Kimberley -The national Department of Basic Education (DBE) has washed its hands over the ongoing school crisis in the Northern Cape. The crisis has seen more than 16 000 learners languishing at home as 35 schools in the John Taolo Gaetsewe District (JTGD) have been closed following violent community protests.
Panyaza Lesufi, adviser to the Minister of Education, Angie Motshekga, on Tuesday said that the department had done all it could to assist in resolving the problems in various villages and towns in the area where schooling had been disrupted since the beginning of the year.
“From our side, we’ve done our best to try and communicate with residents about their demands, but we are hitting a brick wall. The situation is out of control and the demands tabled (by the communities) are not education related,” Lesufi stated.
Lesufi is heading Motshekga’s ministerial task team, which was deployed to the Northern Cape on Tuesday to find a solution to the crisis.
Speaking to the media from the Deo Gloria Lodge in Barky West, where 360 matric learners from affected schools in the district have been moved so that they can continue with their studies, Lesufi said that Motshekga had been advised not to visit the area because her safety could not be guaranteed.
“We have received information that the safety of the minister (Motshekga) cannot be guaranteed in any of the areas where schools have been closed. As we speak we have also received information that some of the angry residents in some of these towns are even planning to disrupt the matric classes taking place here at the lodge,” Lesufi explained.
He warned that although the situation was close to anarchy, no one should be allowed to hold the children’s future to ransom by using them to advance their own agenda.
“We remain worried about the children’s education and we do not want to see even one of them failing as a result of the closure and burning of schools. We cannot have a community that rejoices when a school is set alight. We are clear . . . law enforcement agencies must intervene and take appropriate action against the culprits,” Lesufi added.
Some of the villages in JTGD where schooling has completely shutdown include Bothitong, Cassel and Madularanch, where a school was set alight on Sunday after a visit to the community by the acting Northern Cape Premier Grizelda Cjiekella. Schools in Oliphantshoek have also closed.
Lesufi said that they were already working on a catch-up plan for Grade R to Grade 11 learners.
“Once the situation normalises we want to get the learners back to school with immediate effect. We will look at lengthening the time learners spend at school and we are also proposing that there should be no September holidays for learners whose schools were affected by these violent protests. We also want to set up centres like this one (in Barkly West) to ensure that the children are not affected by what has happened,” Lesufi stated.
He, however, refuted the notion that the DBE should take full responsibility for failing the 16 000 learners affected by the closure of the 35 schools.
“Every time we tried to communicate with the community, they told us that they wanted roads, but we are not the department that builds roads, therefore we cannot take responsibility for the community’s demands.
“From our side, we’ve provided the community with schools, with teachers, with learning materials and all the necessities, but we cannot be blamed for not providing them with roads,” Lesufi pointed out. He added that they were already writing a report which would be submitted to Motshekga on Wednesday.
“We will stay in the Province until the situation is normalised, but we really need more police officers and intelligence officers deployed in these troubled areas because we are really dealing with anarchy here.”
The ANC in the Province has also refused to take the blame for the violent protests.
The party’s spokeswoman, Gail Parker, said that they too had done all they could but the residents just keep on shifting the goal posts, instead of negotiating in good faith.
“In Oliphantshoek the residents closed the schools because they wanted us to remove the mayor of the town. But when we investigated, we found the allegations against the mayor were unfounded.
“Instead of accepting our findings, the community continued with their protests.
“In the JTGD we have promised to accelerate the construction of roads and other infrastructure, but the people are still protesting. Surely the ANC cannot take the blame because it has done all it could to address the issues,” Parker pointed out. - DFA