It is no longer the fires that keep pupils in Vuwani, Limpopo, and the surrounding areas away from classes: it is the fear of being targeted.
Threats and intimidation in the continuing standoff over municipal demarcation have resulted in thousands of children and teachers staying away from the charred schools.
On Sunday, parents were seen doing what they could to salvage some of the schools that had been burnt or vandalised in the past two weeks.
Only four of the seven schools that Limpopo MEC for education Ishmael Kgetjepe visited on Monday were fully functional, with schoolchildren in uniform and teachers giving lessons.
The residents are afraid and refuse to send their children back to school.
One woman from Mashautondoni village, who has two children at Mashau Primary School, said that even though they wanted nothing more than to see their children back in the classroom, they were worried about safety.
“Nothing is quiet here. The community can go to the school, sweep it clean and repack the desks that have not been destroyed by the fire. But what if these people come back? What if they want to hurt our children?” she asked.
Limpopo department of education spokesperson Naledzani Rasila has laid some of the responsibility for safeguarding its schools on the residents’ shoulders, saying that “the best security for the schools is the community”.
“We have been made aware that some community members have been threatened and we are dealing with that. But without the community’s co-operation with the department and other stakeholders, it will be very difficult to resume learning and teaching,” he added.
The police appear to have made some progress in finding those behind the arson attacks and threats. The Mail & Guardian reported last week that prominent members of the community would be arrested for their involvement.
An ANC councillor was arrested on Friday, along with four other people, on charges of public violence and destruction of property. This brought to 30 the tally of arrests that have been made in the past two weeks.
According to a police source, the crime intelligence division (CID) is continuing its investigation of other prominent people.
“It is quieter but we are worried that every time government officials make an appearance, these boys start shutting roads and pelting cars with rocks.
It’s just a way of showing that they control things,” said the source.
He added that the CID would not budge until the “big fish had been arrested”.
State Security Minister David Mahlobo said last week that more people would be arrested, including chiefs, politicians and businesspeople.