Matric pupils on road to nowhere

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About 17 000 pupils at 54 schools in the Northern Cape have not been at school for two months after protesters, angry about the state of roads in the Joe Morolong Municipality, forced the schools to shut on June 5. Among those staying at home are 469 pupils who are three months away from writing their matric exams. Michael Mokoena spoke to one of them.

Kimberley - Segopotso*, 18, dreams of studying geology at UCT next year after she has completed her matric at Dibotswa High School in Dithakong.

“Once I have graduated I will go and work to improve the financial state of my family. I would love to help my mother, Martha (not real name), who works so hard for me and my little brother and my niece… one day I will build her a big house,” Segopotso said.

However, for Segopotso’s university dream to come true, she and 135 other Grade 12 pupils at the school must first be allowed to resume their studies after the institution was forced to close its doors on June 5 following ongoing service delivery protests.

“It pains me to see my dreams being shattered right in front of my eyes. It’s like our parents do not care about us and want to destroy us. What kind of a generation are we going to be if we are being prevented from going to school by our own parents? How are we going to escape the chains of poverty and create a better life for ourselves when they are the ones preventing us from getting an education?” Segopotso asked.

Dibotswa High School is one of eight high schools, out of a total of 55 schools, that have been forcefully closed by angry residents who are demanding the construction of a 227km road network that connects villages around Kuruman.

“I can still vividly remember the chaos that erupted at the school when the protesters stormed the school premises and stopped us from writing our English paper during the June examinations. They threatened us and the educators who were on the premises. We had no choice except to do as we were ordered – which was to leave the school’s premises. Since then, the school has never reopened.”

Segopotso said the pupils tried to study on their own.

“Some of us study in groups of eight to 10 at the local youth centre. We were hopeful that the situation would be resolved but when a month passed and we were still not back at school, we started studying at our homes. Some of the learners lost confidence and they left Dithakong to Kuruman and to other parts of the country to visit families,” Segopotso said.

She said attempts were made by the Northern Cape Department of Education to reopen her school, however threats surfaced that the school would be torched.

“We are all afraid to go back to school… even the teachers.”

Segopotso said she respected the rights of the residents to take to the streets “but please do not destroy our future”.

“Preventing us from going to school is tantamount to murder… what is the difference between you (protesters) and Boko Haram… you are both violating the rights of children from getting an education and that is not acceptable.”

She urged the protesters to find an “alternative” method of making their voices heard by the government regarding the challenges facing her community. “The issues they are raising are genuine. There’s no development in this area and government must work hard to resolve this. However they must both find a way to fight their battles… just stop using us. We are innocent in all this.”

Segopotso added that she did not want to be like some pupils who were unable to finish high school when similar protests started in the area in 2012. “If the department goes ahead with its plan to cancel matric classes in this area this year, I will return to school next year because I’m not willing to give up my dream of becoming a geologist. If the protests do not end, the protesters would have succeeded in stalling my education, but they would not have squashed my dreams. I will go back to school next year,” Segopotso said.

The Northern Cape Department of Education last week said if the schools remained closed by the end of this month, it would be forced to deregister matrics in the area.

If the department follows through with its threat, 400 Grade 12 pupils will be affected

.

The Northern Cape government has committed itself to building 130km of the road network in a first phase.

*Segopotso is not her real name

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