South African protesters set 17 schools ablaze

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South African protesters torched 17 government schools during violent protests against the redrawing of municipal boundaries ahead of local elections this year, police and education officials said on Thursday (May 5).

The protests started on Monday night in three neighbouring villages in the northern province of Limpopo when residents blockaded streets with rocks, pipes and burning tyres.

Of the 22 schools that were attacked, two were destroyed and 17 were damaged by fire, leaving 26,000 students without classrooms, education ministry spokesman Elijah Mhlanga told AFP.

A small police station, a traditional chief's office and a post office were also set alight this week during protests in Vuwani village, police spokesman Malesela Ledwaba told AFP.

The unrest later spread to the sprawling rural settlements of Levubu and Hlanganani.

Police reported the area was calm on Thursday, as government officials sought meetings with residents' representatives.

Villagers have been protesting against being moved into a different municipality under boundary reforms ahead of the Aug 3 local government elections.

Violent protests are common ahead of polls in South Africa, with most focusing on deficient government services.

This year's elections are seen as a major test for the African National Congress (ANC), which has ruled South Africa since the first post-apartheid elections in 1994.

The party has been hit by corruption scandals and complaints that it has failed to address deep poverty and inequality.

President Jacob Zuma condemned the protests while speaking in parliament, describing the burning of schools as "shocking".