Pupil afraid to return to school after fight

Donette Ngonefi and her mother, Thethe Ngonefi at Karl Bremer Hospital in September.

Education MEC Debra Schaefer has agreed to find another school for a Congolese pupil who was the victim of an attack – allegedly xenophobic – at Salt River High.

Ms Schaefer met with Donette Ngonefi, the pupil’s parents and school staff when she visited Salt River High late last month with a Democratic Republic of Congo diplomat .

Western Cape Education Department spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the department would try to find Donette, 20, a place in a school closer to her home in Parow.

The attack on the Grade 10 pupil, on August 27, landed her in hospital. Cellphone video shows a classroom row turn physical and Donette is assaulted and forced to the floor by several pupils, while a woman, believed to be the teacher, is seen apparently trying to break up the fight.

According to Donette, the attack happened in front of the teacher.

“My head was bumped against the board, and I fell down on the floor; boys and girls were kicking my tummy. I was protecting my head and face,” she said in an interview at her Parow home.

Donette spent the night in Groote Schuur Hospital after the attack. She was discharged the next day, but, after suffering intense headaches and abdominal pains, was admitted to Karl Bremer Hospital on Friday September 13. She was discharged on Wednesday September 18.

Since the incident Donette does not want to return to the school.

Her sister, Tabitha, and brother, Bonheur, who are in Grade 9 and Grade 8, initially stayed home after the attack on their sister but they have since returned to the school.

Donette said pupils had been bullying her since she was made class monitor at the beginning of the year.

“As a class monitor, we check whether pupils bunk and check their attendance and must report bunking and bullying to the teacher.

“The kids in my class did not want me to be a class monitor. Every time they tell me I am a foreigner and can’t be a class monitor in their country.”

Donette said she had told her class teacher as well as the school’s acting principal, Fairuz Patel, three times that she did not want to be class monitor. She had been told the matter would be “handled” but it had not been, she said. Ms Patel has declined to comment.

Ms Hammond said an investigation into the incident had been completed at the end of last term.

“An independent organisation was also brought in to advise on conflict-management strategies and a restorative process,” she said.

“Given the evidence at hand, as well as the various engagements which have produced restorative and positive interaction, the school will not be taking disciplinary action,” she said.

The WCED would continue to engage with all the pupils concerned and build a positive school community, she said.

Warrant Officer Hilton Malila from Woodstock police said Donette’s parents and the parents of another girl in her class had laid charges against each other’s daughters, but the state prosecutor had declined to prosecute.

Papy Sukami, a leader of the local Congolese community, criticised the way the school handled the situation and said it had taken the police seven days to issue the family with a case number.

“We are going to stand up for Donette because our children as foreigners should be respected and secured by the South African law.”

Donette’s mother, Thethe Ngonefi, told the Tatler that the family had left the DRC to get a better education for their children. They were disappointed in South Africa.

“What happened to my daughter is affecting my whole family; we do not feel safe anymore,” she said.