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Monday, December 6, 2021

Anxiety and fear as learners return to school in Phoenix

There has been a lot of concern and uncertainty from parents and learners with regards to the opening of schools especially in Phoenix, Durban.

According to reports, security has been heightened in the area. Members of the SANDF and the SAPS were visible in the area.

MEC for Education in Kwazulu-Natal Kwazi Mshengu there has been lots of anxiety and fears from both the parents and the learners from both the African and Indian communities.

We have been inundated with a lot of calls that have said, how can we guarantee the safety of the learners as they return to school today, he said.

“And our message has been clear that the safety is all of our responsibility. As the [provincial] department of education we can guarantee them [parents and learners] that while the children are within the school premises, we can guarantee their safety because we are in control of this environment.

“But we have also worked very hard with the police and the law enforcement agencies to ensure that there is heightened police visibility in the area as we know that area is dealing with tensions within the two groupings within this community,” said Mshengu.

READ: Lack of education has resulted in poverty and unemployment

Racial tensions between the predominantly Indian population of Phoenix and neighbouring informal settlements of Amaoti, Bhambayi and Zwelisha and were sparked following unrest in the area.

Some residents turned into vigilante groups, taking arms and indiscriminately killing black Africans seen in the area.

The vigilante group said they were protecting themselves against the province-wide riots that saw some properties and businesses burned down.

38 black Africans were reported killed by vigilante groups in Phoenix and elsewhere, said Sihle Zikalala, KwaZulu-Natal Premier.

Zikalala addressed media on to update the people of KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa on obtaining situation on the ground and the programme to rebuild his province again.

The premier said they are extremely concerned about the reported vigilante linked murders in Phoenix “in which at least 38 people are reported to have been killed by vigilante groups”.

“Those who died in the unrest include Africans and Indians, although the proportion of Africans who died is much higher. So far at least five people have been arrested and more arrests are still expected. The arrests are critical in enforcing the rule of law without fear or favour,” said Zikalala.

Mshengu said he visited Phoenix and neighbouring communities to have extensive talks with community stakeholders to ensure teacher and pupil safety before schools re-opened.

He said they were satisfied with the responses and readily prepared for today.

READ: Schools to open on Monday

“We have been preparing for the last two weeks. All is going on well. Schools are opening [and] teachers have been vaccinated. Covid is now a step behind us, and we are focusing on teaching and learning,” he said.

On Saturday, during her media briefing, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said 139 schools were looted and damaged in KwaZulu-Natal and they will cost an estimated R300 million to repair.

Motshekga said it was mostly computers, television sets, school nutrition supplies, Covid-19 essentials and kitchen equipment were looted in KwaZulu-Natal schools.

She said some schools had their classrooms and administration blocks torched. While doors, windows, and furniture were broken and destroyed.

“This senseless attack on education infrastructure included the vandalising of ablution blocks and plumbing equipment, the destruction of water supplies including theft of school water tanks, the ripping off of electric wires especially copper cables, the ripping off school fences, as well as setting alight libraries, textbooks and stationery,” she said.

She added that ICT equipment and the National School Nutrition Programme supplies and equipment were targeted the most.

“What is saddening is that most schools were left with serious structural damages, which would place the safety of learners and teachers at risk,” she said.

In his weekly newsletter on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned what he called “acts of vigilantism” in Phoenix.

The president came under heavy criticism after failing to mention the Phoenix killings in his address to the nation on Sunday evening where he confirmed schools are on track to open on Monday.

In his newsletter, Ramaphosa said the Phoenix massacre would not be tolerated. He said the massacre is regarded as criminal conduct by the authorities.

“We do know from official reports and personal accounts that people were racially profiled at illegal roadblocks. Some people were pulled out of cars and beaten, and some were humiliated and degraded,” wrote Ramaphosa on Monday.

He added: “Several people were killed. Much of what has happened is the inevitable outcome when people take the law into their own hands.

“Vigilantism will not be tolerated in this country. It is criminal and it is dangerous. Since calm has been restored to the affected areas, our law enforcement agencies are investigating all acts of criminality.”

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