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he man whose neigh­bours know him as Rich – or Un­cle Rich – is a jolly grand­fa­ther whose thun­der­ous laugh lets ev­ery­one know he’s nearby.

Richard Draai (58) was also the leader of this week’s vi­o­lent protests in north­ern Port El­iz­a­beth, Eastern Cape, which saw 56 schools close their doors. In the cli­max to a three-year fight against a crip­pling teacher short­age, res­i­dents burnt tyres, bat­tled po­lice and stoned cars.

The first rub­ber bul­lets were fired at 5.10am on Mon­day, the day “all hell broke loose”.

“Mon­day was the worst day of my life,” says Draai.

He is the head of the North­ern Ar­eas Ed­u­ca­tion Fo­rum, and the school gov­ern­ing body chair­per­son at Beth­vale Pri­mary School in Bethels­dorp, which his 10year-old grand­daugh­ter at­tends.

In an in­ter­view in front of the school, the re­tired Gen­eral Mo­tors pro­duc­tion man­ager and neigh­bour­hood sports coach says it was sup­posed to have been a peace­ful march on the ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment’s of­fices.

“I feel ter­ri­ble that the sit­u­a­tion be­came so vi­o­lent, re­sult­ing in all the dam­ages and dis­rup­tions. I wish I had black paint to change the end re­sult,” he says.

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