Lack of communication between government and communities resulted in the targeting of schools by protesters seeking ways to draw attention to their plight, a report by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has found.
The commission monitored the impact of protests on basic education over five years and conducted hearings. The SA Police Service, Department of Basic Education, and lobby group Equal Education, among others, made their submissions as part of the investigation.
“The commission finds that both DBE and SAPS response has, in some cases been slow, and it appears no uniform policy in dealing with such incidents is in place,” the report found.
“The right to basic education is affected by protest-related action arising from causes that in most cases may be unrelated to the provision of basic education.”
The torching of schools in Vuwani, Limpopo, where communities revolted against inclusion in a newly planned municipality, highlighted how protests had an impact on education.
In their presentation, police said when violence flared in Vuwani and schools were targeted, resources were already stretched.
“Communities frustrated the police and used tactics such as digging the roads and placing obstacles on the roads to stop state vehicles from accessing the areas. When police got out of vehicles to remove obstacles they would be stoned…it was difficult for police to respond effectively.”
According to the police, the Vuwani situation could have been avoided if the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) had been more consultative with communities before it took its final decision in Vuwani and surrounding areas.
SAHRC Commissioner Judith Cohen said the protests mirrored South African society, which experienced over 13,000 protests a year.
“Schools are seen as state property, instead of being integral part of communities…communities should be involved in their school. Most of the people involved in protests are men, and mostly young. Joblessness, lack of service delivery are at the centre of protests, where schools are seen as soft targets,” said Cohen.