Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga plans to lobby for a change of legislation to ensure that people who burn schools and infrastructure are punished harshly.
Motshekga also wants a new legal dispensation to make sure those found guilty of destroying school properties are sentenced to [longer] terms.
This comes after two schools in Siyabuswa, Mpumalanga, were set alight by disgruntled community members who were unhappy with the results of a weekend by-election.
Thabana Senior Secondary and Siyathokoza Senior Secondary schools were attacked on Saturday morning.
The minister’s spokesman, Elijah Mhlanga, said Motshekga will propose an increased jail term for those behind the burning of school properties.
“We hope this will discourage people from burning schools as there is a lot that is at stake,” Mhlanga said.
“A new school has to be built and we have to spend budget meant for something else in rebuilding the same school. The department also has to provide the school with new textbooks, which do not come cheap. Those who damage schools should be dealt with harshly.”
Early last week, Tiang Primary School in North West was also set alight and records of all Grade 3 pupils destroyed when locals protested.
In 2016 at least 30 schools were burnt in Vuwani, Limpopo, when the community protested over demarcation.
In Siyabuswa, community members burned three classes and a storeroom at Thabana Senior Secondary and also set alight Siyathokoza’s classes and a library full of books and children’s documentation.
According to an independent candidate, Lucky Ntuli, who contested the results of the by-elections in ward 7, local ANC members were to blame for the torching of the schools.
Ntuli lost the by-election by nine votes to an ANC candidate but lodged an appeal against the results, causing a ruction in the community.
ANC spokeswoman Sasekani Manzini rubbished Ntuli’s claims. “How can we burn schools when we have won? We have no point to prove … we have won, ours is to celebrate,” Manzini said.
Mpumalanga education MEC Sibusiso Malaza said the incident has taken the department backwards and the children’s education is at stake.
“We have not yet quantified the damage, but by the look of things we’re running into millions, where we need to buy books for the children because all textbooks have been burned,” Malaza said.
“We are arranging mobile classes and ways to have the children who had their exams disturbed on Friday to write today. It’s going to take time as we did not budget for this.”
Mpumalanga police spokesman Brigadier Leonard Hlathi said no one has been arrested yet and pleaded for the public to help locate the people responsible.
Criminal law expert Professor Stephen Tuson said arson is a common law crime and the sentencing depends on the amount of damage. “Burning of school property is an aggravating circumstance as pupils are left without education and some people without jobs,” Tuson said.
“If the trial takes place in a district court, the maximum sentence is three years imprisonment. If it takes place in a regional court, the maximum is 15 years and in a high court there is no maximum limit.”