The following piece was produced in my capacity as a Journalist at SECTION27 for the rebuild Vuwani Campaign.
Vuwani: How we tried to save our schools
It all started with a rumour.
There were a group of disgruntled people who were planning on burning the local schools.
In a village as small as Kuruleni, news spreads fast. Yes, it was just a rumour. But the community weren’t taking any chances.
“We were scared, but there was nothing to else to do but to protect the school,” said SGB (School Governing Body) chair Tinstwalo Tlhabela.
As the evening fell Tintswalo joined other mothers, fathers, grandmothers and children headed to Kuruleni High School.
If anybody was going to try and burn down their school, they would have to get through them first.
At 9PM though, the rumour turned out to be true.
In the distance Kuruleni primary school was ablaze.
Eye witnesses say that all they saw was a blue car speeding away from the primary school. By the time the community was able to make their way to primary school. Two of the classrooms were engulfed in flames and there was nothing much to be done. But for hours the community members ran backwards and forwards to the nearby water tank. By the morning, they had been able to stop the fire from spreading, but it was too late for two classrooms. What was once a colourful Grade R classroom was now the picture of melted steel, Cracked windows, blackened bricks and charred planks.
“They burnt my desk”
Xiluva Baloyi comes bouncing through the school gate in her oversized blue school shirt and grey pants. She heads straight to the circle of other students who have gathered at the primary school to talk about what happened.
Being one of the smallest, she weaves in and out of the circle sometimes listening, other times using her foot to draw in the sand.
15-year-old Shaun Thlabela, was one of the many children who had joined the adults in keeping guard at Kuruleni High school. “By the time we got here. There was too much fire,” he explains. There is a clearing, through which one can see the primary school clearly. On foot however, it is at least a distance of about 2KM’s.
A little while later, Xiluva comes running to her mother with a book in her hand. “Oh this is your brother’s book,” Her mom says.
“Yes I know. but I want mine, they burnt my book, my file and my desk,” Xiluva says softly.
Most of the conversations in the circle are light hearted, the children are playfully teasing each other, but the atmosphere turns slightly more serious when Nkateko Maphophe who is in Grade 12 Kuruleni Secondary says “We haven’t been to school for three months”
The children are all quiet now. There is nothing left to say. It was never about them.
Education cannot wait
When the community embarked on protests after an unfavourable high court bid decision with regards to municipal demarcations. It was the children who were in the line of fire. At least 25 schools were burnt down, and thousands of children were left educationally destitute. For weeks they were bore the brunt of political squabbles that had nothing to do with them.
Despite the fact that the Government delivered mobile classrooms in an effort to resume schooling, the schools are empty as teachers and principals are afraid to go back to school. Some parents have also refused to allow the children to go back to school until the Municipal demarcation issue has been resolved.
A school principal who chose not reveal his identity, said that he was unable to reason with the parents to allow the children to go back to school “It looks like I am on the side of the Government to them,” he explained.
The lines have been drawn, and the children stuck in the middle continue to suffer.
Some learners have been fortunate enough to move to other schools where they can continue learning. But for those without the resources, their only option is to wait.
40 years ago, during apartheid Education could not wait.
After all the lessons learnt and lives lost during the Soweto uprisings, why are we here again?How do we celebrate that day, and still deny thousands of Children access to qaulity education. People were in the streets, so that these kids wouldnt have to be.
Vuwani and Kuruleni are not just small villages in the outskirts of Limpopo. They are South Africa, they are the picture of how education can change a community, but at the same time they are the picture of how being denied an education can keep us from moving forward as a country.