Vuwani lo­cals hit out at po­lice

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Gov­ern­ment’s at­tempt to rene­go­ti­ate a peaceful set­tle­ment with the Vuwani com­mu­nity in Lim­popo, whose mem­bers have protested against the area be­ing in­cor­po­rated into a new mu­nic­i­pal­ity, hit a snag af­ter mem­bers of the com­mu­nity re­fused to at­tend meet­ings – equat­ing the po­lice’s clam­p­down on their demon­stra­tions and its en­act­ment of a cur­few with apartheid-era bru­tal­ity.

The pro-Makhado de­mar­ca­tion task team, which wants the Vuwani area to be dis­as­so­ci­ated from the new Mala­mulele mu­nic­i­pal­ity in the Vhembe district, this week said it would no longer en­gage with pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment be­cause the po­lice had gagged them by re­fus­ing any form of com­mu­nity meet­ings aimed at dis­cussing a way for­ward and re­solv­ing their prob­lems.

Arnold Mu­laudzi, deputy chair­per­son of the task team, said the Mu­nic­i­pal De­mar­ca­tion Board’s de­ci­sion in Fe­bru­ary to re­ject, for a sec­ond time, the peo­ple’s wishes was shock­ing. He re­it­er­ated the task team’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to con­tinue op­pos­ing Vuwani’s in­cor­po­ra­tion.

He said the com­mu­nity con­sid­ered the board “ar­ro­gant” and “stub­born” and that it based its de­ci­sion on “nar­row self-serv­ing in­ter­ests”.

“Work­ing with se­nior tra­di­tional lead­ers, we re­solved not to en­gage with the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment again. We will go to the high court [to ap­ply for per­mis­sion to hold meet­ings] be­cause we are aware that the lo­cal mag­is­trate’s of­fice has been cap­tured and is not likely to grant us per­mis­sion to meet with com­mu­nity mem­bers,” he said.

Mu­laudzi warned of a con­tin­u­a­tion of the to­tal shut­down in school­ing and other ser­vices in Vuwani and sur­round­ing ar­eas af­ter Easter. “We feel dis­re­spected as our de­mands are be­ing snubbed. I can as­sure you that we are go­ing ahead as planned.

“It is true that Vuwani and the en­tire na­tion were mis­led into be­liev­ing that there was a pos­si­bil­ity for the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to be left un­changed.”

Ef­forts un­der­taken last year by the in­ter­min­is­te­rial task team, led by Co­op­er­a­tive Gov­er­nance Min­is­ter Des van Rooyen, to meet with dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers – in­clud­ing re­li­gious, tra­di­tional and com­mu­nity lead­ers in Vuwani – proved fruit­less.

Res­i­dents again re­sponded by torch­ing yet another school in the area last month.

Nsovo Sambo, spokesper­son for the task team, said: “Res­i­dents of Vuwani feel un­der­mined and de­prived of their rights, which are en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

“This [sec­ond] re­jec­tion stripped our se­nior tra­di­tional lead­ers, [Venda monarch] King Mphe­phu Ram­ab­u­lana and the peo­ple of Vuwani and its sur­rounds of their rep­u­ta­tion, dig­nity and in­tegrity.”

He said gov­ern­ment had made a pledge to the com­mu­nity, dur­ing last year’s Vuwani cri­sis, that it was pos­si­ble to cor­rect this mis­take.

Dur­ing en­gage­ments with the in­ter­min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee, the pro­gramme, time­lines and work frames were out­lined, but the de­mar­ca­tion board’s re­sponse had been con­trary to the com­mu­nity’s ex­pec­ta­tions.

Last week, part of Tshirun­zanani Pri­mary School in Vuwani was burnt. The books and ce­ment stored in the ad­min­is­tra­tive sec­tion of the school were dam­aged. Po­lice are still search­ing for the sus­pects.

This week, po­lice spokesper­son Lieu­tenant Colonel Moat­she Ngoepe urged com­mu­ni­ties to re­frain from dam­ag­ing pub­lic prop­erty.

“The com­mu­ni­ties must re­port those who are torch­ing schools in the area. We have launched a man­hunt to find the sus­pects and we are go­ing to ar­rest them,” he said.

Pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment spokesper­son Phuti Seloba said: “The Lim­popo gov­ern­ment will con­tinue to en­gage with dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers be­cause our in­ter­est is to have sta­bil­ity in the area.”

He con­demned the vi­o­lence, say­ing more than 30 schools in the area had been burnt or dam­aged.

He also de­nied that the pro­vin­cial ad­min­is­tra­tion was us­ing the po­lice to pre­vent com­mu­nity lead­ers from call­ing for meet­ings and gath­er­ing to dis­cuss their po­si­tions.

“The po­lice are do­ing their job. The com­mu­nity is free to ex­er­cise its rights in courts to get per­mis­sion to con­vene their meet­ings,” he said.

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