Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa walked out of a meeting with hundreds of angry Northern Cape protesters on Monday after it degenerated into chaos.
The protesters, who have prevented learning for 16 000 pupils at about 60 schools in the John Taolo Gaetsewe District for more than three months, "kept shouting their demands and singing … it was completely out of control in that hall", Northern Cape police spokesperson Masebueng Mochologi-Maleeme told the Mail & Guardian.
The "imbizo" in Olifantshoek was an attempt by Mthethwa to hear protesters' concerns over service delivery, which include the tarring of some dirt roads leading to the N14 highway and that Gamagara municipality mayor Maria Diniza step down, she said.
"The atmosphere was not threatening but it was leading that way … We had to call in extra security."
Mthethwa asked protesters to elect five representatives who he would meet with to "constructively" discuss concerns, she said. He was in a meeting with them as well as provincial education, transport, safety and police officials on Monday afternoon.
The principal of a high school for about 200 pupils in the Joe Morolong municipality told the M&G that protesters would "arrive in a bakkie at the school with knobkerries and sjamboks and chase us out".
"Sometimes we would start school in the morning but then 10 to 15 men would arrive … that would be the end of school for the day."
He was instructed to close the school or else "they would burn it down and some cars too".
Threats and intimidation
Other days there would be no schooling at all because of protesters' threats and intimidation of pupils near their homes.
Protesters told some pupils: "You will not go to school until we tell you to."
"Pupils are scared, teachers are scared and obviously we are all worried about whether pupils will pass."
Community members were divided about protesters' stance on using pupils as bargaining chips in their battle for their demands to be met, the principal said.
Some community members were unhappy that "their children's education was being played with".
The situation remained hostile and dangerous, Mochologi-Maleeme said. Last week engagements between government officials and protesters stalled when police warned officials not to go to the area because of violence aimed at "anything government".
Since the beginning of June protesters had burnt down several schools, homes, cars and public libraries.