Tensions mounting over incorporation into Limpopo

Sipho Masombuka

Sipho Masombuka

Pupils in multid uniforms braved the cold at 7am yesterday, chattering as they made their way to their schools in Moteti, Mpumalanga.

But barely 6km further into Moutse, the picture was totally different. The streets were quiet, as though it were a weekend or a public holiday. There was no sign of children going to school.

Motorists on the Loskop Dam road, the main road into Moutse, were greeted by the sight of stones, broken bottles, burnt trees and tyres at the side of the road. This is testimony to the residents' unwavering resistance to being incorporated into Mpumalanga from Limpopo.

All this, and the high police visibility in the area, is a clear sign that Moutse is a community at war with itself.

The scattered debris and other objects are the aftermath of the resistance that erupted in the area on Monday.

The Sowetan team's first stop was Moutse Stadium, where there was supposed to be a meeting, to be followed by a march to the Moutse magistrates' court, where five residents arrested for public violence on Monday were to appear for a bail application. But the stadium was deserted.

Normally, at 7.45am the ORTambo Secondary School and Njinga Sindane Primary School are bustling with activity as pupils make their way to their classrooms.

But yesterday both schools were as quiet as a graveyard, except for few teachers basking in the sun and chatting in the staff rooms.

The pupils have not been in class since Wednesday last week.

The deputy principal of ORTambo Secondary, Kebareng Moshe, told Sowetan that the teachers report for duty and wait until noon in case the pupils decide to turn up. When the pupils fail to appear, they leave.

He said the school boycott was "regrettable" because the pupils, especially those in grade 12, were losing valuable learning time.

"The last time we had pupils was on Thursday morning and by lunch time there was nobody left at the school. We are thinking of extending school hours when schooling resumes to catch up," said Moshe.

On Friday the pupils did not go to school - no one can say why. Parents seem to have no control over their children.

Evans Mathibela, 18, a grade 12 pupil at ORTambo, said he was opposed to the stayaway because the pupils were the ones who would suffer at the end of the year.

"I'm against the government's decision to incorporate our area into Limpopo, but I'm against staying away from school.

"I do not know who is disrupting schooling. We went to school on Wednesday, but the next day there was nobody preparing to go to school."

"I stayed away as well because of fear of being victimised," he said.

Twenty-one-year-old James Malebye, a grade 12 pupil , said he used to attend ORTambo, but his parents registered him at a private school in Siyabuswa soon after the resistance campaign started in February.

"My parents realised that the demarcation issue would drag on and that schooling would be disrupted so they sent me to a private high school. I feel very sorry for my fellow grade 12 pupils and I hope that these boycotts come to an end so that they can also learn," he said.

According to a pupil, who did not want to be named, pamphlets warning pupils to stay away from school were strewn over the area when they woke on Thursday morning.

By 8.30am residents, community leaders, friends and family members of the five protesters arrested during the Monday protests had gathered outside the Moutse magistrates' court for their appearance.

The peaceful but visibly angry residents filled the public gallery in the court and there was a sigh of relief when they were released on R500 bail each.

Though their release was a victory for the residents, the new challenge was to get 14 juveniles, also arrested on Monday, released. They are detained at Dennilton police station.

Dennilton police station's Commissioner Hans Putter said they were arrested for public violence. "They appeared in court on Tuesday and were released into the custody of their parents," he said.