By SA News
South Africa’s State Security Minister David Mahlobo says 23 suspects have been arrested in connection with incidents of arson and malicious damage to property in the Vuwani area in Limpopo.
This comes after 26 schools in the area were damaged when residents protested over demarcation issues involving Vuwani being incorporated into the newly formed Malamulele municipality.
The Minister said this when Parliament held a debate under the theme ‘Ways to resolve the crisis in Vuwani to restore the people’s rights to dignity and basic services’.
“A total of 23 suspects have already been arrested. Thirty-five cases of arson opened with seven suspects, 34 cases of malicious damage to property with 14 suspects and two additional suspects were arrested yesterday.
“Investigations are continuing and we envisage more arrests,” he said on Tuesday.
While the Minister thanked the role played by traditional leaders, local political leaders and residents of Vuwani in facilitating ongoing engagements to resolve the impasse, he said the burning schools, libraries and university buildings in the name of voicing grievances cannot be tolerated.
The Minister said on April 29, 2016, the Limpopo High Court dismissed an application by the traditional leaders of the affected communities to set aside the Municipal Demarcation Board’s decision on the establishment of the new municipality in the Vhembe District.
A few days later, on May 1, the pro-Makhado Task Team and traditional leaders addressed the community at the Vuwani Sports Ground, and resolved to disband the task team.
Unfortunately, this was followed by a wave of violent unrest that exploded in the Mashau, Masakona, Doli, Masia, Bungeni and Vyeboom areas.
The Minister said of the 26 schools that were damaged, 11 were totally burnt down and 15 were partially burnt and damaged.
Major routes were blocked with tree trunks, rocks, stones and pipes. One SAPS trailer was burnt, one purification system was damaged and two trucks belonging to a contractor and a guard room were burnt.
Three Department of Public Works trucks and a store room were burnt, 18 private vehicles windows were smashed and five SAPS vehicles got smashed by stones.
The Minister also said four houses were burnt and one Tribal Authority Office and satellite police station were damaged. Police vehicles patrolling the area were attacked and ambushed, and protesters targeted specific community members and councillors.
The Minister thanked the King of the Ba Venda Nation, Toni Mphephu Ramabulana, for his unwavering support and commitment to restore normalcy.
“We must also thank the traditional leaders who, despite their preferences with regard to the demarcation issue, condemned the violence and have called for calm.
“The response from our security forces and law enforcement agencies, led by the SAPS, has been commendable. They have been working under very difficult conditions in a vast terrain that lends itself to various ambush attacks,” he said.
Mobile classrooms dispatched to Vuwani
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister Des Van Rooyen said the burning down of schools and the destruction of other public property, when there are so many avenues of engagement open between communities and government is “outrageous”.
“The burning of schools is inconsistent with section 29 of the Bill of Rights, which guarantees the right to education.
“Guided by this understanding and that education is fundamental to a well-functioning democracy, government acted with speed to quell the ongoing violence,” the Minister said.
He said after the President deployed Ministers into the area, led by himself, they have been doing a lot of work on the ground.
The Cogta Ministry earlier said government will deploy 74 mobile classrooms to all affected schools in Vuwani and surrounding areas.
Meanwhile, Members of Parliament, including those in opposition benches, condemned the violence and the burning down of schools, saying disrupting schooling is equivalent to robbing learners of their future.