South Africa

South Africa

Zuma no-show mars Vuwani progress

Zuma no-show mars Vuwani progress

There was hope that President Jacob Zuma’s visit to Vuwani on Sunday would bring peace after almost two years of unrest. An interim solution was reached, but the day was marred by Zuma’s no-show at a community meeting. By GREG NICOLSON.

Leaders of the Pro-Makhado Task Team who have been protesting against Vuwani’s incorporation into a new municipality on Sunday agreed to suspend a shutdown that has seen over 20 schools burnt in the last year. Stakeholders, including President Jacob Zuma and government ministers, traditional leaders and civil society, agreed that the Vhembe District Municipality would provide services to Vuwani as a solution is sought to end the demarcation dispute.

The region has seen repeated protests in the last few years. They first flared in Malamulele and then spread to Vuwani after municipal boundaries were changed. Vuwani residents against the incorporation into a new municipality have been protesting for almost two years and Sunday was the first significant step in finding a resolution, but the day, which was billed as a sign that the government was listening, was defined by Zuma’s failure to speak to the community.

Limpopo government spokesperson Phuti Seloba emphasised that the agreement said learners should return to school. He said while there is a lot of work ahead, the Vhembe district providing services to Vuwani is a short-term solution and government must work hard both to ensure services are provided and to find a long-term solution. He said despite government’s efforts on the issue, it had to respect the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB), as well as the courts, before it acted.

Vhavenda King Toni Mphephu Ramabulana proposed that Vhembe should take over Vuwani’s services until a solution is found and the presidency called on the different spheres of government to assist Vhembe in providing services. The presidency statement emphasised that the new municipality that Vuwani was to be incorporated into, LIM 345, would not be disbanded. LIM 345 was established after Malamulele residents demanded their own municipality. When they won it, Vuwani residents protested against joining. Both protests have been defined by concerns over service delivery and differences between the Vatsonga and Vhavenda areas.

It’s still unclear whether residents will adhere to calls to stop the shutdown. SAPS Brigadier Motlafela Mojapelo said people smashed a car window after the community event and there were arrests made for malicious damage to property, but the numbers weren’t yet in.

President Zuma, His Majesty the King and all leaders present at the meeting called upon all community members in Vuwani to work to bring about normalcy in the community. Learners and educators in particular were urged to go back to school,” said the presidency’s statement. It was talking about the stakeholder meeting and not the community meeting Zuma did not attend.

People started gathering at the Nandoni Sports Ground before the 10:00 community meeting. They waited for hours as the president and king, well after 10:00, entered a meeting with stakeholders. After 14:00, the king and a number of Cabinet ministers arrived at the sports ground without Zuma. It was reported that the president did not attend due to security concerns. The audience had become agitated after waiting for hours for the event scheduled to begin at 10:00, but there wasn’t any apparent threat to Zuma.

The SAPS was there in full force and Umkhonto We Sizwe Military Veterans Association members were present. “We were up to the task,” said Mojapelo. SAPS ensured they could maintain peace at the community address, said the brigadier, but the security assessment wasn’t up to the Limpopo SAPS. The presidency claimed Zuma didn’t address the community because the audience didn’t represent a cross-section of those for and against the new municipal boundaries.

Pro-Makhado leaders called for the audience to allow ministers such as Co-operative Governance Minister Des Van Rooyen and Police Minister Fikile Mbalula to speak. As Van Rooyen tried to take the podium, the audience chanted that they wanted to hear from Zuma. Community leader Arnold Mulaudzi, hearing that the president had skipped the event due to safety concerns, said Zuma avoided the event because he thought the people were hooligans:

They don’t respect us.”

Vuwani residents have complained since the area was incorporated into the new municipality of being ignored by government. Recently, the Pro-Makhado residents, who wanted to return to the Makhado Municipality, lost an appeal to the MDB. The MDB in March said it wouldn’t make any adjustments to municipal boundaries until the run-up to the 2019 elections, for various reasons. Sunday’s announcement points towards a political solution and it looks likely that Vuwani will be incorporated into another municipality.

In October, Basic Education Minister said it would cost an estimated R462-million to fix the damaged schools. Last year’s shutdown caused schools to close for months, affecting 52,827 pupils from 102 Vuwani schools. The shutdown was launched again in April, leading to another school being burnt, after the MDB denied an appeal to the change in municipal borders.

Zuma’s no-show in Vuwani comes after Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa recently said the government should listen to protesters’ concerns. Zuma’s government has generally been hostile to prominent protesting groups like those in Vuwani, #FeesMustFall, the anti-Zuma protests, and Marikana, but Ramaphosa, who has been accused of being opportunistic ahead of his run for ANC president, has said government must listen to the concerns of its residents.

The president has promised to return to Vuwani, but it’s unclear when. What should have been a win for Zuma on Sunday was marred by his no-show. The president, elected in the ANC as a man of the people, couldn’t face a potentially hostile but eager audience. DM

Photo: Vuwani residents sing and chant while waiting President Jacob Zuma’s address. Picture: Pelane Phakgadi/EWN.

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