Kimberley - “No roads, no schools” This is the slogan that the angry residents of Kuruman shouted at high-ranking government leaders who visited the area this week to plead with the public to allow close to 20 000 children to return to schools in that area.
A total of 55 schools have been closed since the ongoing violent service delivery protests erupted in that area in May.
On Wednesday a government delegation led by Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga failed to convince the residents to re-open the schools.
According to the chairman of the Kuruman Roads Forum, Lebogang Batshabane, “Motshekga came empty-handed and promised nothing on the issues of the roads”.
“She only came here to plead with us to re-open the schools but she is saying nothing about the construction of the roads. That is why people also made it clear to her today that: no roads, no schools,” Batshabane said.
Motshekga, who was accompanied by some of the government leaders in the Northern Cape, including the MEC for education, Grizelda Cjiekella-Lecholo, met with thousands of members of the community outside the town hall in Glenred.
The Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources, Godfrey Oliphant, also visited the troubled area earlier this week (Tuesday).
Although Oliphant’s visit did not solve the education crisis in that area, Batshabane hailed him for being “the only government leader who is committed to resolving our problem”.
“Oliphant understands the road challenges we are talking about – he intervened to resolve this problem when it first started in 2012. Although he did not manage to convince the public to re-open the schools, he has committed to come back to us before the end of this week and we are confident that he will. Other leaders have failed to hear the public.”
Batshabane added that the decision by government to renege on its commitment to build a 130km road network in the area was fuelling the crisis.
“The government is now only talking about constructing a 20-kilometre road. What happened to the rest of the road? We are not going to accept this new commitment,” he said.
Recently the provincial government committed to building 73km of the 130km road network. The other 57km is expected to be funded by the Sishen Iron Ore Community Development Trust (SIOCt).
However, earlier this week Mafu Davids, the spokesman for Northern Cape Premier Sylvia Lucas, confirmed that government would only build 20km and that the rest of the 110km would be built in phases.
Meanwhile, the spokeswoman for the Department of Basic Education, Troy Martens, admitted that it had hoped to reach an agreement with the forum on Wednesday, but that it was unsuccessful.
With only 24 school days left, 469 matrics might not be able to sit down and write their final exams. “The pupils are not going back to school, just yet. This worries us as there is not much teaching time left,” Martens said.
Although it is against the law to prohibit children from attending classes, Martens said the department was in limbo as it could not pin down exactly who was responsible for keeping children out of school.
“There are talks that it is the forum. Some say it is the community at large while others say it is the parents.”
The department did not want to point fingers and implicate anyone, Martens said.
The department has an intensive teaching strategy if the pupils were to go back to school. Parents were desperate to send their children back to school, she added.
On Thursday Martens told Sapa that Motshekga was considering opening a camp for matriculants from Kuruman.
“We are looking at different options at the moment, including taking matriculants to a camp to learn. The plans are in place, we just need the learners to come back to school.”
Diamond Fields Advertiser and Sapa