VUWANI, Limpopo – South Africa’s Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has declared the Vhembe municipal, in Limpopo, a disaster area after 50 schools were either torched or vandalized. Early estimates say to rebuild and repair the schools, it will cost at least R750 million. All of the schools’ records and the annual marks of matric pupils have been destroyed.
Residents went on the rampage after the Limpopo High Court in Polokwane rejected their attempts to stop their area from being incorporated into a new municipality back on April 29. The schools were in villages in the Vuwani-Levubu area, and did not have there was no broadband or internet access to store records off-site.
Motshekga says the impact on pupils, particularly matrics, is profound because paper records have to be reconstructed and at this point, no one knows when classes will resume. Motshekga says a new school could cost around R30 million if built efficiently, but the department’s latest budget of R22 billion does not cover the costs to rebuild schools in and around Vuwani.
Vuwani- Police officers from provinces around the country were spread out along the main road leading into Vuwani. As we drive down the street there was evidence of unrest, with smouldering debris and a tire in the street. Vuwani itself resembles a ghost town. The streets are normally busy during the day, but now it’s empty. People are staying in their homes.
Approximately three kilometers from the Vuwani police station, officers are stationed outside a village. They allowed us to go inside. As we made our way up the access road, there were rocks and tree branches blocking the road. One man was scene removing the roadblocks, after delivering water to his family members. Once inside the village, much like near the police station, there was hardly anyone outside. People were staying close to home.
Villagers say their school was set on fire and the administration post was burned, but they refused to go on camera. They say if they talk to media, their homes would be burned in retaliation. One woman said villagers were not responsible for the burned schools, that it was people from the outside that were setting the fires. Police have not confirmed whether that is true.
The school we visited had visible signs of damage. The roof is missing and you can see the burn marks on the outside of the building. People have been staying inside the school to protect it from being burned to the ground. While we were in the village, a man started blowing a whistle to alert the others that my camera crew and I was there.
The person blowing the whistle was attempting to assemble a mob for a confrontation. People were coming out of their houses to see what the commotion was about and as we left the village we could hear people shouting from behind us. The situation was very tense. Some people in the village are angry and others are very suspicious of outsiders as they deal with the ongoing municipality issue, while trying to protect their school from being damaged completely by arsonists.