Parents in race row over isiXhosa

2012-04-28 14:35

A choice between isiXhosa and Afrikaans has turned into a bitter race row between black and white parents at an Eastern Cape primary school.

Parents at Gonubie Primary in East London have traded accusations of racism, assault and defamation in a fight that has now been brought before the equality court.

Ayanda Duma, a 36-year-old mother of four, is seething after a white parent circulated a letter imploring other white parents not to nominate Duma or other black parents on to the school’s governing body.

Her crime, she says, was trying to get her children to take isiXhosa as a first additional language.

“My husband and I made a conscious decision to move back from Pretoria to the Eastern Cape in 2008 so that our children can learn to speak and be taught in their mother tongue, but now the school is sidelining us,” she said.

Duma wants the court to reverse the recent governing body election results, as well as the school’s decision to have Afrikaans as its first additional language – which means if pupils fail the subject, they fail their grade.

“The (new) governing body is not democratic and elections should be done again. It’s not about me – they can vote in anyone else. What matters is that it must be representative of all parents.”

Her court application is the first of a looming class action suit involving at least 200 other Gonubie Primary parents who claim that the school made Afrikaans its first additional language without consultation.

The school and its governing body have refused to comment.

Duma claims the school ignored resolutions taken at a parents’ meeting on March 14 when the provincial education department tried to resolve the impasse.

“Most parents chose an option where both Afrikaans and isiXhosa would become the first additional language, and it would then be the individual parent’s choice. But the school refuses to budge,” said Duma.

The school then held governing body elections on March 15, when an all-white committee was installed – despite the fact that the meeting the previous day resolved to fix the racial problems before any elections took place.

“Black children, who are in the majority, are not represented properly and that’s why this language issue was allowed to pass. I mean, how can you fight to have an all-white student governing body in this day and age?”

She claimed there were 400 Xhosa, 200 English and 70 Afrikaans pupils at the school.

But in a newsletter sent to parents this week, the school disputed this, saying the numbers were 387, 400 and 32, respectively. When contacted for comment, principal Cyril Prinsloo referred all queries to the department.

City Press has seen a copy of the email allegedly written by parent Cindy Schonknecht, in which she urges others not to vote for Duma or other black parents.

She wrote: “They are not happy that Afrikaans was chosen as a second language instead of Xhosa, and if she and others get on the governing body, this will be the first thing they aim to change . . . Please, ladies, make an effort to speak to everyone as it is really important for both husband(s) and wives to take part on Thursday.”

In the mail, Schonknecht also accuses Duma of assaulting a staff member who asked her to stop protesting outside the school. Schonknecht this week refused to comment.

Zukiswa Kota, an education researcher at the Public Service Accountability Monitor in Grahamstown, said although governing bodies were legally empowered to determine language policy, it should not result in racial discrimination.

“Learners’ choice of language is a qualified right and as a result, the context of a school and its learners must be taken into consideration,” Kota said.

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