Matric pupils write exams in secret location as parents shutdown town
Violent protests about mining funds force matrics to write undercover in Ramokokastad in the North West
For more than 100 matriculants from Ramokokastad in the North West, home has become a secret location away from their families - to give them a fighting chance of completing their final year.
Along with many others in the town, near Rustenburg, they have become collateral damage in a violent dispute over "missing" money from a community trust.
With the town under lockdown, pupils have been unable to attend school since June 14, public transport has stopped and clinics are closed. Villagers now have to travel 30km for medical attention.
Leading the protests is the group Bosele-Tsogang Engagement Forum, which has 16 committee members and subcommittees in every village. It is demanding the ousting of Manotshe Ramokoka, chief of the Baphalane boo Ramokoka royal family.
Nine villages fall under the Baphalane traditional administration, but only four are affected by the shutdown.
Though the matrics have been offered a way out, younger children have little hope of returning to school in the near future. Instead, they while away the time playing soccer in the street.
Most pupils in the town have not been able to go to class, though special arrangements have been made for about 100 matrics.
North West education spokesperson Freddy Sepeng said nine schools - five of them primary schools - in the four villages were affected. He said 108 matriculants and 3,400 pupils from grades R to 11 are not able to go to school because of the shutdown.
Sepeng said a bid to get learners back in class failed after meetings with community members, who were "adamant that learners will not go to schools".
Sepeng said the first study camp for matrics was held from August 12 to 19. "The second camp is currently under way at an undisclosed area since October 15, where learners will be until November 26."
In the village, rocks, branches and ash line the streets - remnants of the latest round of protests that have erupted intermittently since 2014. A tribal office and community hall were torched in 2015 during a protest, and they remain in ruins.
At the centre of the protest are community funds under the control of the Baphalane boo Ramokoka tribal administration in the Batlase Development Trust. Protest leaders say the broader community has not benefited from the multimillion-rand deals between the trust and the companies mining the region's platinum.
The home of Ramokoka's parents was torched in June, the second time in three years, and his own house was also set on fire.
"We have good reasons to suspect corruption and maladministration in the Baphalane tribal administration," said community leader Charles Makinita.
"We celebrated when we heard that the trust had gone into partnership with a mining company, knowing we will benefit as the community either through development projects or employment, especially for the young; but it is not happening."
Ramokoka said the disaffected village residents had disrupted meetings at which financial reports were to be distributed. "Why are they protesting and disrupting schooling when premier Job Mokgoro has announced that their allegations would be investigated?" the chief asked. Mokgoro made the announcement in September.
Ramokoka denied any proceeds of mining had been stolen under his watch. The chief said the community has been benefiting in terms of development.
More than 100 community members have been camping at the Union Buildings since late last month, demanding a meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss their grievances.
Back home, a pensioner from Bojating village, who asked not to be named, said: "Most of us support the call for accountability on community funds but not the shutdown. But we can't oppose it openly because people's houses have been torched in the past."
Community member Onicca Masilo said she was not happy that two of her grandchildren were unable to attend their primary school, but she also expressed support for the protest. "The community is fighting for what is rightfully theirs and should benefit no-one else but us. My only hope is that government could intervene as early as possible so our children can go back to school and not repeat their grades next year," she said
Mokgoro's spokesperson, Vuyisile Ngesi, said the premier had appointed an intervention team.