Teachers and pupils in tears as land protesters gut their new school

384

Two schools and a municipal refuse truck were set alight in Joe Slovo Park, Milnerton, Cape Town, in protests believed to relate to land occupations, targeting vacant land along Freedom Way.

On Wednesday, Sinenjongo High School hall was petrol bombed, destroying all the equipment and furniture stored in the hall as the school had sought to make space in classrooms to adhere to Covid-19 physical distancing rules.

On Tuesday, protesters torched a municipal refuse truck.

On Monday, protesters petrol bombed the library at Marconi Beam Primary School, also gutting a grade 5 classroom. The deputy principal, Lumka Boya, estimates books and sports equipment worth R400,000 went up in the blaze.

On Wednesday, Sinenjongo High principal Khuselwa Nopote stopped pupils from staging a protest, telling them that “you can’t fight wrong with wrong”.

Pupils  had placards which read: “The life of a black child matters”, “No place for arsonists in Joe Slovo”, “Stop destroying our schools”, and “Never back down #Sizofunda sipase [We’ll learn and pass]”.

Matric pupils  Cebo Pikini said: “The community is letting us down, instead of them supporting us. I see it as mediocrity and greed. They are threatening our future. This year is already hard with Covid-19; now they are burning our school infrastructure. It’s inflicting pain.”

Sinenjongo High had for years operated out of prefabricated, temporary structures. The department of transport and public works spent R47m to build the new school, with four science laboratories, a media centre and a computer laboratory. It was handed over to the Western Cape education department on October 28 2016. The school accommodates 1,400 pupils from grades 8-12.

“I was called about 1am by night shift security guards informing me that the school was burning,” said Nopote. “When I arrived at  7.30am I was very hurt. The teachers and learners were crying. We didn’t get this school easily.”

Nopote said the perpetrators were a group of people fighting to occupy vacant land. “Even if they burn this school they won’t get the piece of land,” she said. “In fact, these are thugs.” She said they had no respect for education.

Noxolo Mayeki, who has twins at the school in grade 12, said: “We want these people arrested and as parents we will go oppose their bail at court. They are troublemakers and we want them evicted from our township.

Boya said she was called at 10.22pm on Monday and told her school was burning.

“We are not involved in allocating land for housing. Their anger is directed to wrong places,” she said.

The school accommodates 1,756 pupils from grades R to 7.

Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schäfer condemned the attacks. “These disgraceful acts of thuggery will do even more harm to our children’s education at a time when teaching and learning is already difficult,” she said.

“The department’s budget has just been slashed again, and other schools and areas have been waiting patiently for a long time to receive schools and halls. We will not prioritise schools that are destroyed over others that have been patiently waiting for facilities. This destruction must stop.”

Mayco member for water and waste Xanthea Limberg confirmed that a city cleansing truck was petrol bombed in Joe Slovo Park on Tuesday evening. No staff were physically harmed. Trauma counselling has been offered to them.

Mayco member for human settlements Malusi Booi said the land targeted for occupation is partly owned by the city and a road is reserved for future expansion and mixed use development, including a housing development.

“So it is not to be illegally occupied. There are plans in place for parts of the land and if it is illegally occupied, it has a negative knock-on domino effect for future projects,” said Booi.