There is a crisis brewing in Zebediela, Limpopo, and its biggest victims are close to 3,000 school children who have missed school since March.
The community in Zebediela is on a total shutdown to protest against underdeveloped road infrastructure; in this case, a tar road that they have been waiting for since the dawn of democracy in South Africa in 1994.
Crèches and some businesses have been shut down, according to News24 reports, while community leaders face off with the provincial government.
Leaders initially said the standstill will last until Limpopo premier Stan Mathabatha engages with the community.
Community leader John Kgole told News24: “We addressed our demand to the local municipality [Lepelle-Nkumpi] and they never took us seriously. We contacted RAL [Road Agency Limpopo] and the officials came here but they never came back to us.”
He added that the community sent a petition to Mathabatha’s office and followed it with a march to his office too before the national elections in May but so far, there has not been any word from the provincial government.
He said: “We were promised that the premier will visit the area within seven days but he failed to do so.”
The shutdown has so far affected nine schools and several pre-schools. It has also caused matric pupils — who are in their final year of school — to miss their mid-year exams.
The premier’s spokesperson, Kenny Mathivha, said the problem is not a lack of will from the provincial government. Rather, that R90 billion is needed to upgrade roads in Zebediela and around Limpopo.
“The challenge is where do we get all that money,” he told News24, while urging the community to allow pupils to go back to school.
“We cannot hold the children to ransom just because of the demand for the tarred road,” he continued. “The premier is looking at his diary and will visit the area soon.”
Speaking about the setback, a matric student said it’s unfortunate that he and his peers have effectively been forced into repeating grade 12 again next year.
“I had dreams that I'll pass my matric and get a bursary to further my studies. However, it now seems like a pipe dream because as the situation stands, we are destined to repeat the class next year," Itumeleng Mako said.
There was still a chance that his goal could have come to pass, with Limpopo’s education spokesperson, Sam Makondo, saying that the department was working on plans to help pupils catch up with missed lessons and exams.
However, all hopes of returning to school were reportedly dashed last week after a meeting between the community and a delegation from the premier’s office failed to reach an agreement.
The premier’s delegation was made up of three provincial members of the executive council from the departments of transport and community safety (Dickson Masemola), education (Polly Boshielo) and public works, roads and infrastructure (Dr. Onnica Mochadi).
The trio asked the community to let children go back to school, and sign up for weekend and holiday classes to catch up with their peers around the country.
But the community reportedly refused, with residents demanding the release of 28 people who have been arrested for taking part in the protest.
Speaking to the media after the meeting with the community, Boishelo said the province is yet to make a decision on when tar roads will be built.
He said an announcement will be made after another meeting between the community, traditional leaders, and the provincial government.