As I stand at a distance, I can see smoke rising from the beautiful green village of Vuwani. Vuwani is on fire again!!! I know the reason; they don’t want to fall under the newly proposed municipality, which will merge them with Malamulele. The demarcation board decided to incorporate them with the newly formed municipality of Malamulele. They refused this and took the board to court but lost the case. That resulted in the chaos that is now in that area. The big question is: Why don’t the people in Vuwani want to be part of the Malamulele municipality?
Unlike last year’s crisis at Malamulele, the issue of Vuwani is not about service delivery, but rather ethnicity. “We may suffer but working hand in hand with Shangaan people won’t happen, over our dead bodies!” Those were the words uttered by one of Vuwani residents at the taxi rank while addressing people about the situation in the village.
As a Social Science student, I got closer and asked the man if the issue was more about them leaving Makhado Municipality to join Malamulele or the fact that they will be placed together with Shangaan people. He said they don’t care which municipality they are given, just as long as they are not with Shangaan people.
This made me think about the relationship between Venda people and Shangaan people. The reality is that even though they are a few kilometres away from each other, the rivalry between them dates back to the era before democracy. I then went on my cell phone to check one of the university’s Facebook pages, which has more than 200 students. I wanted to look at how Venda and Shangaan students interact with each other on that page. My assumptions were correct; there is friction between the two tribes. Most of the posts on the page are about Venda and Shangaan students talking down on each other. I realised that there is hatred between these two tribes, which seems to have started a long time ago.
Meanwhile, one of the Vuwani residents has a different view. She mentioned that the residents never requested to be merged with another municipality in the first place. She added that they are happy with Makhado municipality, which they have been under for more than ten years. So she doesn’t understand why the government has to involve them in issues of Malamulela. “My kids and family don’t have food to eat because shops and roads are closed. I received a call from my mother asking me to bring food from Thohoyandou, where I work because they are starving at home,” she said.
The resident said since the protests broke out, it is not only risky for her to travel to and from work, it is also very expensive. “Normally, it costs me R40 to travel from my home in Masisi to Thohoyandou, but now I have to spend more than R80. The situation is terrible; the government must do something because it is getting worse. Besides the burning of schools, people are suffering.”
I then met with another young lady from Vuwani who is a student. This is what she had to say: “This is like a forced marriage; we were never consulted about being placed with Malamulele. The Malamulele people were the ones who were fighting for their own municipality. We never complained about Makhado municipality. I understand that we lack services but I also understand that the municipality is serving lot of villages and they are trying. How can they give us new municipality without talking to us? This is a political issue, not a community issue. Who knows if the people who are burning schools are from Malamulele?” she said.
The smoke at Vuwani has different colours. This means there are more reasons for the protests in the village. Unlike Malamulele’s strike last year, which was clearly because they wanted a municipality, the issue of Vuwani is different. Although I have highlighted tribalism as a possible cause earlier, there is no clear evidence of that.
The reality is that people are suffering in Vuwani. Something must be done. As young people, we are concerned about the future of the children. Schools are being destroyed and their future is bleak.