A group of suspected zama zamas disrupted teaching and learning at two schools during a fiery and violent protest in Ermelo, Mpumalanga.
The protest, which happened on Tuesday morning, saw pupils from Reggie Masuku Secondary School and Wesselton Primary School fleeing into the streets after their schools were targeted.
Some of the vehicles on the road were also pelted with bricks.
The fiery protest was allegedly sparked by the arrest of 271 suspected illegal miners in Matsulu on 13 October.
In video footage circulating on social media, pupils are seen fleeing into the street as tyres are burning in front of their school. A woman can be heard urging the pupils to flee.
According to Mpumalanga Department of Education spokesperson Jasper Zwane, police arrested a group of men in Ermelo who were illegally mining coal from an old mine and confiscated their cars last week.
"Those that were not arrested resorted to a wild protest in the community and ended up disrupting two schools, namely Reggie Masuku and Wesselton…" he said.
Zwane told News24 he was unsure how the protesters got access to the schools, but from the information he received, they threatened the security guards and later gained entry to the schools.
A crowd of illegal miners broke into Wesselton Primary School and threatened learners and teachers during intense protest action in Ermelo, Mpumalanga this morning.They demand the release of 30 Zimbabwean, 92 Mozambican and 11 Swazi illegal Zama Zama's from police custody pic.twitter.com/vHdw81Z904
— Blessings Ramoba 🇿🇦 (@BlessingsRamoba) October 20, 2022
"The protesters threatened the security and forced themselves inside the schools, causing disruption. Pupils ran out. Some teachers tried to ensure that children do not get hurt in the process, but they also started running," Zwane added.
He said the disruption lasted an hour. Zwane confirmed that the schools were operating again by the following day and that no further disruptions were reported.
The department condemns this incident as it caused unnecessary trauma to the children attending the two schools. The department will be working with the police and will continue to monitor the situation very closely and ensure that there is no repeat of such an incident.
Zwane said officials from the department's psychosocial services would provide counselling to the affected pupils and teachers.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Selvy Mohlala told News24 the protesters threw bricks at vehicles driving on the N11 and burnt tyres in the road.
He said when police officers attempted to control the protesters, pupils from the secondary school threw objects at the officers. He added that the police fired rubber bullets during the chaos to disperse the protesters.
"Reports were also received that the shops owned by foreign nationals were being vandalised. However, no cases to that effect have been reported to the police."
Mohlala said it was unclear whether the protesters were illegal miners or residents, but from radio interviews, residents had blamed the police for the protests.