ANC members, who volunteered to protect pupils following the torching of four schools in the volatile Bushbuckridge area in Mpumalanga, have allegedly turned out to be the ones unleashing a reign of terror by assaulting people with pickaxe handles.The volunteers – some of whom are alleged to be Umkhonto weSizwe veterans – were patrolling the streets of Marite township in a bid to help police quell violence. This after some community members burnt down schools, demanding that the government build them tarred roads. Schools have been shut down for about two months now, since the Marite community went on a rampage in February, demanding that two dirt roads – the 14km stretch from Marite to Hoxane, and the 10km stretch from Jim Brown to Letsatsi – be tarred.According to Mpumalanga police, Bakutsoe High School was set alight on March 15, and Lamulelani High on March 25. Brigadier Leonard Hlathi, spokesperson for the Mpumalanga police, said police in Calcutta received a call at midnight on Tuesday, informing them that Kwanang Primary School in Madras was on fire.Police summoned firefighters, who managed to extinguish the fire, but only after an administration office and two classrooms had been gutted. “While the team was busy at that scene, they received another report that Ridzani High School was engulfed in flames. They found the staff room on fire,” Hlathi added.He said preliminary investigations revealed that a group of 15 people was seen going to Ridzani before the fire started.Sasekani Manzini, Mpumalanga’s MEC for public works, and Education MEC Reginah Mhaule failed to calm the situation. Premier David Mabuza flew to Marite by helicopter on Tuesday morning in a bid to negotiate with communities, but also failed, leaving the armed ANC volunteers to step in, vowing to bring the situation under control.ProtectionSome members of the community told City Press that the volunteers and the veterans allegedly began patrolling the villages and assaulting people.Three men – Tumelo Mokoena, 26, Joe Nkomo and Fortune Brown, 35, – were taken to Matikwane Hospital after the volunteers allegedly bludgeoned them with pickaxe handles.Mokoena and Brown told City Press that when they went to lay charges at the local police station, they were allegedly told that Mabuza had issued instructions that complaints from Marite be rejected.Mabuza and the police have denied these claims.Mabuza’s spokesperson, Zibonele Mncwango, said Mabuza went to Marite with Mpumalanga police commissioner Lieutenant General Mondli Zuma to ask the community to let their children go to school. “They said they were scared of the protesters. He only assured them that police would be there to protect the children,” said Mncwango.Mandla Ndlovu, Mpumalanga’s provincial ANC secretary, confirmed that ANC branches took a decision to protect the children against “the protesters”, saying the community could not turn around and complain about being victimised.“How about the schools that have been gutted? It is not proper that they destroy one service because they want another one,” Ndlovu argued.Police have not yet arrested anyone in connection with the torching of the schools. They have only arrested five men – Tshepo Maile, 28, Mbuso Mashaba, 23, Kenneth Monareng, 31, Nicholas Nonyane, 28, and Sifiso Mona, 30, – on charges of theft, following the looting of shops owned by foreigners in the area.A protester, who declined to be identified, told City Press that the community was unhappy that the building of a tarred road would not commence this month. “Government says it will begin with the design and plan this year, which means we will get the road in 2018. When it rains, cars cannot move and teachers have to leave their cars 700 metres or so from the schools just because the roads are impassable,” he said. “The premier used a helicopter when he came here. He should have driven to see for himself how bad our roads are.” Mpumalanga education spokesperson Jasper Zwane said a few pupils had gone back to school, but could not say how much of the teaching has been disrupted.