Pretoria – The community of Onverwacht near Cullinan has distanced itself from the burning of a school and community hall on Friday night, blaming opportunists and nyaope smokers for the incident.
The area was in the middle of land grab and eviction protests when the arsonists struck, burning the two buildings and stealing their contents.
The incident has been blamed on protesting land grabbers defying the eviction and demolition of their shacks.
They are being blamed for burning Onverwacht Primary School to voice their frustrations.
Earlier that day they had barricaded the main roads into the informal area, placing tyres and boulders after learning that the Red Ants were on the way to demolish the more than 300 shacks they had erected.
Community leader Given Williams said: “We used sand, rocks and tyres to deny the Red Ants entry into our place of dwelling."
“But after much struggle they managed to gain entry, and demolished whatever was in their way,” he said.
Williams said they tried to negotiate with the Red Ants, but they wouldn’t budge.
He said that after many rounds of rubber bullets were fired and a long and tedious altercation the community backed down and dispersed.
Later that night the school was burnt down. Community members told the Pretoria News they just saw parts of the school go up in smoke, but couldn’t make out who was behind the arson attack.
“There was no commotion or groups of people before the fire. All we saw were flames in a section of the school,” one neighbour said.
Williams attributes the arson to “scavengers”. “These are people who took advantage of the fact that we were protesting in the morning and thought it would be a perfect opportunity to steal and burn down the school in the name of the land protesters,” he said.
He said tinned food, milk and packets of soup were stolen from the school. “Our area is infested with nyaope addicts who are likely to do such a thing,” he said.
Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi visited the area and told community members the provincial government would not rebuild the school.
Education department spokesperson Steve Mabona said: “The MEC informed the community that we are not rebuilding it.”
MMC for Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture Ntsiki Mokhotho also said the city would not be rebuilding schools and libraries damaged during protests. The city had no money, she said.