safe. The following anecdote illustrates the point well: “The negative impact of gangsterism on teaching and learning is not only emotional (fear), but also physical, where a learner who was attacked with a panga found it ‘very difficult to write’ during the examination, and has subsequently left school.” (A, 2012)

The above indicates that the morale of the teachers and pupils are negatively affected. (Reis, 2007) describes morale as dynamic, therefore it is not considered as a permanent condition. Like a ‘roller coaster’, morale has its ‘peak and valleys’. This illustrates that teachers can be very ambitious and energetic about teaching on one day but can be demoralised instantly for life in a case where violence disrupts his/her life because it took place in the school. This can be a very alienating feeling and therefore can be very depressing too. 

What this shows is that the gang culture on the school affects the whole school and the surrounds as well. The effect of this is that the school is inundated with social problems which results in management having many meetings scheduled and unscheduled to deal with parents and their unruly children, gang-related incidents and associated issues. This takes management away from the administrative functions of the school which leads to a decline in focusing on the school as a centre of learning and rehabilitation (Reis, 2007). The impact of the gang culture of the school is therefore uncompromising and has to be acknowledged as an impediment to school growth towards refinement and excellence.

Loss of morale among teachers

Loss of morale among teachers is a major contributing factor to making a school dysfunctional when faced with gangsterism. Their frustration with gangsterism leads them down a spiral of work-related issues that become exaggerated and unmanageable.  The reasons for the lack of morale and or the loss of morale has been identified as the following:

  1. Gangsterism has escalated over the years
  2. First encounters for educators to gangsterism
  3. Female educators perceive themselves as being affected by gangsterism more than male educators
  4. Absenteeism of learners due to gangsterism
  5. Learners’ encounters with gangsterism
  6. Gangsterism affects educators’ workload  (Reis, 2007)

The above factors give credence to the fact that the teachers suffer a variety of anti-social problems that contribute and therefore, the emotional intelligence of the teacher is challenged to a threshold. The threshold frequency for each teacher is unique. The above is captivated in this striking situation that took place at a school where the teacher said, “Every time I look out my classroom window or door and I hear gunshots going off, I wonder who is going to be next to be shot at.” Mrs Cary expressed that she cannot get used to the gunshots and the sound of a gunshot causes here to ‘freeze’. Mr Desai indicated that his morale is mostly low because ‘at any time there can be a shooting.” (Reis, 2007)

The situation is further compromised when teachers have never lived in the same community where gang related activities are prevalent and therefore, experience such a culture shock that it demoralises them immensely. Their understanding of what teaching should do within a school is badly tainted and therefore, they also become disillusioned. (Reis, 2007) records Mr Baron who teaches in a school affected by gangsterism but stays in another community says, “My morale is low because I am not used to it (gangsterism). No human being can get used to it. When I drive out of here, I am in a hurry to get away from here.” Low morale therefore is not a physical condition but a deep-rooted psychological feeling that can lead to anxiety and depression. 

The greatest joy of a teacher is to enthusiastic and prepared to teach a class full of pupils regardless of their race, colour or creed but, it is depressing to be yanked into a situation where instead of being ready to teach, you have to save yourself from mortal danger. (Reis, 2007) illustrates the above by stating upon interviews with teachers that almost all teachers say there were ‘saddled’ with more than their teaching load and planning because they have to spend time listening to the learners’ problems and counselling them. One teacher in particular said, “…gangsterism is not all the time rife” ‘…however when gang warfare erupts her morale tends to be low then as a teacher’, “I feel very threatened, very scared and I’m speaking for myself now.” (Reis, 2007).

Resilient teachers

While there are many teachers who have become affected by violence and gangsterism in schools there are also those who are unaffected and therefore resilient. This phenomenon is unique in cases where teachers live or grew up in gang-ridden communities. The fact that they have seen violence and learnt the necessary life-skills to survive in these communities, they are do not lose morale. (Reis, 2007) records Mrs Elman stating that she was born and bred in a gang-ridden community and was always exposed to gangsterism. She continues saying that, “I’ve been living in the same type of community all my life so for me this does not doesn’t bring my morale down.” Furthermore, other respondents mentioned that they have become immune to gangsterism and therefore, their morale remains unaffected. Respondents also mention that they have become used to guns, the violence over the years and the gangsterism. 

The above shows that resilience has developed as a result of growing up in the face of violence and therefore, taking it as a norm. This is very worrying as it makes one feel that the immunity created is actually as screen that would in many cases numb the teacher to situations where he/she can be of help to the affected students. While this is a consideration but when contextualised, it is clear that it is a way of maintaining sanity and saving their own lives too. The following anecdote is chilling but it provides the impetus to how teachers have become resilient and still teach at the same school. (Reis, 2007) records the following: “According to Mr Farrel this incident occurred in 1997. I was amazed that an incident that occurred a decade ago still affects him in such a way that he is still unable to talk about it. …he said, ‘They stabbed me on my chest and on my back, the knife just missed my spine.’ The fact that Mr Farrel is still at the school indicates that he has the tenacity to continue to teach and would not give up. 

However, in all cases of resilience there are those who have resigned because they reached their threshold. It still proves that resilience is a personal trait of the teacher but, it is constantly challenged, and the boundaries are pushed all the time. 

Teachers with a boosted morale

The idiom, ‘Adversity is your best teacher’ is poignant when the teachers with a boosted morale are considered. The adverse conditions are seen as an impetus to make a difference or to make change even though its against all odds. (Reis, 2007) records Miss Elliot who said, “Because I am used to this (gangsterism) is not unusual for me when certain things (gang-related incidents) happen. I think it rather a boost that thing you spoke about your morale.” – translated from Afrikaans. Furthermore, Mrs De Monk was adamant saying that, “It (gangsterism) doesn’t affect me, it just makes me more determined and it actually pushes up my morale.” This encouraging phenomenon is not common place and therefore, it is a boost to the teachers in general that they can rise above their adversities especially in the context of the school. In relation to the above the interpersonal relationship between teachers and pupils cannot go unnoticed because the core of teaching is anchored on the teacher teaching the pupil.

Educator and learner relationship 

The relationship between the educator and the learner is an inextricable one. This means that it cannot be diminished in anyway. If diminished, there would be a breakdown of communication and values. The consequence of this would lead to severe problems that would affect the educator’s ability to teach effectively and the learner’s ability to learn. When this is contextualised with a gang-ridden school or a school infested by violence, it is clear that educators and learners have a strained relationship which is volatile and sometimes very unpredictable. 

In a case where the learner is a gang member and known to be so by the teacher, the teacher is already weary about how to deal with the learner because a comment or discussion can be taken out of context which can turn out violent. Turning out violent can mean that gang members can come to the school to ‘sort things out’. This is not an idle threat. (Reis, 2007) records in her interviews that learners who are gang members actually endanger the lives of other learners and can come into the school to seek out these learners thus, endangering the lives of the innocent. 

In the case where teachers have to discipline the pupils the reactions by the pupils are not encouraging in the least. Teachers related the following reactions from the learners:

  1. Learners threaten the educators
  2. Learners are disrespectful towards the educators
  3. Learners retaliate against educators
  4. Learners display an attitude of being untouchable
  5. Learners do not reciprocate educator’s efforts. (Reis, 2007)

What is very disconcerting is that learners are very disrespectful and use vulgarity to provoke the teachers. The reality of this situation is expressive of disrespect and insolence to rules and regulations. While the general milieu in South African school show clear signs of a lack of discipline, the situation in a gang-ridden school is even more disturbing bordering on chaos. This untenable situation only serves to erode the relationship between learner and educator. An incident that makes this very real is cited by (Reis, 2007) “Mr Bothma related that a learner ran home to fetch a gun to shoot an educator.” This disturbing incident point to a relationship that is dire and clearly marked as uncompromising. When such an uncompromising situation presents itself, it is very difficult to establish harmony, mutual respect and order. Furthermore, when the father of a child is released from prison and comes home after many years that strained relationship spills over into the school and complicates matters. The teacher in a sense is at odds with the whole situation and finds it difficult to reconcile the father’s lifestyle with that of child who is now in the school. It also becomes uncomfortable when issues of life-skills are discussed in class and dealing with the stigma of what society brands prisoners to be. However, the gang member who serves time in prison, upon release is considered differently in society with no stigma. In fact, it borders on a type of heroism that is either illustrated in a new tattoo or a new ‘station’ in the gang. This conflicting social status is at odds with the learner and educator relationship which is based on a social standing of respect for law and order. 

The relationship between the learner and the educator is definitely affected by the culture and ethos of the school in context. The context in question is that of violence underpinned by gangsterism which in itself establishes a very different nature to the relationship between the learner and the educator. (Weeks, 2012) points out that a culture of violence is critical in giving impetus to shaping the context of the school, to reinforce values, beliefs and ‘cultural determinants, which imply that violence is acceptable behaviour.’ In essence it is clear that violence disrupts the relationship between the learner and the educator beyond to fringes of hope as fear dominates the context of teaching and learning.

The impact of gangsterism on the relationship between the parent and the educator.

“Discipline should be viewed from an African perspective of a high regard for respect. That’s where it stems from. I believe education should produce kids who value their parents, value their past and then focus on what they intend to be, but without neglecting the roots where they come from.’ Mbongeni Mtshali, Principal, Velabahleke Secondary School, KwaZulu-Natal. (Blank, 2014) The message illustrated here is that respect is the crown to any relationship and that ‘values drives behaviour and behaviour drives results’. When respect is diminished and values distorted, the social fabric comes off at the seams. Teacher are ‘inloco-parentus’ meaning that teachers are the parents of the children in the school. However, in a gang-ridden school, the teachers’ relationship with the parents is troublesome.

Like drug addiction, parents also live in denial that their children are gang members. This strains the relationship between the educator and the parent. The parents would say that the school is out to victimise their child by having to say that they are gang members. However, the resilience of educators in highlighting the truth brings a ray of hope. Some educators, according to (Reis, 2007) state that they do experience positive relationships with parents regardless of the gang violence that inundates the school’s environment. What is more hopeful is that teachers who are familiar with parents and continue to build trust and respect give accounts of being able to discipline the child effectively. (Reis, 2007) records Mrs Felix saying that there are good parents that assist them with disciplining their children. The remarkable outcome of this is that it establishes respect, trust and good values. 

In an interesting interview (Reis, 2007) records Miss Elmie attributing the safety of their school to the gangsters’ children attending their school. Furthermore, it goes on to state that this particular school had no incidents of gangsters shooting on the their school premises. What strikes me about this is that it appears that the parents who are gangsters do not want their children to affected by violence and would not in great probability want their children to be gangsters because education is leveraged over everything. 

The fact that relationships between the parent and educator is not wholesome and stable in the main, it is important to note that this is not conducive to an effective culture of teaching and learning in the school/s.

The impact of a gang culture on the surrounding community and society.

“Some schools want to become so community-orientated that they forget that they must set the standard and the community must attend the standard that the school sets. In dysfunctional schools you’ll finds its vice versa. They become just like the community. The school is there to ensure that the community get uplifted and the way you do that is by educating their children properly.” Owen Bridgens, Principal, Mondale High School, Western Cape. (Blank, 2014)

The above underpins how schools reflect the community and how the community affects the schools but, how schools still have that window of opportunity to make meaningful changes to the community. However, gang organisations have a strong influence on the community and thereby making community members great sympathises and supporters of gangs.

Gangs employ welfare strategies to garner support and to win the hearts of the people by actually donating foodstuff and other resources to the vulnerable, the needy and poor in sections of the community. (Reis, 2007) mentions that an ‘old trick of winning support’ was to give food and basic necessities to those in dire need and this in the nature of things enhanced the stature of the gang positively and gave the gangs a sense of morale support. (Kinnes I. , From urban streets gangs to criminal empires: The changing face of gangs in the Western Cape, 2000) makes more astounding findings in stating this act welfare is a ‘stepping stone in gaining control of the community to the point where a gangster is able to commit crime without fear of being reported.” (Kinnes I. , From urban streets gangs to criminal empires: The changing face of gangs in the Western Cape, 2000)This makes them more fearless and thus, ‘gangs are regarded in their communities as citizens who are above the law.’ (Reis, 2007)

The situation is further exacerbated with teachers’ responses that the WCED’s (Western Cape Education Department) for example, lack of support in dealing with gang violence adds to their woes and fears. This shows also that the related school management structures outside the school 


About 500 000 students, mainly boys, do not complete the cycle of schooling from grades 1 to 12, with dire consequences for social stability. (Blank, 2014)

Clearly the staggering number of 500 000 is very disconcerting because it gives a grim picture of what the socio-economic implications are. In all likelihood, many would be unemployable therefore, making them vulnerable to crime, gangsterism and abuse. This clearly indicates that the violent atmosphere in schools reflects the broader ills of society. Schools as a macrocosm of societies can affect change but, when schools are compromised with violence and in particular gang-related violence, it leads to schools becoming dangerous environments where the culture of teaching and learning is hampered, and intellectual growth stunted. (Porteus, 1999) contend that, ‘…the habitual and frequent nature of violence in South African society and schools has induced a dangerous feeling of disempowerment amongst education actors.’ It becomes imperative for more intervention strategies to be established in schools such that learners and educators are given the concrete reinforcement that they are successful and that they have future worth living for.

The reference to Seneca’s Cliff (Wikipedia, 2018) is stated all because the signs of a complete breakdown in schools infested with gangs and violence are clear and if we don’t take heed and stem the tide, we would see the phenomena spread to the rest of South Africa laying the seeds of social disruption. While we have the political will to establish change, the issues in all gang-infested schools must become a concern for all South Africans because it is clear that gang-related factors have a tremendous negative influence on the morale of teachers thus affecting the culture of teaching and learning. Furthermore, the review makes it abundantly clear that there has to be more intervention strategies from the Ministry of Education that must be followed through with good implementation, evaluated and studied.  

The culture of teaching and learning is not isolated from the socio-economic factors of a community therefore, schools must be protected and prioritised as beacons of hope because schools have the capacity to introduce change ethically, morally and spiritually. 

‘Teaching in gang-ridden communities is a daunting task and… teachers are expected to accomplish the same educational outcomes as their counterparts who are not plagued by this phenomenon.’ (Reis, 2007) is sound evidence to show that the culture of teaching and learning is severely marginalised because teachers are deeply challenged and therefore, cannot be effective in a holistic way with the learner nor can they as a unit, improve the ethos of the school. 

It is imperative to note that this review has made findings that gangsterism affects the culture of learning and teaching very severely and that educators suffer dramatically because they are not equipped to deal with the huge matter effectively. They lack support and have low morale which exacerbates violence and the will to be agents of change. Therefore, it is very important to look at how fast-capitalism can be used to inspire entrepreneurism such that young people can become owners of small businesses and or agents in start-up companies.


Establishing a rehabilitative environment in schools

 “More disturbing is that dysfunctional schools are unable to socialise young people into attitudes of mind required for citizenship in a democracy…school leavers are easy prey to a life of crime, poverty, corruption and inefficiency.” (Harper, 2012)

“When they come here, they find love. When they come here, they find a home. These teachers are just not teaching them about what is in the books, but they also teach them about life. They build them.” Snegugu Khumalo, former learner, Mpumelelo Secondary School, KawaZulu-Natal. (Blank, 2014)

The above quotations, when juxtaposed shows how order, respect, care and compassion when compromised can damage the fabric of society but; when enhanced it establishes hope in the hearts of people to want to change the world. This means that the current school system of governance should be studied and contextualised. 

When the governance of the school is studied together with a whole school evaluation, it must be mandatory that a safe and peaceful environment be established to improve the environment so that the teachers’ morale can be enhanced. In doing so, teachers will be given the concrete reinforcement that something substantial is done to improve the situation so that job satisfaction is nurtured and seen as a core aspect in their contractual obligation to the schools as servants of the state. This will revive the vocational drive within teachers who are in the profession because they truly believe in making a difference to the world. 

Teachers must be given the right training in the schools where gang violence is prevalent so that they can understand the culture of violence in relation to the broader community. Therefore, (Reis, 2007) is correct to recommend that training programmes should be introduced in gang-ridden communities such as entrepreneurial skills to unemployed people. This will make people independent and would limit them joining a gang because they have sense ownership and control of their own life. This would lead to people have a better sense of loyalty to schools and thereby become the guardians of the school from gangs and violence.

The Department of Education should provide a platform for teachers to share their problems and voice their concerns with the genuine understanding that something will be done to remedy the situation. This should not be done once a year but on a termly basis. There should also be a different set of goals and targets set for schools in these communities because it will a breed a sense of collective engagement to save the life of each child from the horrors of gang violence and a life messed up with drugs and related crimes too. I do agree with (Reis, 2007) that a committee from the Education Department can be established to investigate the concerns and work out possible solutions that have the potential to be effective. One such way is to reduce the educator-to-learner ratio.

Umalusi, the accreditation body for schools, should also play a more meaningful role in making inroads in such schools to muster support through various structures related to education to assist in making the schools safe havens and institutions of excellence where the culture of teaching and learning is protected. 

The School Management Team should also be more hands on in setting up workshops and in-service training for teachers affected by gang violence. These meetings should then be rolled out in a very strategic way to parents as well so that a collective engagement can be established.

(Reyneke, 2011) postulates that youth violence, crimes committed by young people, antisocial behaviour in schools coupled with the decline in appreciating acceptable values are actually a world-wide phenomenon. Therefore, she encourages the system of restorative justice which is unlike traditional measures such as corporal punishment and a system of merits and demerits including detention. In essence the process is slow, thorough and very time consuming but very positive in results because it aims to restore dignity and ownership of action with a view of making concrete change for the better. It creates opportunities for students to become aware of the impact of their behaviour. It also makes them understand the obligation to take responsibility for their action and to take steps towards making things right. This should be drive of the SMT to establish in the school in the long term.

The imperative then for all stakeholders is to make the National School Safety Framework (NSSF) a reality in schools. This means a very holistic approach with effective policy to pave the way for safer schools. The fact that schools should be safe places for teaching and learning, free of violence and criminal activity (Leoschut, December 2016) points to fact that schools must play a transformative role in context and therefore, should address the issues relating to violence. It is important then to seriously take the NSSF as a ‘toolkit’ (Leoschut, December 2016) that can be used to establish a meaningful approach to making schools safer with a framework in place that is not all talk no action. 

Finally, it is the huge responsibility of the nation as a whole to address how we communicate our understanding of violence even though it has a legacy to the Apartheid past. It is so aptly stated by Hugo van der Merve when he says that in analysing how the persistence of violence can be understood as standing issue of the Apartheid past it will foster ‘spaces for more constructive engagement with those who resort to violence in the face of the society’s failure to provide effective channels for more constructive communication.’ 

Works Cited

A, N. (2012, August 1). In Khayelitsha it’s so easy to join a gang, but to very tough to get out. Cape Town : The Cape Times.

B.M Zulu, G. U. (2004). Vioelnce as an impediment to a culture of teaching and learning in some South African Schools. South African Journal of Education, 170 – 175.

Barbarin OA, R. L. (2001). Economic status, community danger and psychological problems among South African Youth. Childhood, 115-33.

Bardi, U. ( April 25, 2018, April 25). Retrieved from thesenecatrap:

Blank, J. J. (2014). How to Fix South Africa’s Schools. Lessons from Schools that work. Johannesburg: Bookstorm.

Check, A. (2017). africacheck. Retrieved from

Cureton, S. R. (2010). Lost souls of society become hypnotized by gangsterism. Journal of gang research, 18(1), 39-52.

D, T. M. (2014). Schools as enabling environments. South African Journal of Education, 1-6.

Education, P. C. (2002). Retrieved from

Fleur A.Souverein, C. L. (2015). Serious, Violent Young Offenders in South Africa: Are they Life-Course Persistent Offenders? Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1-19.

Harber, V. M. (2014). Violence in South African Schools: What is external and what is Internal to Schools. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 342-331.

Harper, V. M. (2012). The Dynamics of Violence in South African schools: Report. Pretoria: UNISA.

Kalie Barnes, S. B. (2012). The influence of culture and school climate on violence in schools of the Eastern Cape Province. South African Journal of Education, 69-82.

Kinnes, I. (1995). The Struggle for the hearts, minds and streets of the Cape Flats. IDASA.

Kinnes, I. (2000). From urban streets gangs to criminal empires: The changing face of gangs in the Western Cape. Institute of Security Studies. Pretoria.

Kinnes, T. P. (2018). New social bandits? A comparative analysis of gangsterism in the Western and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 1-18.

L, L. (2001). Retrieved from allpsych:

Leoschut, G. M. (December 2016). The National School Safety Framework: A Framework for preventing violence in South African School. African Safety Promotion, 18-23 Vol 14.No.2.

Mabunda, M. C. (2014). Gangsterism: Internal and External factors Associated with School Violence in Selected Western Cape High Schools. J Sociology Antholgy, 61 – 70 Vol 5(1).

Madikizela-Madiya, V. M. (2014). Gangsterism as a cause of Violence in South African Schools: The case of six Provinces. J Sociology Soc Anthology 5(1), 43-50.

Merve, H. v. (1987). Violence as a form of communication: Making sense of violence in South Africa. South Africa: Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

Porteus, S. V. (1999). Violence in South African Schools. Current Issues in Comparative Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, 80-90.

Reis, K. M. (2007, December). The Influence of Gangsterism on the morale of educators on the Cape Flats, Western Cape. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Technology – Cape Peninsula.

Reyneke, M. (2011). The Right to Dignity and Restorative Justice in School. P.E.R, 129-217.

Standing, A. (2005, JULY 30). The threat of gangs and anti-gangs policy: policy discussion paper. Retrieved from

Weeks, F. H. (2012). The quest for a culture of learning: a South African schools perspective. South African Journal of Education, 1 – 14 Vol 32.

Wet, C. d. (2016 May). The Cape Time’s portrayal of school violence. South African Journal of Education, Volume 36, 1 – 12.

Wikipedia. (2018, September 2). Retrieved from wikipedia:


80 thoughts on “How gangsterism affects the culture of learning and teaching in SA Schools.”

  1. Assalaam Alaykum Mr. Sujee. Here are my comments
    1. Paragraphing: You seemed to have too many lines to make one sentence. Eg. On pleamble, there are only 2 sentences which are too long for the reader to grasp the central point, of which in Research is highly emphasized to be precise, clear and to the point.
    2. The use of initials like i.e,e.g and e.t.c. In Research the use of initials is highly NOT RECOMMENDED.

    3.Citation within the work.When we use same author and book,we normally use (Opcit) for same book and (ibid) for same page.
    Also at the time we start mentioning the author,we unblacket them, and blanket them at the end of our citation.e.g …..Sujee(2020) on Gangerism pointed out that………………(Sujee.A, 2020).
    4 The flow of ideas.on my view when I read your article,I find sometimes i go forward and later come back.For your case maybe I would advise to have this flow: Pleamble, Introduction, Rationale,Theoretical review, Methodology, results, discussionconclusion and recommedations.

    5.Aim or Objectives sometimes are used exchangiably.However,in most cases in Research we use Broad or Mian objective(s) and latter specific Objectives which intends to answer main objective

    Otherwise, your paper is so valuable. Ma Shaa Allah. Jazakallah khair.
    Fredy Lyimo
    Dar es Salaam

    1. Thank you so much for the input. The formatting on WORDPRESS is sometimes very awkward. The actual article in MS Word had the formatting of citations on par with the standards you so correctly brought out. The remarks on the Preamble – thank you. I will work it. In everything else you have said, I really appreciate the comment. Your comments are so valuable to me. Allah (swt) put you in my path to learn and I am so grateful.
      Abdullah Sujee

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