South Africa

South Africa

Vuwani: The unhappy community on the march, again

Vuwani: The unhappy community on the march, again

Vuwani residents opposing the area’s incorporation into a new municipality with Malamulele say an agreement announced by President Jacob Zuma in May has not been implemented. More than 20 schools were burnt in protests last year and pupils could be affected by renewed demonstrations. By GREG NICOLSON.

The Pro-Makhado Task Team, which led shutdowns in Vuwani in 2016 and 2017, will march on Monday to the offices of the Vhembe District Municipality, demanding that an interim solution to the area’s municipal boundary disputes be implemented. The group said services, including schools, will be closed in Vuwani until the march is finished.

This attitude of the government towards us in Vuwani is that of undermining our human rights. We still maintain that the government is elected to serve the interests of the people and should by all means listen to their voices,” said a Pro-Makhado statement. It claimed that “the humanity of the people of Vuwani is being challenged by the government due to its failure to implement the decision taken by the President of the Republic of South Africa and the King of VhaVenda”.

In May, Zuma and VhaVenda King Toni Mphephu Ramabulana said the Vhembe District Municipality should provide services in Vuwani while a solution was being sought to the demarcation dispute. Zuma did not attend a scheduled community meeting to make the announcement. He claimed it did not represent the diversity of stakeholders, while residents felt insulted after reports that he skipped the event due to security concerns.

The region has seen violent protests over municipal issues for years, first in Malamulele and then Vuwani. After protests in Malamulele, the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) decided to establish a new municipality, LIM 345, incorporating areas of Thulamela and Makhado, which was previously responsible for Vuwani. Over 20 schools were torched in the Vuwani protest and students missed months of classes.

There have not been protests since the interim solution was announced, but the Pro-Makhado Task Team is frustrated by its slow implementation. “To this very same day, nothing has been implemented. The government – it is dragging its feet on implementing the decision and the situation is becoming tense,” said Pro-Makhado spokesperson Nsovo Sambo. The situation almost turned violent recently when LIM 345 officials tried to open their offices.

Remember, the situation in Vuwani is still tense. This is just a temporary measure,” said Sambo. His group wants the area to return under the Makhado Municipality, but the MDB has said it cannot review the boundaries until before the 2019 elections. He said Monday’s march would be peaceful. Attacks on government property were not a major concern, he said, as there was no decision to shut the community down beyond the march. Demonstrators will give government seven days to implement the May announcement, but haven’t yet decided on what to do if the deadline lapses.

As we are talking now, LIM 345 is currently the municipality in charge,” said Phuti Seloba, spokesperson for the Limpopo provincial government. “People think when the president makes an announcement it will happen tomorrow.” Legally implementing the announcement requires council resolutions from LIM345 and the Vhembe District Municipality, as well as consultation with the Pro-Makhado Task Team, those supporting the Malamulele council, and traditional leaders.

There’s no one who has abandoned the problems in Vuwani,” said Seloba. He said the provincial government has met with all stakeholders, although the Pro-Makhado group did not want to meet with those supporting the merger with Malamulele and had not made its final submission yet on the future of the area. On Monday, the government’s provincial and national task teams on Vuwani will meet to chart a way forward.

We don’t understand the rationale to march, but it’s in their right to do so,” said Seloba. He called on demonstrators to trust that government is working to implement the May announcement and not target schools or government property. “Any minute of learning lost is a serious concern for us,” he said, calling on demonstrators to work with government. “As we protest, let’s make sure we protect the little we have.”

Sambo denied the Pro-Makhado Task Team was being impatient. “I think they are being misleading. The decision which was taken by the president was first discussed in February and then we were told they were doing the feasibility study,” claimed Sambo. “We are not being impatient… Delaying doesn’t assist in stabilising the community. That’s our greatest concern.”

SAPS Limpopo spokesperson Brigadier Motlafela Mojapelo said there haven’t been protests in Vuwani since the May announcement. He said protesters have a right to march but must do so legally. “Based on the experiences of the past we will obviously be vigilant in terms of avoiding a repeat of what happened in the past,” he said. There will be an increased police presence in the area aimed at crime prevention.

Police have appeared unable to protect schools targeted by protesters and after over 20 were burnt last year, another was torched in April. Journalists laughed at State Security Minister David Mahlobo when he recently said, “We must realise that when we have intelligence, we cannot scream and announce we have intelligence… For example, we had intelligence on Vuwani a year before it all happened.” Clarifying his comments, he said the media misunderstands the work of state security agencies and jumps to conclusions. On Sunday, Mahlobo’s spokesperson Brian Dube said the police were best placed to talk on security work in Vuwani.

Elijah Mhlanga, spokesperson for Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, said the department was concerned Monday’s march would affect pupils. “We are very disappointed. We are very concerned that once again a school day has been chosen to mount a demonstration that we’ve said has nothing to do with education and once again we are going to be the biggest losers as this demonstration takes place,” he said.

Monday is the first day of the third term for pupils and Mhlanga called on demonstrators to consider the impact on students. Last year students were not only affected by a loss of teaching time but also faced a psychological impact. “The impact of the demonstrations are much, much wider than one can ever imagine,” he said.

Schools that were damaged in last year’s protests are functional, but Mhlanga said the learning conditions are not ideal. Pupils are learning in mobile classrooms as the department plans to demolish and rebuild the burnt buildings. That process was held up this year when protests resumed, but the department of basic education is now finalising contractors it will use to rebuild the damaged schools. DM

Photo: A woman looks on as a police Nyala patrols a village during tense local municipal elections in Vuwani, South Africa’s northern Limpopo province, August 3, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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