Teachers: We’re not racist

2008-01-24 00:00

White teachers at the George Cato Primary in Cato Ridge say the record needs to be set straight as they fear they have been portrayed as racists in the print media and on television. Emotions are running high at the school after it was closed yesterday because of mounting tensions.

A group of teachers contacted The Witness yesterday and said they are fearful of returning to school today after serious intimidation, including death threats and racial slurs, by protesting black teachers on Tuesday.

The teachers asked to remain anonymous for fear of more intimidation or reprisals.

The racial split of teachers means that white and Indian teachers together equal the number of black teachers at the school. Indian teachers have expressed solidarity with the white teachers, they said.

"There are over 900 children at the school," said one, "and only about 20 children are white. If we were racist would we want to teach there?"

They said they are regularly thanked by the parents of black children for what they have helped their pupils achieve.

The teachers denied there is racism among the teaching staff and said they were dismayed when the crowd of teachers on Tuesday spat at them, threw stones, removed their belts and acted out beatings and called them "barbaric pigs" and "white bitches".

They were also told to "hurry up and die". They also objected to being called "boers".

"We have been branded because we are white," they said.

The teachers claim that the dispute between the groundskeeper and the gardener that sparked the tensions was amicably resolved. It was alleged that the groundskeeper assaulted the gardener. "He apologised to the gardener and his father, and was suspended. The gardener then returned to work, but the teachers have now made it a broader racial issue."

They also said that the black teachers who have alleged that they are too intimidated to come into the staff room are more than welcome, but choose not to join the other staffers.

The teachers also alleged that the other disgruntled teachers have been disciplined on various matters and are bitter because the principal is white. They said that they have seen no evidence that their principal is racist.

They allege that some teachers were reprimanded, like teachers of all races would be, because they shirked duties, missed sports, came to school an hour late regularly and even sleep in class.

Procedural requirements in terms of record keeping, reports and marking are also matters that some staff have been reprimanded for.

They are now awaiting the outcome of an investigation by the Education Department, but are concerned that this is only expected at the end of February. "What do we do until then? How must we work with people who have made threats against us and treated us with such disdain?"

The teachers insist that they have not called any staff members names, but that they covered for them and helped them out as much as possible.

They said that many within the crowd of teachers who gathered at the school on Tuesday came from other schools.

"Who is taking their classes and teaching their children? We just want things back to normal now. We need to work together like we have done in the past."

Basil Manuel, vice president of National Association of Professional Teachers of SA, said it is a pity that people are polarised on racial lines.

He said there is a lot of anxiety among their members, but they have made it their top priority to get back for the children’s sake.

"Their attitude is taking it one day at a time … and that’s what is so amazing. We hope yesterday’s break will allow people to let the investigations take its due course, so things can be sorted out," he said.

The Witness tried at length to reach the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union for comment, but failed.

Education superintendent-general Cassius Lubisi said they do not believe that anyone’s life is under threat or in danger. However, he said there will be police patrolling the area when school reopens today. "We want to appeal to all the teachers to get teaching going while we try to address all the issues … because at the end of the day, that is our business," said Lubisi.

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