Northern Cape education crisis
Thousands of kids are not going to school, while teachers and parents live in fear
The education crisis engulfing the Northern Cape has left thousands of children locked out of their classrooms and their teachers living in fear.
Three schools have been torched in a series of violent protests that have swept through the province’s second-largest district, John Taolo Gaetsewe, which stretches from Olifantshoek to Kuruman.
A total of 65 schools and over 600 teachers were affected.
In June, parents resolved to keep their children out of school to force regional leaders to meet their demands.
Some wanted tarred roads to replace their corrugated gravel tracks.
Others demanded a new mayor.
Brigette Mulepa from the village of Cassel, near Kuruman, said children were not going to school because protesters felt that if they did, government would not meet their demands.
“I want my child to go to school, but if the gates are locked and the teachers are not there then there is nothing I can do,” she said.
In nearby Glenred, parents refused to speak, saying they were too afraid.
School gates were padlocked and children roamed the streets.
In Olifantshoek, Lucas Botha said parents and children decided together to stop going to school in protest against the town’s mayor, Maria Diniza, whom they want removed.
“I would send my child to school, but it would be difficult since it was a collective decision and there are a lot of things happening in this town,” he said.
He denied that parents were using their children to fight their battles.
“You can go and ask these kids, they are aware of what is going on and they do not want to go to school,” he said.
Another protester, Shoes Obuseng, insisted that the children stayed at home of their own volition.
“They do not see why they should go to school if there is no future for them in this place. Others have finished matric but are sitting at home,” he said.
Regional ANC chairman Mothusi Gaborokwe said intimidation has become so bad that it is unsafe for teachers and children to go to school.
“Some schools closed for a short period, but when they reopened, the teachers and principals were warned that the protesters will come for them,” he said.
The Northern Cape’s acting premier and education MEC Grizelda Cjiekella pleaded with protesters to allow children to return to school.
In Olifantshoek, 2 583 pupils from one high school and two primary schools could not write their June exams.
Cjiekella said pupils from some schools wrote some of the exams, and others in the region had written back-up papers which had been set.
“No person can have an honest intention or interest in your life by destroying children’s right to enjoy an education,” she said.
Matrics from the worst-affected towns were moved to education camps in Barkly West, outside Kimberley.
But this seems to have had an unintended consequence.
Mulepa said her child’s school was burned down two months ago.
“We do not know if it was the learners or the protesters who burned the school.
“I know some of the learners were upset because only Grade 12 students were taken to a camp and residents were protesting because they want a tar road,” she said.