Durban - With less than a month to go until matric exams, a Durban school was trashed by angry protesters demanding land to build shacks.
The vandals burned books and broke classroom windows and desks, forcing the school to send frustrated pupils home.
Education Department spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa said it would not be fixing the damage to the Cato Manor school.
The damage comes a few days after police said the number of protests in the province had decreased over the past year.
Wiggins Secondary School principal Mamotsau Sithole said desks, water pipes, books and food they had prepared to celebrate Heritage Day had been destroyed in the pandemonium on Wednesday night.
She said windows in more than 10 classrooms and the piano, worth thousands of rand, were destroyed.
Sithole said she learnt of the damage yesterday morning after the school’s security head, David Mdletshe, called to tell her about the invasion.
The mob had left by the time she arrived.
Mdletshe said a crowd of about 50 people overpowered the guards and forced their way in by breaking the chains used to lock the school gates.
The mob told the guards that they wanted land near the school to build on.
“The first pupils who come at 6am were shocked and were asking how they were going to study Some teachers were crying after seeing the damage,” said Sithole.
It was especially difficult for the pupils as many of their projects, into which they had put a lot of time and effort, had been destroyed.
“It is going to be very difficult for them to be enthusiastic about redoing the projects,” said Sithole.
She described the vandals as thugs and cowards who were against development in the impoverished area.
School governing body member Joyce Nhlangulela said it pained her to see the damage as they had fought hard for it to be built. Other people had eyed the land for housing develop- ments and other projects.
Siziwe Chili, a parent, also expressed sadness. “These people who burn the school, what sort of picture do they portray to their children? It is like the community is destroying itself,” she said.
Chili said schools were seldom attacked during the violence in the 1990s as they were respected and seen as places of sanctuary.
But this had changed.
“This is a crisis. Teachers are scared to come to school as violent land invaders want to build shacks nearby.”
Metro police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Parboo Sewpersad said it was difficult to detect where and when protests would erupt.
“It is very difficult to gather information from the community as they stick together,” he said.
Sewpersad said police would know something was brewing if tyres were stacked near the road in hotspot areas.
Mthethwa said the incident unfortunately came when matric pupils were supposed to be concentrating on their final exams, but confirmed the department would not be fixing the school.
Mthethwa said the department had been focusing on providing access to education for children across the province through scholar transport.
Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said the burning of schools would not achieve the protesters’ objectives and was a sign of a problem within society. He said the government’s failure to respond to issues often raised by protesters fuelled people’s anger.
Fikeni said it was taxpayers who foot the bill for protests and resultant damage. The costs also came in the form of people being late for work, school exams and other activities. He said the burning of public facilities was not a new phenomenon, but it was intensifying.
Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said a case of malicious damage had been opened and no arrests had been made.