‘Please let our kids go to school’

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Colston Primary School in Colston Village is deserted like several other schools in the area. Picture: Michael Mokoena

Kimberley - Communities in the John Taolo Gaetsewe District are living in absolute fear after several parts of the district were plunged into anarchy leading to the closure of more than 50 schools in the area.

Community members told the DFA when it visited the area on Wednesday that since the violent public unrests erupted several months ago, intimidation of teachers and parents sending their children to school has become the order of the day.

“We have tried all we can to negotiate with the protesters to allow the children to go back to school but they have refused to negotiate with us,” one resident in Heison village in the Joe Morolong Municipality said.

“Instead they are threatening to torch the schools while our children are inside the classrooms.

“They have also threatened to set alight houses of community members who are allowing their children to go to school,” a resident added.

“We are very scared. Teachers, school principals and members of the school governing bodies are constantly receiving threatening phone calls coming from people using private numbers.

“They are being told that classrooms will be set alight while learners are inside and that their vehicles and houses will also be torched,” he added.

“As we speak we do not trust anyone because we don’t know who is making these threatening calls,” said another resident who did not want to be named.

They said that the latest attempts to reopen the affected schools on Monday were dealt a blow when on the same day fresh threats were made to the families of teachers, principals and learners who attended school.

“Although we don’t know the identities of the people who are making these telephonic threats, we know some of the leaders of the protesters but we cannot do anything because if we identify them, we will have to make statements to the police and they will deal with us and our families,” some of the residents stated.

The community members also said on Wednesday that they felt they had been abandoned by their political leaders, both locally and provincially.

“No one has come to listen to our concerns or to address us. We are in the dark. We don’t know what is being done to reopen the schools for our children or when we will be able to send them back. Neither our local or provincial politicians have taken the time to come here,” they said.

Most of the villages the DFA visited are located about 35 to 40 kilometres outside Kuruman (in the Mothibistad area).

Driving around the villages, the tension among community members was tangible and no one wanted to be seen talking to the media.

“If the newspapers say something negative about the protesters, they will think we gave you the information,” one elderly woman stated.

Most residents said that they had heard that some of the Grade 12 learners at some of the local schools had been taken to the Lohatlha Army Camp close to Upington.

They added, however, that they had also heard that some of the protesters had threatened to disrupt learning in the camp.

Although most of the residents said that the protesters are demanding the tarring of the road between their villages including Dithakong, Bothitong and Cassel, others said that it was inconceivable that the protesters could shut down schools and leave more than 16 000 learners languishing at home just for a tarred road.

“This is certainly not only about a road.

“Yes, there are service delivery issues that we are faced with like water, sanitation and lack of development but there is more to these protests than this,” one community member pointed out.

He said that there were similar protests in other parts of the country where residents were demanding roads and other basic services “but these have never led to school closures”.

“Surely the demand for the tarring of a road cannot place the future of thousands of children under threat.”

While the DFA reporter was speaking to residents in Heison village, information surfaced that coresidents were having a meeting at Colston village, a few kilometres away, to resolve the school closures in the area.

When the DFA got to the area where the meeting was being held, some community members wanted to assault the reporter because he had taken pictures of them without their permission.

“Why are you taking our pictures without our permission? Who sent you here? Why are you here? We do not even know your name. We will set you and your vehicle alight,” some of the community members fumed.

After their leader intervened, they chased the reporter out of their meeting, which was held on the open space not far away from Colston Primary School.

The same community members who chased the media out of their meeting, had also blockaded the roads in the village with tree stumps and rocks.

When one motorist tried to remove some of the rubble in order to drive through, the protesters became rowdy and told him that his vehicle would be torched too.

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