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Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at a Learner Dialogue on Constitutional Education, held at the Indaleni Skills Development Centre, Indaleni, Richmond, KwaZulu-Natal, 11 October 2019

Programme Director,
Mayor of Richmond Municipality, Cllr Mkhize,
Educators, principals and learners of the participating schools,
Representatives from the various stakeholders
Ladies and gentlemen, friends

Good morning to you all. This is my home province and also where my constituency is, so it’s always a pleasure to be here. I want to acknowledge the following stakeholders who are part of today’s dialogue:

We are here today to tell you a little bit more about our Constitution.
So why should you care about the Constitution? The Bill of Rights talks about “everyone” – there are only 4 sections which are restricted to “citizens”.
So this means everyone in South Africa is entitled to the protection and guarantee of their human rights as set out in our Constitution. It applies to all ages – not just adults. So, even as a child or a teenager, you have rights and those rights need to be respected.

In fact, everyone under the age of 18 actually has special rights – rights that adults don’t have. It’s important that people respect your rights. And with those rights come responsibilities. So, equally important, you are also expected to respect others and their rights and to be a law-abiding member of society. Knowing a bit about our Constitution means that if you don’t think you are being treated fairly, or don’t like the way a situation is making you feel, you may be able to do something about it. By knowing your rights, you’ll know when someone is breaching or violating them. You will also be able to stand up and speak out when you see the rights of others being infringed.

Our Constitution lists the rights and responsibilities that all the people in South Africa have and are entitled to. 
It is a very powerful document as it is the highest law of the land and everyone needs to follow its laws; even the President, members of Parliament, your parents and your teachers.

It affects you, your friends, your family, and everyone else in South Africa on a daily basis. If you think that your rights, or the rights of someone in your family, or a friend of yours, aren’t being respected there are a number of things you can do. We recently launched a website, called “KeepItConstitutional” (you will find it at www.keepitconstitutional.co.za) where there are contact details of organisations in South Africa that help people to protect their rights. So the Constitution is a powerful document, and knowing a little bit about the Constitution gives you power. Power to take charge of how you’re treated in the world and also how you treat others.

But we are also here today for another reason. We were approached by the Richmond Youth Council because of some of the challenges that affect learners in schools in the area – challenges like bullying, which can often result in physical fights and violence, gangsterism and the abuse of alcohol and other substances in schools.

An article that appeared in the SA Journal of Education in August 2016 states that in South Africa, substance abuse rates are on the increase. The social, emotional and financial costs of this are high.

Learner drug use is becoming a significant problem, with a fifth of school learners having tried a drug by the time they finish primary school. On average, first-time drug use in South Africa occurs at the age of 12 years.

Drugs and substance abuse can ruin your future – it will affect everything you do and the choices you make. It can make you violent and aggressive, it will affect your school results, your health, your relationships and those around you. And once you are addicted it is much harder to stop.
So don’t be embarrassed to say no – even if it’s given to you by a friend or someone you know.

Educators also have an important role to play, because often they are the ones who see the negative behaviour related to drug use and may be in a position to encourage learners to get help. Representatives from NICRO are here today to give you more information on how and where to seek help and then there is also the Department of Social Development’s Substance Abuse Line 24hr helpline which you can call on 0800 12 13 14 or send an SMS to 32312.

The safety and wellbeing of our learners in our schools are vital. Some of you would have seen that last month the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal launched the schools safety programme, which led by the MEC for Education, Mr Mshengu. As part of the schools safety plan launched, 3000 newly appointed Schools Safety Volunteers will be deployed at various schools throughout the province and the Schools Safety Committees will be established.
The volunteers compliment the 2976 security officers who are already deployed at various schools throughout the province. The schools will also be provided with perimeter security fencing which has entry and exit gates.  This plan can be very successful if our communities, businesses, and religious and traditional communities all work together with schools and see where they can actively help schools.Yesterday, the 10th of October, was World Mental Health Day.  We don’t talk about mental health enough – and it’s something we should be able to talk about.

Last year, Rebone Tau, formerly of the ANCYL, wrote an article and said -
“South Africa’s young people face many problems, some of which lead to substance abuse. One of the biggest challenges facing youth is depression, a medical problem not discussed enough in our communities.
This is in part because it is regarded as a white people’s sickness. Depression does not have colour, however. In our communities, young people have taken their own lives, believing this is their only way out. It is a tragic outcome where they are afraid to ask for help, fearing they would be perceived as weak.
Depression has many triggers. At times, it’s the situation at home, work, school or in one’s love life. A depressed person can put a smile and a brave face if they want to be perceived as having a strong character. However, some start drinking too much or using drugs to ease the pain, and some withdraw from the outside world. They may lock themselves in their houses, wanting to be alone. Some resort to self-harm. At times, depression leads to suicide, ….”

I think bullying is a very real problem in our schools, especially bullying on social media - or cyberbullying as it’s called.
Earlier this year a 13-year-old girl from Pretoria committed suicide allegedly after a photograph was sent around her school via WhatsApp.
It is alleged that other learners teased the girl about the image. The girl had been traumatised and had asked her teachers for help. She was afraid to go to school and her mother met with the principal on the Monday morning, but later that morning she found her daughter’s body at home.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) says that South Africa has a cyberbullying rate of 24% which places it at number four in the world and that social media is partly to blame by making it easier for bullies to hide behind avatars and thrive by harassing others.  
They write that in South Africa, there is a 9.5% suicide rate among teens, with 60% of all suicides following from depression. Suicide risk factors among our young people include mental illness, especially depression, conduct disorder, alcohol and drug abuse, previous suicide attempts and the availability of firearms in the home.

They stress that it’s important to listen to people. When someone says things like: “There is no point in living any more” or “I don't want to go on any more”, take them seriously, speak to them and tell an adult immediately.
According to Childline, bullying can take many forms, like people calling you names; making things up to get you into trouble; hitting, pushing and shoving; taking things away from you; damaging your belongings; stealing your money; taking your friends away from you; spreading rumours, and threats and intimidation.

If you are being bullied, or if you know of someone else being bullied, tell someone. Speak to a friend, a parent, a brother or sister, uncle or aunt, or your teacher. You can also call Childline toll-free on 08000 55 555.

I want to close by telling you about a 15-year-old high school pupil from Makhanda, who was bullied in primary school. Khazimla Titi, now a Grade 9 pupil in Ginsberg, wrote a book about her experiences of being bullied and launched her book in April this year. Her book was published with the assistance of the Eastern Cape Premier.

In the book, Khazimla tells how a person she thought was a friend tormented her at school and caused her to have sleepless nights. She writes:
“School became an emotional prison. I could not sleep, I would cry all the time. She would call me names and told me to do things I did not want to do. … One time she stole my calculator from me just before an exam and it was only by God’s grace that I was able to complete the exam and pass with a higher result. She also started a WhatsApp chat group where she would post pictures of me and ridicule me on the group.”

Khazimla describes the bullying, which went on for three years, as a moment that gave her the strength to encourage other young people in her position to hold on and not give up. I will ask my constituency office and to try and get a copy of the book and keep a copy there for learners to read.

All of us are in a position to do something to stop bullying in our schools. I want to leave you with a few lines from a poem about bullying called “I am”:

“I am the person you bullied at school,
I am the person who didn’t know how to be cool,

I am the person who sat on her own,
I am the person who walked home alone,

I am the person you scared every day,
I am the person who had nothing to say.

I am the person who has feelings too,
And I was a person, just like you.”

Thank you.