SLOW START FOR EM­BAT­TLED LIM­POPO SCHOOLS

Prin­ci­pals’ plea to ‘leave our schools alone’

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - TEBOGO MONAMA tebogo.monama@inl.co.za

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.”

PICTURES: ITUMELENG ENGLISH

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.

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