Kuyga resembled a battlefield yesterday as residents clashed violently with police over scholar transport, with children – including a two-month-old baby – teargassed during the protest.
At least two people were arrested and five taxis were damaged, allegedly by police fire.
Police used stun grenades and teargas to disperse the more than 2 000 protesters, who moved later to the Department of Education’s district office in Sidwell.
The drama started when the angry parents closed Mission Road and hurled rocks and insults at police, who also fired rubber bullets and used a water cannon to try to quell the violence.
The site of the confrontation, in the Greenbushes area, looked like a war zone.
The infant was caught in the crossfire when police allegedly threw a teargas canister into a shack where nine children had been sheltering.
Neighbour Onikwa Yamile, 41, who witnessed the incident, said the baby had been left in the house with her siblings while her mother joined the protest.
“I saw the teargas thrown inside,” she said.
“I ran to rescue them and noticed that the baby was unable to breathe or move.
“I quickly took her in my hands and rushed to an ambulance which had been standing there, but it was gone when I arrived.
“Fortunately, some people managed to administer first aid and the baby could breathe.”
Last night, Transport MEC Weziwe Tikana and Education MEC Mandla Makupula met to solve the catalyst for the conflict – the scrapping of the free bus service for Kuyga children to their farm schools.
After the meeting, Tikana said the free service would be reinstated on Monday.
The department cut the service earlier this year due to budget constraints and said the children should instead attend Kuyga Intermediate Primary – but the school is already full.
There was more drama at the education district office in Sidwell when police allegedly fired on 12 taxis organised by some parents and pupils to ferry them there.
Taxi driver Edward Kasika said they had been told by a police officer to remove their vehicles.
But while they were doing so, police allegedly shot rubber bullets at them, damaging five taxis.
“The officers began shooting randomly while passengers, including schoolchildren, dived under the seats for cover,” Kasika said.
“You can see that the whole rear window is damaged.”
Some of the protesters had started jumping over the fence when they arrived at the district office, prompting the police response.
The protesters then returned to Kuyga.
Police spokeswoman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said the 33-year-old man and 22-year-old woman arrested would appear in court on a charge of public violence.
She said a riot had broken out at the department’s offices when a group tried to get inside by force and the police reacted with more teargas.
The schools attended by the Kuyga children include Colleen Glen Primary, Van Stadens Primary, Yellowwood Primary, Island Reserve Primary and St Albans Primary. Schooling in the area ground to a halt with parents, furious about the transport cut, insisting there would be no schooling in or outside the area.
Nokrismes Dyumana, 45, a mother of three, said embarking on protest action would send a message to officials who were delaying the resolution of the problem.
“We are unemployed and survive doing odd jobs,” she said.
“We do not want our children to be like us.
“We want a better education for them.”
Nomathu Yoli, 25, the mother of a Grade 4 pupil, said they were not asking for the impossible, only basic rights for their children.
Ntombikayi Manto, 25, vowed that the protesters would not stop until the department sorted out the transport issue.
“Kuyga’s children have been missing out on their education, and department officials and their uncaring attitude to the education of black children are to blame,” he said.
In January, the children attended classes for just two weeks, in March they had three weeks of schooling and last month only a week.
“All we need is education for our children, that is all,” Manto said.
“This [protest] is just the beginning of worse things to come if they don’t take the community seriously.”
Lindeka Chaka, 29, whose daughter attends Yellowwood Primary, said the reaction of the police and education department was distasteful and heartbreaking.
“This is not right. They have sprayed teargas on us as if we are criminals,” she said.
“We are here fighting for our children’s education rights.
“They are not considerate of the future of our children because theirs attend schools in town.”
Noziboniso Tokota, whose children go to Reserve Primary School, said: “We are in pain.
“Our children have not been to school for weeks now.
“June exams are just around the corner and the children are sitting idle at home.”
Provincial education spokesman Malibongwe Mtima deplored the violence.
Equal Education Eastern Cape deputy head Masixole Booi said the failure to provide scholar transport to pupils was a violation of their rights.
“Equal Education has been arguing for reliable scholar transport for years now,” he said.
“Unfortunately, this is a recurring problem and the question that should be posed is why there is always this lack of planning.”
Booi said the department had started a process of rationalisation and realignment of schools in the province, with schools being shut down and pupils supposed to be transported to other schools.
“How will this process be successful when there is no reliable scholar transport?
“We will have to give this issue urgent attention,” he said.
Education expert Susan van Rensburg said the department could not say scholar transport had not been budgeted for as planning should have commenced in the previous financial year.
“It is not good enough to say that you are waiting for more funding,” Van Rensburg said.
“This transport problem has an adverse effect on pupils who are already suffering.”