“A good man, a motivational speaker, a passionate teacher who went the extra mile in assisting learners,” are some of the words used to describe a Northern Cape teacher stabbed to death by a pupil who was sentenced to 12 years in jail on Monday.
Kingston Vhiya was a Zimbabwean national who came to SA to work as he was the sole breadwinner for his family, according to a fellow teacher and friend, Angeline Pahla.
Pahla, who is also from Zimbabwe, said she was so shocked to learn of her “homeboy’s” brutal death, she had to move out of Manyeding village near Kuruman.
“I was devastated and scared, I even moved out fearing that I too could be attacked. I now stay very far from the school,” she told TimesLIVE.
According to police reports, the pupil, who cannot be named due to his age, attacked the teacher at his home after allegedly failing a grade.
But the principal, Pitso Leabile, suspects there could be another motive as the pupil had not collected his report.
“There could be another reason because the learner had not collected his report. Yes, he had failed because he did not write all his exams … but we don’t know how he found out that he had failed and why he targeted Mr Vhiya specifically …” Leabile told TimesLIVE on Wednesday.
Leabile described the pupil as “just like any other learner” at the school but he had heard of his unruly attitude in the neighbourhood.
He was surprised after the fatal stabbing, saying he would have not thought the pupil was capable of such a crime.
The incident left pupils and some teachers traumatised, according to the principal.
Speaking about Vhiya, a grade 8 and 9 teacher who taught creative arts and English, Leabile said he was without words.
“He was just a good, humble man who went to church and did not smoke or drink alcohol,” said the principal.
Meanwhile, the SA Democratic Teachers Union said it had hoped for a longer sentence.
“Not so long ago someone was sentenced to life imprisonment for stealing and being in possession of rhino horns, yet this boy who stabbed and killed a professional teacher in cold blood was sentenced to only 12 years? Our justice system has failed us,” said Senzo Mpalala, chair of the union in the province.
The union said it had been following the case and the pupil had not shown any remorse nor empathy and as a result deserved nothing short of life imprisonment.
“He deserved nothing short of a life sentence. We had hoped he would receive a harsh sentence that was going to send a loud, unambiguous message that such acts are not allowed,” said Mpalala. “The boy doesn’t show any remorse, you can’t sympathise with someone like that,” he said.
As the country had just elected a new government, Mpalala said the safety of teachers in school needed to be prioritised.
“We hope that, among other things, the government and the president ensure that safety of teachers and learners is on top of their agenda. The environment in which schooling takes place must be conducive for all but as things stand, it is taken very lightly,” he said.
While it had been almost a year and a half since the incident occurred, Pahla said it was impossible to forget, given the kind of person Vhiya was.
He had big dreams for the future, she said, and had been enrolled at the University of SA (Unisa) to enable these to happen.
“He was passionate, he gave motivational talks, he would help learners, even after hours, because he wanted to see all of them do well … but he was killed just like that. He certainly did not deserve to die like that,” she said.