Picture: Ben Curtis/AP – In this file picture, Daisy Chebichi, 10, left, views the destruction in a classroom of her school, a day after Spring term was due to start, in the village of Ngarua, near Burnt Forest in Kenya. Members of Daisy’s tribe, the opposition-supporting Kalenjin, burnt down the school during post-election violence after it was used as a refuge by members of the government-supporting Kikuyu tribe
By Edwin Naidu
Something is rotten in the state of South Africa but this illogical pandemic spreads throughout parts of the continent, too.
When education is described as the panacea to poverty and all social ills that grip society, why are schools beings destroyed or vandalised?
Like places of worship, surely schools ought to be regarded as sacred places of learning? Instead, one is paying witness to the horrific desecration taking place at will and almost without punishment for the thugs perpetuating these misdemeanours. While regularly destroying places of learning is depicted as a crisis in the country, and on the continent, too, it is happening with alarming regularity.
According to African Facts Zone on Twitter recently, four schools were burnt by pupils in Uganda recently in Kasokosa in the Kira Municipality and Nnabingo, apparently in these two cases, the pupils said they were no longer interesting in going to school. Fair enough! Leave!
Setting the schools alight only incurs costs of refurbishment, depriving children of an education. Police director for fire and rescue services in Uganda, Joseph Mugisa, told interview Uganda Radio Network that most school fires occurred because of deliberate action involving revenge motives by former staff, suspended or expelled students or internal
bickering. In Uganda, after the pandemic when schools reopened, there were reports of large numbers of pupils loitering the streets. But no reports yet of the arsonists being dealt with by the law in that country.
Ditto Nigeria. On 12 May, 2022, Punch Nigeria reported on a student who was burnt at the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Closer to home, according to Carta de Moçambique, on 4 August unknown arsonists burned down a church and a primary school in Cuamba district, Niassa province. The church and all the school equipment were destroyed in the attack, the reason for which is as yet unknown.
Niassa province has been listed as one of the recruitment areas for the terrorist group operating in Cabo Delgado province.
Over the past decade, Boko Haram (translated means Western Education is Forbidden) has run a campaign of burning schools in its home base of Maiduguri, capital of northern Borno state in Nigeria. In some instances its members, according to one report, suggests that the arsonists were mainly teenagers. Terrorism fuelling the school destruction is a separate issue from destruction being waged by young, frustrated individuals or criminals. It is still wrong and an act of cowardice. Such selfish behaviour, shows that one also disregards education as a tool to uplift society.
During the riots last year, 137 schools; three educational centres and eight circuit offices were damaged in KwaZulu-Natal, while in Gauteng, 43 schools were damaged, eleven of them were damaged during the violent unrest. Twenty-nine of the schools had already been repaired. In KwaZulu-Natal, according to education officials, some of the damaged schools incurred serious damages which could pose a danger to the lives of learners. They required alternative places to learn as a result. Criminals destroyed plumbing equipment, ripped electrical wires and set libraries on fire. This deplorable conduct is worthy of condemnation – and action by society to ensure such behaviour is stamped out. But a smack on the wrists is all our leaders are capable of.
The reasons for vandalising schools in South Africa is linked in part to criminal elements and frustration over poor service delivery in pretty much most parts of the country. But adding fuel to the fire is the very people who should be setting an example against such deplorable behaviour. Consider the message one gets since nobody has been charged by the inept National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) a year after the July 2021 riots when there was visible evidence of people looting or carrying out horribly violent acts was plain to see?
One would be forgiven assuming that Shamila Batohi, the Director of the NPA, is either blind or a jaded bureaucrat whose best moment as a jurist came when she hit the disgraced late cricket captain Hansie Cronje for a six during the betting scandal that rocked sport in another lifetime. Now that she’s responsible for running the roost against crime, it seems that under her watch that the wheels of justice crawls at a pace slower than that of a snail. Of course, this may be a unfair given the poor appetite of her political masters to ensure that their comrades fit into orange outfits for their corrupt ways. Add to the mix, inadequate funding and a high staff turnover, Batohi may be operating with her hands tied. But there is no need for her to do or say nothing. Certainly, the strong leadership that inspired confidence is sadly missing from this once feisty crime-buster.
So, what hope is there of seeing anyone responsible for vandalising 1900 schools during the lockdown put behind bars? Of course, with Batohi sorely hamstrung and definitely tongue-tied, one cannot expect more than the usual bluster from the South African Police Services (SAPS) political head Bheki Cele, who’s embroiled in his own controversies and also perplexed about whether a tattoo inhibits one from fighting crime. Would matriculants consider a career in the police force under the leadership of such buffoonery?
But then inspired leadership for the youth of South Africa has seen the bar drop after the demise of Thabo Mbeki. He was often criticised for being an intellectual, out of touch with society. But as we have seen since the baton was taken from him, aside from the short, calming reign of Kgalema Motlanthe, the evidence is that is can only get worse.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is a leader who comfortably masquerades with world leaders, displaying a positive can-do attitude. But beneath the presidential that proverbial Phala Phala mattress is a can of worms, epitomised by avarice and the ineptitude of the president and his government? What’s worse is the recalcitrant attitude by Ramaphosa towards the people of South Africa, expecting leadership and getting the same middle-finger the nation got from Jacob Zuma. Both men are hardly examples of leadership likely to encourage the arsonists to throw away their matchsticks.
Then add to the mix, South Africa’s long-serving Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, who has done a reasonable job but she’s proof that if one stays too long in a role they become complacent, merely ticking the boxes, satisfying constituents and paying lip-service to learners. But why has no action been taken to ensure that the thugs people behind the destruction of school properties are put behind bars?
Why invest so much in schools but ignore the security aspects? It is no use bemoaning this is a national crisis, highlighting the huge cost of refurbishment after the fact? Motshekga has called on society and religious leaders to help. It is crazy that when spending money government goes it alone, but when there is a crisis brewing, there is a willingness to pray?
Justice is not served when people causing such damage, walk free whether in Kwazulu Natal or in Nigeria.
Naidu is a journalist and a communicator. He heads up the social enterprise initiative Higher Education Media Services.