According to latest figures from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) it costs government a total of R30 million to reconstruct one school. Just one school.
And in less than a week in Vuwani in the Vhembe district in the Limpopo province, 24 schools have been burned to the ground. Of the total number of destroyed schools, 19 are damaged beyond repair, and will have to be rebuilt. And that is not taking into account the books, equipment, and furniture inside them.
So in just one week, characterized by lawlessness and anarchy, an estimated R 720 million in public money has gone down the drain – money that could have been used to improve the lives of the community, and better resource existing state facilities in the area. Most importantly, thousands of schoolchildren – many of whom will be in their matric year, will have no school to go to, and will have to sit at home until temporary facilities can be found for them. In time to come we will no doubt discover the true cost of these events on the education of these learners: as some may even drop out of school, or fail.
The ANC government does not trivialize the concerns of the people of Vuwani – and we have repeatedly indicated our willingness to engage with our people in a bid to resolve their grievances. The democratic state is not and can never be the enemy of the people.
The question we are faced with as a governing party, and indeed as a nation, is to what extent we are dealing with a legitimate form of protest by a community who claim their voices have gone unheard – or whether we are dealing with nothing less than sheer criminality: vandals and arsonists masquerading as concerned citizens.
It cannot be, it should never be that in a country where so many fought and died for our democratic freedoms – including access to the courts as a means to channel grievance – that we should be held ransom to thuggery that in both the long run and short run damages not just the communities involved, but future generations, and sets back the government’s service delivery programme by millions of rands, and decades of work.
The ANC notes that it has been widely reported in the media that the burning of schools was committed by people opposing a High Court decision in a demarcation matter involving the integration of the Vhembe District, where Vuwani and other villages are situated, into the Malamulele municipality.
The Municipal Demarcation Board is an independent authority legislatively asked with the determinations and re-determinations of municipal boundaries. In the execution of its mandate the Board considers, amongst others, the need for effective local governance and integrated development, financial viability and the provision of services to communities in an equitable and sustainable manner.
The ANC itself has often been dissatisfied with decisions of the Demarcation Board, as are community members in Vuwani. Such disaffection does not warrant wanton destruction of public or private property and the reversals of the gains that have been made to educate the African child.
Vuwani is among the areas of Limpopo that have a huge backlog in school infrastructure to the extent the latest reports have estimated that rebuilding schools that had been damaged by hailstorms in the recent past would costs government no less than R4 billion.
As the ANC we are indeed in mourning.
The losses suffered in Vuwani is the whole country’s loss.
And it is not the billions that went up in smoke – but the futures of the children of the poor.
It is theirs whose constitutional rights of access to education have been denied. It is theirs whose futures will be forever marred and prejudiced because they have been unable to attend school and graduate.
What is most tragic is that those who are apparently using our children as envelopes to send brutal messages to government are not the apartheid regime- but by our own people. But are they?
The question on everybody’s mind should be why people would resort to such acts of criminality and vandalism when they know that peaceful protests are protected by the Constitution of this country?
History would back us up on the fact that we do stand with our people in all peaceful protests until all issues are resolved.
The Malamulele matter, also in Limpopo, where the community had lost a case to the Demarcation Board after they fought not to be incorporated into Thulamela Municipality is just but one example of how we don’t just listen to our people when they approach us but we stand side by side with them.
It is unfortunate in Vuwani that those who call themselves Pro-Makhado or Concerned Citizens have decided to dissolve community structures – going underground and leaving behind a vacuum instead of approaching the negotiating table to express their s to us to find a peaceful solution.
Even though the Courts have ruled against the community of Vuwani, we believe as the ANC that there are other peaceful ways such as appealing the decision – taking it for review – that could be explored at this stage.
That government has already been called to provide temporary structures to be used as classrooms talk to the deeper issue of resources that have been wasted.
As the governing party, we regard education as the only way to eradicate poverty, inequality and unemployment.
Statistics confirm that the ANC government consistently spends a substantial amount of its budget on education. Hard and painful as it may be to divert funds that were to be utilized for other projects to improve the lives of our people – we will ensure that we stop at nothing to provide shelter for our children and that they resume their studies without any further delays.
We call on the country’s law-enforcement authorities to urgently look into these acts of criminality and more specifically, into the seemingly organized nature of these acts. We cannot build a country as long as elements of society assume it their right to commit arson and vandalism as a means of getting the government’s attention.
The ANC reaffirms our commitment to seeing a peaceful resolution to this situation that is in the best interests of all.
ZIZI KODWA IS NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON OF THE ANC