Pretoria – Chaos broke out at a Cosas-led march in the Pretoria CBD on Thursday as pupils from across the province stormed into shops and trashed hawkers’ wares on the pavements.
A clash between the pupils and vendors ensued in the afternoon as the traders fought to protect their goods.
Police spokesman Sergeant Asnath Melatsi said 50 pupils from Springs township were arrested on Thursday afternoon after vandalising three shops in Sunnyside.
The arrests came after pupils had marched to the Department of Basic Education in Struben Street to submit a memorandum of grievances.
On Thursday night, police were contacting parents of pupils to fetch their children from the Sunnyside police station. Melatsi said police wanted to release the pupils into the custody of their parents.
“If some parents fail to make it to the station, the police would transport the children to the nearest police station in Springs.”
Earlier, the unruly pupils clashed with vendors on their way to the department’s offices.
One of the vendors in the CBD hurled a plastic chair at pupils who wanted to help themselves to fruit and snacks from his stall.
Pupils then picked up stones, rocks and vegetables from nearby stalls and pelted the vendor with them.
Police were able to corner the pupils running helter-skelter in the streets. The situation was soon normalised as pupils went back to their meeting point outside Bosman station. They later left the station moving all the way to the department’s offices where they flooded Struben Street.
Motorists expressed anger as they were forced to wait for hours in traffic jams as the marching pupils disrupted traffic.
Office workers stood on balconies and watched the rampaging pupils in disbelief.
There was confusion as to why the pupils took to the streets.
Some said they were hijacked by Cosas leaders from their schools. They said they were forced to bunk classes and attend the march in Pretoria. They had come from as far as Soweto, Tembisa and Mamelodi by Metrorail trains.
A pupil from Mamelodi, Pontsho Mapulane, 15, told the Pretoria News that he was not aware that a march would take place on Thursday.
He said he was surprised when Cosas leaders came to their school in the morning and ordered pupils to go and board the train because there was a student march.
A Grade 10 pupil from Orlando West, Katlego Mohlala, 15, said the department promised to give all pupils tablets two years ago but had failed to do so.
“It says it would only give tablets to Grade 12s. We are striking because we want to be given tablets irrespective of the grade we are doing,” he said.
After 3pm some pupils started walking back to the station because they were hungry and thirsty.
Cosas secretary-general Khulekani Skosana said pupils were “tired of carrying schoolbags”, saying they wanted tablets and that the appalling conditions of school toilets should be urgently addressed.
Cosas had given Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga an ultimatum to address their grievances within 14 days, he said.
Their trip to Pretoria from different townships was not sponsored by anyone but “pupils had hijacked” trains to their destination.
They also demanded healthy menus for lunch, beefing up of security, parents to take interest in the education of their children and the distribution of condoms at schools. Pupils also wanted scholar transport to be arranged for them.
Skosana said pupils demanded that axed Passenger Rail Agency of SA chief executive Lucky Montana be reinstated because “he is one of our own. He started as a Cosas member”.
Department spokesman Elija Mhlanga said the issues raised by Cosas in the memorandum were genuine,and the department would reply to them in writing. The department has already done lots of work to address some of the issues, he said.
“We will give them evidence of the work we have already done. If they are impatient we understand; they are kids.”
The department would not give them tablets, he said, until the issue of security at schools has been addressed