Raging Limpopo protest action 'suspicious': Zuma

06 May 2016 - 02:00 By Leonie Wagner, Penwell Dlamini and ZOE MAHOPO

Fifty schools have been closed indefinitely in Vuwani, Limpopo, leaving nearly 30,000 pupils in limbo as their June exams near.

The Limpopo department of education said 26,987 pupils were affected by the continued unrest in the area, with many due to write exams next month.

Twenty-three of the 50 schools have been damaged by fire and other acts of vandalism in protest action called "suspicious" by President Jacob Zuma.

The extent of the destruction is yet to be determined because local government officials have been denied access to the community by hostile residents .

Seven people have been arrested for public violence.

A spokesman for the SA Democratic Teachers' Union, Nomusa Cembi, urged the government to declare a "national disaster" so that mobile classrooms could be funded to allow Vuwani pupils to continue their education. But Basic Education spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said the department would intervene only once the violence ceased.

The area was driven into crisis after residents lost a court application for the reversal of a decision by the Municipal Demarcation Board to include their villages in the new Malamulele municipality.

In parliament yesterday, Zuma said the entire country should be alarmed by the protests in Vuwani and take note of their destructive nature.

"In all the protests people close roads and burn objects ... 17 schools! [at the time of his comment] ... There are a lot of motives behind it . It looks suspicious and I hope the country is taking note of this," Zuma said.

State Security Minister David Mahlobo, Deputy Police Minister Maggie Sotyu and Co-operative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen have been delegated to monitor the situation.

A team from The Times arrived yesterday at Mariadze Inclusive School to find the administration block in flames.

Two pupils, who said they were in grades 11 and 12, came running onto the scene.

"They are burning all our schools," one shouted. "This is not right. They are disrupting our future."

Yesterday Van Rooyen met education MEC Ishmael Kgetjepe and traditional leaders in a bid to end the violence.

Public order police patrolled roads that were blockaded with rocks and branches.

Part of the CBD in Vuwani was sealed off with barbed-wire and businesses were shut.

Spokesman for Limpopo premier Kenny Mathivha said government representatives would negotiate with traditional leaders and healers, and the police, in the next few days.

Basic Education spokesman Mhlanga said: "Records have been destroyed. Not everything on paper is immediately recorded on computer ... even greater is the challenge if the computers have been destroyed, too."

Karen Heese, an economist at Municipal IQ said: "The situation is complex but the biggest problem appears to be that the Vuwani community feels that the new boundaries have been imposed on them without them being adequately consulted.

"In retrospect, perhaps there was too much focus on the Malamulele community's reception to a new municipality and not [enough on Vuwani's reaction]."

SA Local Government Association spokesman Sivuyile Mbambato said poor communication was to blame for the Vuwani violence.

"A recent study showed that community protests often occur in response to poor communication.

"Information is not circulating down to the grassroots correctly.

"However, officials in the municipalities have claimed that minority groups in communities protest on resolved issues simply because the results were not favourable to them."

Although the new municipal demarcation has been identified as the main cause of the protests, there are suspicions that some of the violence is driven by tribal rivalries, some observers say.

- Additional reporting by Khulekani Magubane