Fears of more school disruptions in Limpopo

Vhudzani Secondary School is one of about 50 schools that were burnt or vandalised in Vuwani, Limpopo, during protests earlier in 2016. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Vhudzani Secondary School is one of about 50 schools that were burnt or vandalised in Vuwani, Limpopo, during protests earlier in 2016. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

A top-level Committee meeting at Parliament on Tuesday heard that another shutdown could happen soon again in the volatile region of Vuwani, Limpopo.

Members raised concerns about the implications for learners, especially matriculants who are nearing the start of their final examinations. Vuwani has 1,579 matriculants. Matric learners have fewer than 20 days until the start of final examinations.

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education had called a joint meeting with the Departments of Basic Education, Safety and Security, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and Intelligence to discuss a status report on protests in Vuwani

Sporadic protests have been ongoing since 2016 when residents shut down the area and held protests against plans to incorporate Vuwani into the Lim345 municipality. Protesters have made it clear that they wish to remain part of the Makhado municipality.

READ MORE: The Human Rights Commission wants tougher action against those who disrupt schooling

Minister for Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, said protests in Vuwani were about municipal demarcation and had nothing to do with education. But because of the implications for learners, the Department would do its best to accommodate learners who have missed school due to the unrest, she said.

Also at the meeting was COGTA Minister Des van Rooyen, who serves as Chairperson of the joint Inter Ministerial Task team on the Vuwani unrest set up by President Jacob Zuma.

Van Rooyen agreed that the root cause of the ongoing Vuwani protests is demarcation and that the Demarcation Act of 1998 needs to be reviewed.

However, the Committee’s immediate concern was the effect that further violence would have on schooling, which has been disrupted repeatedly by community protests. Shortly before last year’s matriculation exams, a number of schools in the area were torched.

Beauty Mutheiwana, head of the Limpopo Department of Education, said plans were in place for learners to make up the time they had missed following the latest protests.

Matric learners have already missed 19 days of trial examinations, but the province had a plan to make them up and complete trial examinations between 9 and 20 October, said Mutheiwana.

The DA’s Ian Ollis questioned how learners would be able to prepare for their final exams if the trial exams ended on the 20th, and final examinations are due to start on the 24th.

Mutheiwana told the committee that a Spring School had been held for affected Vuwani learners and there will be Saturday schools throughout October.

Department of Basic Education Director General Mathanzima Mweli told the committee, “It is a bit difficult, but that is the situation we find ourselves in.”

READ MORE: Five significant findings from the South African Human Rights Commission’s #EducationProtestReport

Major General Zeph Mkhwanazi, the head of Public Order Policing (POP), told the committee that “deploying national police, especially for examinations” would be looked into.

He responded to MPs concerns about safety by confirming that the local police and POP officials are monitoring the situation. In its presentation, the police (SAPS) confirmed that four suspects were arrested during the shutdown this year. SAPS conceded that if a solution was not found to address the demarcation issue in Vuwani, the threat remained of further teaching and learning disruptions which would affect final examinations.

Although there were no incidents of schools being burnt during the most recent Vuwani protests in September, MPs recalled that 29 schools were burnt during last year’s unrest and wanted to know what SAPS was doing to ensure this did not reoccur.

The Committee also considered the report and recommendations of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), which conducted its own investigation. Motshekga agreed to implement its findings where possible. -GroundUp

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