“One two three four, left two three four, turn to three four, salute two three four…!”
The Indoor Sport Centre in Joza was a slightly chaotic, very noisy parade ground for a few hours last Saturday as March and Drill trainers from Motherwell Police Station put around 200 Makhanda schoolchildren through their paces.
The March and Drill initiative is a collaboration by the Eastern Cape Education department, South African Police Service (SAPS) and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and was launched in 2012 as part of the School Safety Programme.
Here in Makhanda, it took a little longer to get off the ground, with the handover of sets of marching drums to six local schools in May 2018.
They were selected for a pilot programme linked with the schools’ physical education and life orientation curricula that aims to bring discipline and positive values to the schools. Forty boys and girls in grades 7-11 at Amasango, George Dickerson, Nyaluza, Mary Waters, DD Siwisa and Fikizolo were the programme’s pioneers.
Warrant Officer Hermanuel Strydom and Sergeant Wayne Viviers from the Motherwell Police Station are old hands at getting children on to the streets… to march.
“We started off way back in 2008 at [Motherwell school] Melisizwe Public Primary with what we called the ‘March and Drill Scouts’,” Viviers told Grocott’s Mail. “We noticed there were kids with nothing to do and no one to go home to after school, so we started it as a way to get them off the streets.”
That happened, said Viviers. But so did something else: “The principal told us that he started seeing those kids marks improve.
“The discipline rubs off,” Viviers said. “The kids learn to concentrate better and that helps their school work. It’s something we pick up again and again – the kids coming at the top of the class are the kids doing march and drill.”
While academic studies don’t form part of the programme, Viviers and Strydom make sure the learners in the programme know their school results matter.
“On report day at the end of each term, they must bring their reports so we can all look at them and discuss their marks.”
It soon caught on and by 2012, there were 15 Motherwell schools in programme.
“Now there are 60 schools across the whole of the PE area,” Viviers said. “Now all the kids want to go to that school that has a good squad.”
The Department of Education’s School Safety Co-ordinator for the District, Ntomboxolo Ntanga, said here in Makhanda, the SANDF would also help with the programme.
“It teaches the learners discipline, focus and respect,” she said. While grades 7 to 11 currently participate, Ntanga said they were hoping to also introduce the programme to younger children, from grades R to 7.
Captain Albert Dyani from Social Crime Prevention in the SAPS Grahamstown Cluster Office was also positive about the value of the programme.
“This is something that can help fight crime at schools,” he said.