SLOW START FOR EMBATTLED LIMPOPO SCHOOLS
Principals’ plea to ‘leave our schools alone’
WHILE pupils around the country are settling well into the academic year, some schools in Limpopo only started lessons yesterday.
This comes after residents in the Tshitale area went on a protest on the first day of the 2017 academic year demanding government tar the D3727 road.
The protest affected over 30 schools in 50 villages; two schools and a post office were set alight.
Yesterday, Vari Primary School opened for the first time this year. As well as the stress of dealing with late Grade 1 applications, the management team also had to figure out where to put the pupils, as classrooms were locked and keys burnt.
The school’s three administration rooms were torched, destroying all school records, computers and printers and workbooks for all grades, according to principal Mashau Rambau. The only official item that survived the fire is the school stamp.
Rambau said: “This fire is taking us way back as a school. We are supposed to start teaching today, but how do we do that without books?”
He said he understood the community’s need for a road but it was unfair to torch schools. “The protest is now over and we are left with a bigger problem. When will the department be able to give us new workbooks? Where will we get the learners’ records?” the principal asked.
Another teacher at the school said: “This is painful to see. Our school is clean and has facilities, why burn them? It is disheartening. One even thinks of resigning. Do these parents know that teachers don’t want to work in rural areas? If we leave, no one else will want to come here,” she said.
A few kilometres away from the primary school, pupils and teachers at Denga Secondary School were also assessing the damage.
Principal Malange Muraga said that after the fire destroyed his office, the staff room and library, he had called on a few community members to try to salvage as much as possible.
“The community came and we were able to get a few books and records from the staff room. We lost all the books in the library, including this year’s workbooks,” Muraga said.
He said he was worried about what impact this will have on Grade 12 pupils. Last year, the school achieved a 57.5% matric pass rate.
“We will continue teaching. The learners’ minds have not been burnt so we will be able to give them notes,” he said.
Muraga agreed with Rambau that the need for a road was important but schools still needed to be respected.
“We know what they are fighting for but they must leave our schools alone.”
The community reached an agreement with government last week that construction of the 45km road between Mashamba and Soekmekaar will start in April.
Tshitale Community Stakeholders’ Forum leader Edson Khomola said: “People were first settled here in 1962. How do we still not have a road? We are waiting to see what will happen in April.”
Khomola said that if the government doesn’t start building the road in April, the community will hold mass meetings to decide on their next plan of action.
Last week, the Transport Department said an environmental impact assessment to tar the road had been completed in 2015.
The upgrade was delayed because the province ran out of money in 2011.
On the burning of schools, Khomola – who is also a high school teacher – said: “Those were criminal activities and the police must deal with them. The problem is also that government doesn’t take us seriously until something burns. After the two schools burnt, then government made commitments.”
He said pupils would be helped to catch up with lost school work. “There will be catch-up programmes, especially for Grade 12. They will come to school at 6.30am and finish late as well. We will also have weekend classes,” he said.
The road is expected to connect villagers to four clinics, three post offices, a police station and several schools.
For 84-year-old Masokona Mashamba, the tarring of the road would be a great help. The pensioner sometimes has to walk at least 6km to the nearest clinic. “Sometimes taxis don’t want to drive on the road, especially after the rains. When that happens, I then have to walk to the clinic.”
Limpopo education spokesman Dr Naledzani Rasila said the department will replace all burnt books.
“Just like in all the other schools, we will provide. We have no choice but to assist them.”
FIRST DAY: Pupils at Vari Primary School in Tshitale village near Vuwani, Limpopo, arrive at the school for the first time yesterday since new protests that saw the school set alight.
BURNT OUT: A teacher at Vari Primary School inspects the damage after the school office was set alight during protests.