Protest holds pupils hostage
For three months 16000 Northern Cape pupils have been languishing at home unable to attend school because of violent protests.
Protests over the lack of a tarred roads in the John Taolo Gaetsewe District Municipality, in which Kuruman is situated, have seen residents forcing teachers to shut the gates of over 35 schools to pupils from Grade R to Grade 12 since June.
Schools in several villages were forced to shut down after residents went on the rampage, burning buildings and intimidating teachers and pupils.
Residents are demanding tarred roads leading to the N14, with community leaders submitting a business plan to the provincial department of roads and public works.
The outbreak of violence and the apparent failure of education officials to intervene is a sign of the country's imploding education system, which has been wracked by the non-delivery of textbooks in Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga, Free State and the Eastern Cape.
Last year, Northern Cape achieved a 68.8% matric pass rate - down from 72.3% in 2010.
In January, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, during the release the 2011 Grade 12 examination results, singled out John Taolo Gaetsewe District Municipality as one of the worst-performing districts in Northern Cape. The district is one of the poorest in the province with more than 180 no-fee schools.
Education Ministry spokesman Panyaza Lesufi said minister Angie Motshekga was involved "behind the scenes". She has yet to visit the area.
Provincial education spokesman Sydney Stander said over 35 schools were forced to close doors on June 6 when residents ran amok.
"We have been aware of the situation for three months now. From the beginning when the protests started, all issues raised have been non-education issues.
"The protesters chose schools because they are soft targets, intimidating teachers and pupils.
"They ended up closing schools in several villages including Glenred, Dithakong, Bothithong, Loopeng, Laxey," said Stander.
He said intervention was difficult because of the high level of intimidation, with all entrances to villages being blocked.
"Several state and private properties were badly damaged and set alight in the process."
Stander said the department had managed to "relocate" all matric pupils.
"For a month now they have been receiving tuition at Deo Gloria in Barkley West. These learners are being assisted by among others, subject teachers and learning area managers.
"The camps are progressing well. Government is continuing with interventions and we are hopeful that the situation will be resolved soon," he said.
Lesufi said they are "gravely worried about the situation.
"The minister is holding behind the scene discussions to resolve the impasse. She will visit the affected area in a few days' time," said Lesufi.
Asked to elaborate on the discussions held by the minister, Lesufi said: "High level of political discussions when we became aware a few weeks ago."
A resident - who was afraid to be named - said he was especially concerned about Grade 12s.
"The Grade 12 children are going to write examinations soon so this cannot be good for them."
"The community is poor. There are no job opportunities there and the majority of the breadwinners are mineworkers in Kuuruman and in Rustenburg.
"It is mainly the elders who through their pensions look after them."
Acting Premier Grizelda Cjiekella has appointed several MECs in to intervene to resolve the deadlock.
Crystal Robertson, the spokesman for the provincial Department of roads and public works, said they had studied the community's business plan.
She said they are waiting for funding from the Treasury to start tarring the roads.
The MEC team, consisting of Dawid Rooi, MEC for roads and public works; Patrick Mabilo, MEC for transport, safety and liaison and Kenny Mmooimang, MEC for cooperative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs, submitted a concept report to the office of the Premier.
"The political leadership will intervene and address the underlying political friction.
The MECs are meeting the community today," said Robertson yesterday.
University of the Free State rector Professor Jonathan Jansen said the affected pupils would not be able to make up all this lost time in "crash courses".
"The long-term effects will be devastating on the confidence of the learners; the commitments of the teachers; the trust of the parent community; and the emboldening of thugs who find it fit to hold schools hostage to their material needs," said Jansen.
"The government should make this a public scandal and intervene by making sure heads roll on both the municipal and political side of these rural areas and on the education side for the dereliction of duty by school leaders and teachers."