The Sunday Mail
The rise of street gangs for hire in Chitungwiza, and the readiness of some teenage schoolboys in the town to resort to extreme violence themselves, or hiring one of these gangs to make the assaults, needs urgent action.
Already in the past fortnight, two boys have been killed and at least three severely assaulted. Everyone needs to figure out ways to protect the children, sometimes from each other and from adults in the more violent gangs that are brought in.
This requires a whole new level of community policing, action by parents, schools, churches, community leaders and others (just about every respectable adult), the majority, in Chitungwiza. We cannot have more funerals and injuries.
The three assaults, two fatal, that newspapers have recorded in the past fortnight appear to involve aggrieved teenagers taking the law into their own hands.
We have two boys in a dispute at school. This happens and despite the modern pressures to prevent fistfights, it ends up sometimes in a push and punching match. But with these two boys, who came from different schools, one picked up rocks to throw and the other boy, not wanting to be the target, then pulled out a knife and stabbed his would-be assailant, who died in hospital after a few days.
The police are investigating, and perhaps the courts will have to rule whether or not this was self defence.
However, a large body of court cases has explored the issue of self-defence over the decades and generally the action has to be appropriate in the circumstances and that violence should always be the last resort.
Regardless of what rulings are eventually made, in this case we still have a dead teenager and another with a death on his conscience.
The second fatality is less comprehensively reported, but involved a dispute between two boys at a sporting event and another stabbing, with the stabbed boy dying a few days later in hospital. Again, the violence appears to be in an adult-rich environment where the dispute could have been suppressed.
In many ways, the third report of assaults is the most worrying, since there was premeditation and had an adult gang assault three boys. Details again are sketchy, but appear to involve three prefects taking action over a cellphone. Everyone who has been through high school and who has come under disciplinary action from prefects over things like carrying a cellphone or the like, can work out the probabilities of what happened. Few teenagers enjoy being under the disciplinary authority of prefects, but live with it, and if there is some serious miscarriage of justice, will seek the aid of a sympathetic teacher if they are reluctant to see the deputy head, who normally handles discipline, or the head, who is the final court of appeal.
But to go out and hire a gang to do the dirty work is way out of line. People who do that are as guilty as those who do the actual assaults. In this case the three boys were grabbed from the side of the road and their kidnappers were blocked by a routine road block. They did a U-turn, beat the three up and dumped them.
Parents rightly point out that it appears that if the kidnappers had managed to reach a more secluded area the assaults could have been far worse.
Adding to the many problems, are reports that there are gangs of young men in Chitungwiza, whose members often abuse both alcohol and illegal drugs, and who prey on the residents of the town, including schoolchildren. Some even dress up as slightly overage schoolboys and attend sport and other public events where they prey on pupils unnoticed.
This is why the problems become everyone’s problem.
Schools can take some action, such as checking out those who come to these events and making it clear that carrying weapons in and around the school is forbidden.
Perhaps we have not reached the stage in some American cities where schoolchildren have to pass through metal detectors, but we can at least make it clear that some things are real rules that cannot be broken.
If children know another child is armed with a knife, they should tell the school authorities, and the rest of the school should understand that this is not one of minor things like telling on someone they see smoking round the corner.
Parents need to become more involved. Already parents of smaller children now escort their children back and forth, and while it seems daft to have to escort large teenage boys, perhaps some community patrols would help. But what is also needed is for members of the public willing to become involved, and if they see a bunch of adults bundling schoolchildren into a car or kombi to tell the nearest police officer.