Razing of schools in Vuwani a national disaster – Motshekga
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Tuesday said the burning down of schools in the Vuwani area of Limpopo was a national disaster, and would require different government departments to pool their resources to help rebuild the education sector in the area.
Speaking during a media briefing ahead of her budget vote, Motshekga said early estimates suggest it would cost government hundreds of millions of rands to rebuild schools and repair damage caused by arsonists who set alight over 20 schools in Vuwani.
“This is going to have enormous financial implications for the sector and we are awaiting reports from the province to assess the true extent of the damage, but I am afraid initial reports do not look good and the damage could be as high as hundreds of millions of rands,” she said.
“We continue to condemn the violence and call on everyone to make sure that education facilities are protected and ensure our future generations’ progress is not hampered by the actions of the day.”
The schools were set alight by protesters in a week which saw residents of Vuwani take to the streets after they had asked the court to reverse the Municipal Demarcation Board’s decision to merge parts of Vuwani and Malamulele to form a new municipality.
Motshekga said the R21-billion allocated to her department for the 2016/17 financial year had already been committed, meaning her department would need help from across government and the private sector to rebuild some schools and repair others.
She said that while government had initially though it would have to fork out in excess of half a billion rands to rebuild schools, a visit to the area showed that not all schools were completely destroyed.
Motshekga said they would negotiate with Vuwani residents to see if they could not repair some schools and merge some smaller sized schools.
The National Treasury has been approached for money to rebuild the schools. The department of environmental affairs has been requested to convert more invasive alien plants and trees to wood and correctional services has been tasked with building desks for learners.
“The answer is the money is going to come from all over, not from us alone. That’s why the DG has been speaking to treasury to say is there any way you can help us because this is an emergency. It was not planned for. We didn’t see it coming, so put money aside for it,” the minister said.
The local municipality in Vuwani had also been approached to declare the area a disaster.
“It is a disaster, a major disaster,” said Motshekga, adding that they were caught off-guard by a border dispute which spiralled into a “national disaster”.
Motshekga also called for the tightening of legislation so those who set schools alight could face stiffer sentences which would “send a strong message that you don’t get near public facilities if you know what’s good for you”.
“This is also social sabotage to be honest here,” she said.
She said it was not just physical infrastructure that was lost, but support material and, because there is no ICT infrastructure, the hard copy records of learners as well.
“Some of them are your schools-based assessment work for your matriculants. It’s part of their year mark. It means it [their year mark] will go down.”
Motshekga said she and her officials were waiting for stability to return to the area so they could develop a claw-back plan for learners who were unlikely to return to school this week.
She added the Vembe district, under which Vuwani falls, was one of the more resilient areas in the country, despite its rurality and the high levels of poverty.
“I’m not very concerned about our ability to bounce bank. My concern is stability returning.” – African News Agency (ANA)