Tribalism time bomb
Comprehensive social cohesion programme likely to be considered to address tension in Limpopo villages Vuwani school lockdown tension
Defaced road signs, on which Venda village names are concealed under black spray paint and replaced with Tsonga ones in white paint, are a new sight around Bungeni village near Vuwani in Limpopo – indicating a seething threat that could unleash devastating cultural violence between the two groups.
While these villagers shared resources for decades and intermarried, residents spoke this week of incidents of passengers being thrown out of minibus taxis and staff kicked out of a local clinic because they spoke “a different language” – a shocking reality that traditional leaders in the area are struggling to come to grips with.
These are undercurrents of tribalism simmering and threatening the time-honoured relationship between Venda and Tsonga cultural groups that have for a long time lived side by side. And the tensions are playing out in the ongoing protests against the redraft of municipal borders that have divided the communities around the villages in Vuwani.
Livhuwani Matsila, chief of Matsila in the Vuwani area, has expressed concerns over the ugly head of tribalism rising.
“It is a real issue in this whole protest and it can’t be ignored. Venda people have been attacked in Tsonga areas and the division between the two groups has been deepening as the protest escalates,” he said.
Cooperative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen told the media of incidents influenced by tribalism in the area. “We have picked up that some staff members at a clinic in Mashau were expelled from [work] based on the language that they speak. The taxi industry informed us that some passengers were removed from taxis because of the language they speak,” he said.
“As government, we think we should pay full attention to the problem. We will investigate the allegations of tribalism and look for a solution such as a comprehensive social cohesion programme to address this.”
At least 25 schools were burnt and vandalised in the past two weeks, forcing communities in Tsonga villages to guard their schools with their lives. Villages dominated by Tsonga speakers do not have a problem with being incorporated into the new municipal entity that will control Malamulele villages and others that previously fell under Thulamela and Makhado municipalities. Thousands of pupils will walk into piles of ashes from burnt furniture, caved-in roofs, broken classrooms windows and flame-roasted walls in Vuwani villages if they heed the government’s call to return to school tomorrow.
They will face the harsh realities left in the aftermath of violent protests that ravaged their area in the past two weeks. These followed the establishment of a new Malamulele municipality, which has led to the demarcation board redrawing the municipal borders and separating villages along tribal lines.
On Friday, President Jacob Zuma’s appointed interministerial team, led by Cooperative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen, expressed hope that a lockdown in Vuwani would be lifted to enable schooling to resume.
But community leaders were not supportive of the government’s move, vowing to keep the villages around Vuwani shut down “until the demarcation decision that affects the area is reversed”.
Vyeboom Village Civic Association spokesperson Nsovo Sambo accused the government of talking to villages through the media.
“We hear schools are reopening in Vuwani on Monday. Maybe there is another Vuwani somewhere else. We remain resolute that this total lockdown continues until the demarcation decision that affects our area is reversed,” Sambo said.
With at least 25 schools destroyed and badly damaged in arson incidents, efforts were being made to accommodate the 60 000 affected pupils.
Some spiritual leaders had stepped in and offered their churches to be used as classrooms in the interim, said Limpopo’s cooperative SMS us on 35697 using the keyword SCHOOLS and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50 governance, human settlement and traditional affairs MEC, Makoma Makhurupetje.
Van Rooyen said mobile classrooms from other parts of Limpopo and other provinces would over the weekend be transported to Vuwani to ensure the children had shelter.
State Security Minister David Mahlobo also visited the area last week to engage traditional leaders and other social formations.
But some community leaders accused the officials of sidelining them and hold a different view on whether schooling should resume.
“They have been meeting traditional leaders but our chiefs do not really represent our views. Civic groups from all villages will meet on Sunday to consolidate community sentiments. But the majority of civic leaders are already saying the shutdown continues,” Sambo said.
The interministerial team focused on restoring calm and stability in the area and promised to engage all stakeholders and communities over their grievances.
“We’ve agreed that we should initiate processes of dialogue around their reservations and concern on the issue of demarcations.
“Come Monday, it should be all systems go as far as schooling is concerned. Businesses should open and obviously we expect that normality will prevail and that negotiations around community concerns ... will simultaneously continue,” Van Rooyen promised.
Nsovo said, however, they would rather have engagements on demarcation first. “You can’t say the roof is leaking and you are busy mopping up the floor and not fixing the leakage.
“They need to address the burning issue first, which is the cause of instability and the only thing that will bring stability once resolved,” he insisted.
FLAMES OF FURY People watch as the Mariadza Inclusive School burns in Limpopo. Schools in the area were burnt down last week by disgruntled residents protesting against municipal demarcation