South Africa: Syndicate of Arsonists Behind Torching, Vandalising of 22 Gauteng Schools - Lesufi

(file photo)

Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has issued a warning to a criminal syndicate that he says is running amok, vandalising, torching and stealing from schools in the province, adding that their days are numbered.

A furious Lesufi said the syndicate had left the department with a bill of millions of rands to settle.

So far, 22 schools in Gauteng have been torched or vandalised this year.

Four schools in Soshanguve were torched within a week of the 21-day lockdown starting.

The latest incident was at Soshanguve High School, which was set alight in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Lesufi said there was no doubt that there was a syndicate targeting schools.

"The issue is, why are they targeting schools, and that is what we are trying to get. We want to find why are they burning schools, because if you burn a school, you might be very angry.

"We want to know why are you angry and venting your anger on places that are assisting your child. There are 22 schools vandalised in Gauteng and four schools were burnt down in within a week in Soshanguve.

"The modus operandi is the same, because they are targeting administration blocks, and it is clear that it is people who are determined to cause maximum damage," he said.

'Major setback'

Lesufi said arsonists were targeting administration blocks, which were a critical component in the smooth running of schools.

He called on law enforcement agencies to speedily arrest those behind the attacks.

Lesufi said action will be taken, "should one of our own found to be responsible for the burning of schools". He added that the police are "going with that aspect".

"To our communities with information, they must please give it to the police, no matter how little it is. Even if you saw somebody wearing a certain [type of] clothing, give that information to the police," he said.

Lesufi warned culprits that they couldn't outrun the law and, ultimately, would be found.

"We must not be naive that the police are overstretched, particularly at the time we are in. We still call on the police and say, whatever little resources they have, they must not forget our schools.

"This is a major setback because schools are not insured. We have to go back and get some extra budget to replace the damaged properties and stolen ones," he said.

'Dragging their feet'

Lesufi said they had been forced to remove people who were guarding schools at night after a security company took them to court, claiming the department was employing people who were not registered as security guards

Community Safety MEC Faith Mazibuko said she was disturbed by the attacks on schools and was in negotiations with the Department of Education.

"Unfortunately, our arrangement ended in Febraury and March. As a result, we had to withdraw our patrollers from schools. We have agreed verbally with Lesufi that we must redeploy our patrollers back the schools.

"If they are there, there will be somebody who will pick up if something goes wrong within the school environment. Our officials are the ones who are dragging their feet in strengthening our agreement and, as a result, we see these various sporadic incidents where schools are burnt," Mazibuko said.

She said she suspected that the culprits' motive was to steal from schools and later burn properties.

"We hope this will be an eye-opener and it will assist us to take seriously the matter of protecting our schools. To our communities residing next to schools, don't pretend that you don't see what is happening in the school.

"You must make our law enforcement officers aware of what is happening, or what you are suspecting to be happening in the school. We call on them [neighbours] to play their in part in ensuring that our schools are protected," Mazibuko said.

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