Vhembe declared disaster area after nearly 50 schools torched

2016-05-10 12:31
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga (Jenni Evans, News24)

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga (Jenni Evans, News24)

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Here's what remains of scorched Vuwani school

2016-05-06 18:39

Minister Angie Motshekga said it was "really shattering" to see the damage caused by arson attacks on schools in Vuwani, Limpopo. See for yourself here.WATCH

Cape Town - The Vhembe municipal area has been declared a disaster area after 50 schools were either torched or vandalised in a demarcation protest that would cost at least R750m to recover from, the Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said on Tuesday.

"It is a major disaster," Motshekga told reporters ahead of her budget vote speech at Parliament.

All of the schools’ records and the annual marks of matric pupils had been destroyed. Residents went on the rampage after the Limpopo High Court in Polokwane on April 29 rejected their attempts to stop their area from being incorporated into a new municipality.

The schools were in villages in the Vuwani-Levubu area, and did not have the broadband and internet access to store their records off-site. Many were in very rural areas and police could not reach them quickly.

The impact on pupils, particularly matrics, was profound because paper records had to be reconstructed and nobody knew when classes would resume, Motshekga said.

The Vhembe district municipality declared a disaster in the area on Monday, a process which usually speeds up recovery efforts and the release of emergency funding.

The pupils in the area had been producing consistently good results. Now their future was uncertain.

At last estimate, a new school cost around R30m, if built efficiently, but the department's latest budget of R22bn did not cover this, Motshekga said.

The department would have to ask National Treasury to help restock libraries, computer and science centres.

Umalusi, which verifies matric results, would be brought in to help recreate pupils' records based on what they could pull from national databases.

It was the second major education catastrophe to hit Limpopo in the past few tears. In 2012, a failure to deliver text books set pupils back enormously.

"It's actually a very depressing sight," Motshekga said, adding that not even during apartheid had so many schools been destroyed.

'It happened so quickly'

Motshekga told of how residents desperately tried to guard their schools, taking shifts in the bush.

"It's a very difficult area to police. You don't expect people to burn schools. And it happened so quickly."

Because many of the men had gone to the cities and big towns for work, the grandmothers and wives were the first line of defence. At times they had to run for their own lives at night, as the quick and agile arsonists appeared and threatened them. Locals did not recognise the arsonists, so it was assumed they came from other areas.

Eleven of the 21 people arrested in an intensified security drive appeared in the Malamulele Magistrate's Court on Monday. Six more were expected to appear in court in Thohoyandou. Some of the minors arrested were handed to probation officers for assessment.

The disaster has had a wider impact on the safety of children, because mothers who worked during school hours relied on schools as a safe place for their children.

Last week, a government delegation, including acting police minister David Mahlobo, was sent to try and stabilise the situation.

"We continue to condemn violence and continue to make sure that education facilities and other facilities are protected," said Motshekga.

Read more on:    angie motshekga  |  polokwane  |  protests  |  education

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