Johannesburg - During a week of renewed xenophobic sentiment in Gauteng, a letter from Eastleigh Primary School telling parents to ensure their immigration documents were in order caused controversy as it circulated on social media.
GroundUp reports that the letter, later withdrawn, warned that any children arriving at school on February 27 without verified documents would be handed to police.
Many initially believed the letter was a hoax, including Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba. He tweeted a picture of the letter over which someone had written, ‘FAKE-NEWS!!’ on February 24.
Gigaba was responding to urgent requests for information on the letter, and distanced the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) from the matter.
However, the letter was authentic. On Friday evening, the school, in Edenvale, posted a statement on its Facebook account withdrawing the letter at the request of the Gauteng Department of Education.
The school wrote that the letter should not have been distributed as it “does not portray the ethos and transformation at the school”.
The following day, school governing body chairperson Graeme Stratton posted a longer statement apologising unreservedly for the letter. The school would deal with immigration issues in a compassionate and caring way in future.
Eastleigh’s Facebook page attracted considerable criticism in the comments.
DHA spokesperson Thabo Mokgola said on Friday that officials visited Eastleigh Primary School. The visit was at Eastleigh’s request, in line with DHA policy.
At the initial meeting, DHA officials reportedly stated that proper documentation of enrolled pupils was the principal’s responsibility. Failure to do so would result in the principal being fined R25 000 per undocumented child.
However, Mokgola could not confirm whether this was in fact discussed at the meeting. He had no comment about whether it was department policy to fine principals over undocumented pupils.
On Friday, social movement Equal Education condemned Eastleigh’s letter. It cited section 29 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to basic education to all persons in South Africa, regardless of their immigration status.