Mental health state of teachers under spotlight

Wyebank Primary School where a teacher was hijacked at gunpoint. Picture: Supplied

Wyebank Primary School where a teacher was hijacked at gunpoint. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 9, 2024



Durban — The mental health state of teachers who are victims of crimes while on school premises has been brought under the spotlight following a recent car hijacking at Wyebank Primary School in Durban.

Most teachers said that they were traumatised by the incident.

School principal Rashid Salot said as they (teachers and pupils) were arriving at school, one of the teachers was followed into the school parking lot by a vehicle with armed men.

The men got out of their vehicle, held the educator at gunpoint as she got out of her white Toyota Scarlet, then took her vehicle and fled, he said.

The teacher was not harmed, but in her car were all her teaching files and valuables.

“So, it was quite traumatic, not just for her but for the rest of the staff because it happened at a busy time when all of us were coming in. Even the children had seen what had happened.”

Deputy principal Khanyisile Ntuli who arrived at school after the incident said she was traumatised and her body was shaking the whole day after hearing how it all happened.

“I’m on (Calmettes tablets) I took two ... because I was not coping at all. I did not even want to come to work...”

KZN Education spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said they have alerted the district regarding the school’s request for psychological services and expected a response on Monday.

“As education alone, we cannot deal with the issue of security because it hits us like it hits communities. We are within the community; our institutions are within the communities.”

Thirona Moodley, the chief executive of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), said security measures should be taken more seriously.

“Teachers who feel threatened and fearful will never perform their best in class and this will impact on service delivery. No one can work in a fearful environment.”

Ward 19 councillor S D Hlongwa expressed shock at the incident, saying he would provide support to the school. “... when meeting again, as the Wyebank forum, we will discuss a way forward.”

KZN police spokesperson Colonel Robert Netshiunda said Pinetown SAPS are investigating a case of car hijacking following an incident in which a 58-year-old woman was allegedly hijacked.

Counselling psychologist Tholinhlanhla Dlamini-Ngcoya said, “It is very important for the school to get some sort of debriefing counselling for the kids who actually saw it (the hijacking) and the teachers who were exposed to it.

“They should find out where they are (mentally) and must normalise that this is the country we are in and such things happen.

“They must look at the positive that came out of it; it could have been worse but they did not kill anyone, they did not shoot, they took the car and a car can be replaced, without undermining how they feel.

“Normalise that they are triggered and scared which is something that is expected since it was a traumatic event.”

Anolene Thangavelu Pillay, a psychology adviser said unresolved trauma has significant health implications. Individuals who experience unresolved trauma are at a higher risk of mental health diagnoses, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Cardiovascular problems can manifest physically through high blood pressure, stroke, or heart attacks.

“The most effective way to deal with yourself is to keep a journal and record your responses to the trauma daily until the trauma is fully relieved.

“By the end of the process, you should have a comprehensive account of the tragedy. In doing so, you will be able to move forward from the trauma,” Pillay said.

There has been a spike in robbery incidents at schools, prompting unions to demand that the Education Department increase the budget for school safety.

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