Vuwani locals hit out at police
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.