What comes after the violent protests in Vuwani?

News - Date: 28 May 2016


The rural area of Vuwani made both national and international news headlines after violent protest action led to the burning down of 24 schools.

Recently, the non-government organisation Section 27, seeking to influence and use the law to protect human rights, visited some of the affected schools in the area. They described the violence that led to the destruction of the schools as devastating. Section 27 felt that the community’s actions had severely compromised exam preparation, as well as the future of thousands of learners. They felt so strongly about the devastation that they compiled a full report on it.

In some schools, Section 27 found, records of admissions and pupils’ results have been lost. The effects of this will be felt for years to come. Even if learning resumes swiftly and new buildings are built, the crisis in Vuwani has dealt a destructive blow to an already struggling system.

What makes Section 27’s report interesting to read, is their view of events beyond the immediate crisis of the burnt-down schools. What is imperative, however, is to look at the context of the matter. Section 27 feels that media reports placed the crisis in Vuwani in a vacuum, thereby simplifying the problem. “Such reporting does not contribute to addressing the broader systemic issues. Oversimplifying the matter fails to force both the citizenry and the government to engage with creative solutions to respond not only to the immediate crisis, but the more deeply rooted problems,” the Section 27 report reads.

In this report, decisions about demarcation are not merely about demarcation, but they concern issues loaded with the hopes and disappointments of communities that have often been failed by their municipalities. The Municipal Demarcation Board’s decision to have the Bavenda community in the Vyeboom area in Vuwani included in a new municipality concerns every woman who is still forced to walk kilometres to fetch water. It affects every person standing in a queue while waiting for medicine that is rarely available, and every child learning in a classroom without the necessary educational tools at hand.

The Vhembe district, where Vuwani is located, is home to 1 023 ordinary public schools, accommodating approximately 410 000 pupils. Vhembe was the highest-performing district in the National Senior Certificate results in the province in 2014 and 2015.

Section 27 represents 31 schools in Vhembe, four of which were affected by the strike. Of those four, two were burnt down and vandalised: Tshinavhe and Vhafamadi. Tshinavhe Secondary School had good sanitation and received new classrooms in 2015, and the school did not have any problems with infrastructure or furniture before the protest action started.

Sadly, however, this is not the only challenge that Vhembe schools face. Section 27 further points out that basic education is far from the quality education that Vhembe students are entitled to. They found that, in the 2016 Limpopo provincial budget for education, a shortage of 41 000 toilets existed, of which more than eight of 10 were pit toilets that needed to be replaced. In addition, this budget noted that a staggering shortage of more than 10 000 classrooms existed across the province.

Two weeks ago, Vuwani was declared a disaster area, which allows for funds to be released to begin rebuilding schools and providing alternative, interim classrooms. However, as Section 27 points out in its report, the main concern is that the money could be diverted from schools with pre-existing urgent infrastructure requirements. The Minister of Basic Education, in her budget speech on 10 May, reported that the estimated damage was R720 million. “In a province where schools are already struggling due to financial restraints, mismanagement and lack of service delivery, it is a daunting task to comprehend how resources must be allocated to ensure that all those in desperate need are catered for,” it is stated in the report.

Source: Raking through Vuwani schools ashes (Compiled by Kate Paterson and Tina Power on behalf of Section 27). To read the full report readers can log on to: www.


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Isabel Venter

Isabel joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2009 as a reporter. She holds a BA Degree in Communication Sciences from the University of South Africa. Her beat is mainly crime and court reporting.

Email: [email protected]