Johannesburg - The Congress of South African Students (Cosas) has apologised to vendors in the Joburg CBD whose stock was looted by rampaging school pupils marching to the legislature last week.
Cosas organised the protest to hand over a memorandum to Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi on Thursday, comprising a list of grievances pertaining to the schooling sector.
The pupils’ demands included a ban of application fees for placement at tertiary institutions, proper food in the school feeding schemes, an end to corporal punishment and tablets for each pupil.
The march, which the Joburg metro police said was unprotected because the congress had not applied for a permit to protest, started at Albertina Sisulu and Eloff streets and moved on to the legislature.
The pupils went on a rampage, looting shops and making off with vendors’ goods.
Some of the shopkeepers, whose stores were looted, retaliated by assaulting the pupils, landing four of them in hospital.
Speaking at a joint media briefing by the MEC, Cosas and the South African Informal Traders Forum, Cosas national president Collen Malatji said “criminal elements hijacked a very progressive march” and diverted attention from the issues the pupils wanted to be addressed.
“Maybe on that day there was a student that slept without eating because somebody decided to steal whatever was supposed to be sold to provide food at home. As Cosas we are taking responsibility for whatever happened there because whoever hijacked the platform, it was from a platform that was created by us.
“We apologise to the public and also the association of the hawkers for what happened,” he said.
The informal traders forum accepted Cosas’s apology and thanked Lesufi for meeting them and coming to their aid.
The forum’s general-secretary, Brian Phaaloh, said: “We’ve been trying to speak to people that have authority but they’ve not been taking us seriously so we appreciate what you have done MEC, and we accept the apology.
“We’ve got very old members trading on our streets. They can’t run. It was embarrassing to see a child trying to take something from an old mama,” Phaaloh said.
Lesufi said although the department may not be in a position to reimburse the hawkers, the sector was set to benefit from the provincial government’s plans to invest in the informal sector and township economy.