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Protests by residents disrupt teaching and learning in the Free State schools

Thabo Mohlala

Schooling came to a complete halt on Tuesday this week in QwaQwa and surrounding areas in the Free State province as disgruntled residents shut down activities over service delivery concerns.

Although QwaQwa is the flashpoint of the protest, the communities of Kestrel and Harrismith were also affected, with schooling taking the hardest knock. The areas fall under Maluti-A-Phofung Local Municipality.

A school principal of a school in Kestrel, who did not want his name to be mentioned because he is not authorised to speak to the media, told Inside Education that the issues raised by the residents have nothing to do with education.

He said schooling had been disrupted since the protest started and by the look of things the chaos would continue until over the weekend.

“The provincial department of education has not intervened let alone said anything since then.  I went to speak to my district manager who advised me to take precautionary measures to ensure no one gets hurts during the protest. Only 5% of the learners pitched for classes as most feared for their safety,” said the principal.

He said yesterday one of the youth was shot dead by the police during the protest, adding this will undoubtedly escalate the residents’ anger.

“That is why I say I don’t see this protest coming to an end anytime soon, at least not this week. The impact of this will obviously be enormous on education in the affected areas.”

He said what made the situation worse was the way residents’ demands were responded to.

“The mayor was arrogant and very adamant telling residents it is only the ANC that can remove him because he was put there by it,” said principal.

Free State education MEC, Tate Makgoe responded via twitter appealing to the communities to allow schooling to proceed while they resolved their problems with the relevant authorities.

“We have lost two days thus far, no learning or teaching taking place there. We appeal to the communities of Kestrel, QwaQwa and Harrismith to allow schools to operate while they express their grievances over service delivery matters. It’s Day 2 and no schooling in the area,” Makgoe

The use of service delivery related grievances to shut down activities, including schools, is a strategy commonly used by communities to extract concessions from the government. In 2012 parents from a community in the Northern Cape forcefully closed 54 schools for nearly three months to back their demands for have a stretch of road between their villages tarred.

The recent and widely reported community protests took place in Vuwani where scores of schools were torched as residents demanded their own municipality.

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