ADDRESS BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER FOR COOPERATIVE GOVERNANCE AND TRADITIONAL AFFAIRS, MR DES VAN ROOYEN, MP, ON THE OCCASION OF THE DEBATE IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY ON THE EVENTS IN VUWANI, 17 May 2016, Cape Town
My colleagues, Ministers
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Fellow South Africans and special acknowledgement to our people in VUWANI
On the occasion of signing our Constitution, former President Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had this to say and I quote:
“As we close a chapter of exclusion and a chapter of heroic struggle, we reaffirm our determination to build a society of which each of us can be proud, as South Africans, as Africans, and as citizens of the world.”
As we commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Constitution, this ANC-led government has been seized with building a society all South Africans can be proud of. We believe we have made exceptional efforts and achievements in this regard, especially in the local government sphere.
Last week ratings agency Moody gave the City of Ekhuruleni a rating of Aaa, a four-notch upgrade and declared it the leading manufacturing metro in the country. This follows the City of Johannesburg’s national scale rating being raised by four notches, from A2 to Aa1.
In the past year, our Community Work Programme created over 220 000 work opportunities for our poorest communities in 198 municipalities across South Africa. Free basic services have been extended to millions of the indigent of our country. It is against this backdrop that the events in Vuwani have unfolded.
As Government our response has been swift and decisive. We have worked with various stakeholders in the region to address the situation. Today’s debate will ensure that this House and our fellow South Africans have information about the real issues on the ground and our interventions.
In my view, the debate today cannot be about politicking or scoring cheap political points. It is also about how we assist in unifying communities, and ensuring the return to normality in the areas where they reside.
We are also determined that learners who are the future of our country, will be back in their classrooms and teachers will be there to teach. We have heard the learners’ call that you burn their school you burn their future, we dare not fail to restore normality in our schooling system.
Let me also add that this is not the first time that Vuwani has been in the news. It would be amiss, not to contextualize this discussion and the events of the past weeks, within its historical framework. The genesis of these disruptions lies in the creation of the Bantustan system that was artificially manufactured by the apartheid regime.
The formation of the Republic of Venda fuelled tensions between Venda and Tsonga speakers, in the areas now occupied by the Vuwani and Malamulele communities, respectively. In the past weeks this tension has spilt onto the streets of Vuwani and surrounding areas.
Our interventions over the past few years in both Vuwani and Malamulele have to be understood in light of this inherited challenge. One of the key tenants of the ANC foundation was its commitment to build a society free from all apartheid manifestations, hence our relentless efforts to build a United and integrated society.
Let me spell out our interventions, as government, throughout this process.
DEMARCATION BOARD DECISION AND THE BEGINNING OF PROTESTS
The Back to Basics programme that was launched in September 2014, identified a number of municipalities as financially unviable. For this and other reasons Cogta applied to the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) to consider the demarcation and redemarcation of certain municipalities. Of the 34 submissions made, the Municipal Demarcation Board approved 13 requests.
One of these was the amalgamation of Vuwani with parts of the Malamulele municipality. These requests were made on the basis of forming municipalities that were economically viable, sustainable and able to deliver services to citizens. Despite this, the MDB’s decision led to unhappiness within the Vuwani community, which is largely Venda-speaking.
Let me reiterate that the communities from the Malamulele Municipality, who are mostly Tsonga-speaking, were largely in favour of the MDB’s decision. Following consultations between government and community leaders, we urged more discussion on the decision Demarcation Board.
Nevertheless, the Masia Traditional Council made an application to the Limpopo High Court that sought to set aside the MDB’s decision on the establishment of the new Municipality in the Vhembe District. This application was dismissed by the Limpopo High Court on the 29 April 2016.
Following the dismissal by the court, the Pro-Makhado Task Team and Traditional Leaders addressed the Community on the 1st of May 2016 at the Vuwani Sports Ground, and resolved to disband the Task Team. This meeting was then followed by a wave of violent unrest in the villages of Mashau, Masakona, Doli, Masia, Bungeni and Vyeboom areas.
Some members of the ccommunities took to the streets, blockaded routes, brought business to a halt, shut down services, torched schools, vandalized clinics and other infrastructure.
The unprecedented action of the torching of 24 schools and the vandalising of infrastructure was the communities’ response to the court decision. We reiterate that in this democratic era, when there are so many avenues of engagement open between communities and government, that this action is outrageous.
It is unacceptable!
It is uncalled for!
The outbreak of violence is of serious concern as it sets back our development agenda and denies citizens the opportunity to improve their lives. As we celebrate the 20-year anniversary of our new Constitution, the actions of a few disgruntled citizens are in conflict with the spirit and letter of this illustrious document.
That such protest should occur in the democratic era is unacceptable when there are so many other avenues to engage government. That such protest leads to the destruction of 24 schools, is simply outrageous. The burning of schools is inconsistent with section 29 of the Bill of Rights, which guarantees the right to education.
Guided by this understanding and that education is fundamental to a well-functioning democracy, government acted with speed to quell the ongoing violence.
Following the torching of schools, His Excellency President Jacob Zuma immediately despatched a team of Ministers to complement those already on the ground. This has now been constituted into an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC), led by myself. The national and provincial IMCs, working together with all municipalities in the Vhembe District, will continue to engage communities about the importance of the objectives of local government.
To provide democratic and accountable government for local communities;
To ensure the provision of services to communities in a sustainable manner;
To promote social and economic development; (IMC welcomes the Provincial government decision to request the National government to declare Vhembe District as a Comprehensive Rural Development Programme Site. This will help to unlock economic development initiatives in this economically depressed district. Amongst other things this will help to unlock economic development potential of areas like Nondoni Dam and businesses development at Nkuzana Village).
We have been guided by this in our interactions with the Vuwani community. It is in the interest of all stakeholders – government, faith based organization, communities, non-government organisations, and individuals – to speedily resolve this matter.
The Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angie Motshekga hosted an Education Dialogue with leaders of the Education Sectors in this area as part of ongoing efforts to get learners in Vuwani back to school. Minister of Communications, Ms Faith Muthambi has held an Imbizo with residents of the Makuleke Community.
This builds on various engagements we have had with stakeholders over the last two weeks.
On the 5th of May 2016, we met with the MECs for COGHSTA, Education and Public Works, including the Mayors of Makhado and Thulamela and the councillors. We then resolved to continue engaging communities and mandated the provincial Technical Team led by the Acting Director-General to develop a stabilization plan.
The first part of the engagement process was geared to ending the violence and destruction of property that have become hallmarks of this protest. We also ensured that we engage the traditional leadership who have the responsibility to provide leadership to their subjects in the various areas.
On Friday, 06 May 2016, His Majesty King T.P. Mphephu Ramabulana of the Vhavhenda nation met the Traditional Leaders and urged them to allow government to engage community structures during the weekend.
Another meeting was held with the Traditional leaders from Hlanganani area on the 8th May 2016 at the Njhakanjhaka Community Hall. On the 9th of May King Ramabulana met with President Zuma, at the former’s request. In this meeting, his Excellency the President and his Majesty the King, agreed that violence can never be a solution to resolve differences.
They also agreed that all stakeholders should call for calm and peace, condemn in the strongest terms the violence, ensure that all learners to go back to school, educators return to their work and life return to normality.
We commend his Majesty for his willingness, resolve, dedication to this process and the leadership he was willing to exercise towards resolving the impasse.
The high-level meeting between the King and President was a success. We want to commend the two leaders for prevailing and showing leadership, and hope that all of us will strive to implement their directive of exuding stability and finding an amicable solution to challenges facing our people in Vuwani.
It is important to note that the intervention and the concern of the President was also necessitated by the fact that ours is a government that cares for the people and is committed to finding lasting solution to the plight of communities.
Flowing out of the meeting between the President and the King, government met with all traditional leaders on the 10th of May 2016.
At this meeting, traditional Leaders committed to convene and schedule all stakeholder meetings within their areas to talk to communities to bring peace and ensure calm. The resolutions also focused on efforts to bring stability to the situation and to relook at the demarcation process.
With regard to the demarcation the following were also agreed upon:
- To establish a Task Team comprising of Traditional Leaders and the Technical Task Teams on the new Municipality
- To negotiate an option legally acceptable to all parties
In addition to this social cohesion projects are to be commissioned by the following stakeholders: COGTA, COGHSTA, Arts & Culture Department and House of Traditional Leaders.
Meetings were held in Davhana Traditional Area at the traditional council on 12 May, and with the Tshikonelo Traditional Council, and the Mulenzhe Community on 13 May 2016.
Communities who were in attendance also supported the message to bringing an end to hostilities. We emphasised that firm action will be taken against anyone who breaks the law or those who protests outside the norms of responsible, democratic protest. While SAPS will remain highly visible, the situation in the affected communities is currently stable and remains calm.
We have consulted various stakeholders across the Vhembe District Municipality. Religious leaders have called a pastors’ forum and organized a Prayer day that will bring all stakeholders together. The most touching message came from the learners’ representative who pleaded with communities never to destroy their future by burning schools.
As government we are committed and will continue to engage to find a lasting solution to the challenges in Vukani. We urge the people of Vuwani to participate in the process of finding a lasting solution and for things to return to normal.
The following engagements will follow in this week:
- Wednesday, 18 May 2016 at the Nesengane Tribal Council – at 10h00
- Friday, 20 May 2016 at the Masiya Tribal Council – at 10h00
- Friday, 20 May 2016 at the Mashao Tribal Council – at 14h00
Our engagement with the traditional leadership, is in line with our constitution with which recognizes the status and authority of traditional leaders and customary law.
The Executive Mayor of Vhembe and Provincial Executive Council have directed that emergency funding be released for immediate requirements. The Disaster assessment Team has been established and was expected to submit a comprehensive report yesterday, Monday 16 May 2016.
Emergency funding is required from both national and/or province to enable the provision of services and teaching and learning to resume on the 16th May 2016. Government remains ready to bring in mobile classrooms and other services and will work with all stakeholders until the situation is back to normality.
Going forward, we are confident that normality will prevail – schools, businesses and other sectors critical for the daily lives of communities.
I want to take this opportunity to also thank the communities, traditional leaders, religious leaders and all sectors for their efforts, resolve and dedication to bringing the situation under control.
Let me close with the words of Tata Madiba at that momentous occasion in our country’s history in Sharpeville on the 10 December 1996:
“Today we cross a critical threshold.
Let us now, drawing strength from the unity, which we have forged, together grasp the opportunities and realise the vision enshrined in this constitution.
Let us give practical recognition to the injustices of the past, by building a future based on equality and social justice.
Let us nurture our national unity by recognising, with respect and joy, the languages, cultures and religions of South Africa in all their diversity.
Let tolerance for one another’s views create the peaceful conditions which give space for the best in all of us to find expression and to flourish.
Above all, let us work together…
…Let us join hands for peace and prosperity.”
I thank you.