Elders‚ chiefs and indunas are taking to KwaZulu-Natal’s taverns — but not for the reasons you may think.

The traditional leaders are actually keeping truant children out of drinking establishments‚ off the streets and in the classroom.

They are part of an unorthodox plan by the provincial education department to not only keep kids at their desks‚ but also protect their communities’ schools from thieves and vandals.

But there is now confusion over just how far the department intends to take the project.

Two weeks ago‚ the head of the education department‚ Enock Nzama‚ waxed lyrical about the idea when President Jacob Zuma was in the area to open a new school building.

Nzama vowed to take the plan to all of the province’s 6‚000 schools‚ but it has now emerged that there is no formal framework to dictate exactly how that will operate.

Nzama had sung the praises of the relationship with the tribal authority. He extolled the virtues of working hand-in-hand with the tribal authority‚ saying they were instrumental in protecting schools and their pupils.

Umbumbulu Chief Nkosinathi Maphumulo‚ speaking to the Sunday Times‚ echoed Nzama’s sentiments.

"We are in the taverns and when we see children come into this place where they shouldn’t be‚ we take action. We get them out of there and back to the classroom where they should be.

"The same goes for when we see children on the road‚ we ask ourselves why they are not learning. We are now becoming the eyes in our community."

The elders could help alleviate overspending on security at local schools, he said.

"If you think about it‚ you need security guards at school during the day and night‚ but if the community uses their eyes‚ we can save the department millions and millions.

"And we have been successful‚ we protect the schools and the teaching equipment because our children need these things to learn‚" he said.

KwaZulu-Natal education spokesman Scelo Khuzwayo said the department had always championed a close working relationship with communities.

"[We have called on] communities to work with us in ensuring that our schools are safe from thugs and those who see them as targets for vandalism.

"We do believe that community leaders such as izinduna‚ tribal authorities‚ councillors‚ ward committees and a variety of other community-based structures can play in major role in this regard‚" he said.

Khuzwayo said working with community elders had borne fruit.

"There have been some cases of vandalism‚ even though they are minimal. Any case of vandalism is taken very seriously and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms‚" he said.

Neither he nor Nzama would be drawn on the roll-out of the initiative.

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