Tshwarelo Hunter Mogakane
Pretoria - Educational experts at the University of Mpumalanga have condemned service delivery protests that have prevented hundreds of schoolchildren from accessing their schools since the end of April.
This follows the ongoing blockading of a road that leads to schools and towns outside Marongwane village near Marite between Bushbuckridge and Hazyview.
The Marongwane community members, who are demanding a better road from the provincial government, resorted to weekly blockading of the road and burning tyres after the provincial government ignored their demands.
This week the protesting mob hijacked two timber-ferrying trucks on the R40 road, looted them and set them alight in full view of police.
Concerned parents told the Pretoria News that their children haven't been to school in weeks.
"The Marongwane area only has two schools, so our kids attend classes in schools that are far from here. Sadly, the community has been embarking on protests for over three weeks now. I'm sure you often hear warnings about the closure of the R40 road to Hazyview due to protests. This has become our weekly reality, which results in our children not accessing education," said a parent who wants the protest to end.
Angry community members who want the protest to continue refused to provide details of their grievances to the media, instead demanding that Premier Refilwe Motshweni-Tsipane come address them.
"The premier must come and listen to us. We are also citizens of this province like everybody else. In fact, President (Cyril) Ramaphosa should come listen to us, then we will stop blockading the road. If we had transport we would take our protest to Carolina on Friday, where President Ramaphosa will be holding an imbizo with community members as we heard on radio. We would force him to listen to us because his leaders in Mpumalanga don't care about us at all," said a protester.
Provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Selvy Mohlala confirmed that police were investigating the torching of the trucks.
"They stopped two trucks loaded with timber and allegedly torched them. Both drivers of the trucks were assaulted with open hands and pelted with stones and sustained some injuries. However, they managed to escape from them and were assisted at a nearby house.
“Their cellphones were also burned with the trucks. The timber logs were left scattered on the R40 road. All relevant stakeholders were summoned to attend the scene and two counts of malicious damage to property were opened for further investigation. No suspects have been arrested yet," said Mohlala.
University of Mpumalanga senior lecturer in the department of public administration, Dr John Molepo, condemned the impact of the protests on education.
"People certainly have a right to protest because their concerns are genuine. However, such a right cannot be encouraged to infringe on the rights of others. Learning is a right that every child must enjoy even if there are service delivery issues in the community. These are children we want to see joining the university some years from now, but that cannot happen if they are kept away from school," said Molepo.
Molepo equally condemned political leaders for failing to take action to intervene in the situation.
"It is important for leaders to meet with their community members. It can't be that for three weeks these issues are happening without intervention. We understand that there might be issues in terms of acquiring budgets but the leaders must go clarify those issues to the community. The education department should actually come up with a plan," Molepo said.
When contacted for comment, the office of the premier shifted the blame to the provincial education department.
"This matter is managed by the Department of Education. I suggest that you talk to them for responses," said provincial government spokesperson George Mthethwa.
Questions sent to Mthethwa included the following:
"How long has the premier been aware of the violent protests and interruption of schooling? What intervention has the premier’s office made to prevent the protests from going on?"
Provincial education department spokesperson Gerald Sambo said his department was still investigating the matter.