RP Maphanzela Primary School recently experienced two tragedies. A Grade 2 learner, together with a friend from neighbouring school, Ntokozo Primary School, went missing and their bodies were found in an open field, allegedly murdered. At the same time a Grade 1 educator, Ms Ndumi (aged 28), died from an illness. The neighbourhood also has many other factors impacting daily lived experiences, including service delivery protests, xenophobic attacks, violence and a history of uprisings. All of these issues greatly impact the lives of the learners.
Lefika La Phodiso has a long-term relationship with the school and when we heard about the tragedies, we decided we wanted to get involved with the aim of providing a safe space for them to express their feelings.
Lefika La Phodiso’s relationship with RP Maphanzela Primary School started in 2004 with the initiation of an educator support group involving teachers from five primary schools in Thokoza. We were re- introduced to the school and principal through one of our trained Community Art Counsellors, who was working on other projects with the school. In 2017 we established an art counselling group for learners in conjunction with their after-school programme (aftercare), as well as a monthly educator support group. In 2018 we continued the art counselling group for Grade 4-7 learners in the after-school programme, this time including learners from surrounding schools.
Our intervention was run by a team of 15 Community Art Counsellors pro bono as there was no funding available. We decided, along with the principal, Mr Arthur Mashele, to focus on the 28 learners in Grade 2 who were classmates of the deceased child. We also offered a support group for the colleagues and friends of the educator who passed away. Our team was joined by a drama therapy intern from Drama For Life at Wits University, who assisted with individual trauma counselling.
Community Art Counsellor, Ziyanda Magadla, explained that she felt “very unsettled with the details they had about this and I wondered how they would cope going forward, knowing that they always pass where their friend was killed”. There is clearly a need for ongoing support and Ntombi Sangweni said “We need more, on-going sessions and to create a safe space for the children to talk about issues that affect them in the community”.