School should be a safe haven for children, allowing them to learn, grow, and achieve developmental milestones in a calm, peaceful and fun environment, and in some cases form lifelong friendships.
However, this is not the case for many learners across South Africa, who face bullying at the hands of their peers, and at times, even educators. This leaves them terrified at the thought of going to their respective institutions every day. The same holds true for many educators who also often bear the brunt of abuse from their learners.
According to a Stats SA report from 2021, approximately 1-million pupils nationwide experienced violence, corporal punishment, or verbal abuse at school. The report further revealed that a staggering 71% of these children were between the ages of eight and 10, placing them at primary school level.
For this reason, the My Safe Space initiative, spearheaded by former South Africon rugby player James Dalton, was introduced. The initiative forms part of My Safe Space – Safer Education Together a non-profit organisation that provides comprehensive security management to address the prevailing safety challenges faced by South African schools.
“We all cannot change the world at once, but as long as everyone does a little at a time, collectively we have the ability to make a big impact,” says the 1995 World Cup winner, who has since dedicated himself to helping keep children in South Africa safe. It was during his time as a Bullyproof ambassador for the JAG foundation where he learned about the safety challenges that schoolgoers face and decided that his ‘big impact’ was going to come from installing technologically advanced security systems in schools.
“Through my rugby journey, I was privileged enough to see what sport could achieve for people. However, in visiting schools as a Bullyproof ambassador, I also got to see the trauma and violence children are exposed to every day,” he adds. “It was this, added to my love for children and my passion for keeping our nation’s children safe, that sparked the My Safe Space initiative.”
Dalton unapologetically believes that in any environment where one human being is looking after another, the surroundings need constant monitoring and control. “We’ve seen what people do to the frail, to the elderly, to their own kids – it’s shocking.”
My Safe Space -safer education together ,aim to implement the latest security technology to ensure educational institutions are safe and secure. This includes electric fencing, perimeter beams, CCTV with facial recognition, and access and movement control. The company will also install water purification systems and solar solutions at schools to ensure positive outcomes through its interventions.
“Not only is there 24/7 monitoring, and each installation project has a service level agreement. This ensures maintenance plans and ongoing engagement on our part long after we’ve installed the system,” says Dalton.
He emphasises that his goal is to be more than a ‘bakkie brigade’ that merely lays infrastructure and technology, gets paid, and never returns.
“We want to be fully accountable, and we don’t want to have an incident that affects monitoring, like there being no fibre, for instance. That’s why we’ve also partnered with Vuma to ensure a continuous supply of fibre connectivity access to the schools,” he adds.
They also work alongside Vumacam, a smart surveillance provider with the largest CCTV network in South Africa, to secure people, homes, businesses and public spaces.
Vumacam’s chief commercial officer, Michael Varney, says “We are proud to be aligned with an organisation like My Safe Space that is not only protecting our future generations but providing a more favourable environment for their education.
“Our fibre network operator partner, Vuma, provides the needed fibre infrastructure free of charge to the school to ensure the camera systems are always connected to the internet, guaranteeing uninterrupted monitoring. The schools benefit from a free 1Gbps fibre connection through the company’s fibre-to-schools project.”
While My Safe Space-safer education together, has focused on providing surveillance security systems to Quintile one to five schools, Dalton hopes to focus more on schools and communities in need that would benefit significantly from constant surveillance towards the prevention of violence and criminal incidents.
Angus McKenzie, the ward councillor in Bonteheuwel, expresses full support for the work and programmes conducted by Dalton and his team at James Dalton Group. “The My Safe Space initiative will hugely benefit the community of Bonteheuwel,” he says.
“We will seek donor funding to support our objectives of providing security technology systems to schools and communities that need it the most in our country,” he concludes.