DA youth leader sowed racial division in Schweizer-Reneke furore, Solidarity charges

2019-01-16 22:29
Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke school children. (Twitter)

Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke school children. (Twitter)

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DA federal youth leader, Luyolo Mphithi, should formally apologise to teacher Elana Barkhuizen and pupils whose "identities he exposed" in the apparent Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke race furore that got South Africans talking this week, trade union Solidarity demanded.

The trade union said Mphithi "sowed racial division by declaring that a photograph [showing black pupils sitting separately from their white classmates] a clear-cut case of racism" at the school.

In a letter written to DA leader Mmusi Maimane on Tuesday, Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann said Mphithi had tweeted a photo of the Grade R classroom – which later went viral – "which implied that the school segregated the children based on race, using nothing other than a photo of a single moment in the classroom".

"Several other Twitter users posted another photo of the same classroom, but this time with children of different races mixing. Mr Mphithi did not share this photo on his Twitter account as a correction," Hermann wrote.

Despite "serious doubts" arising, the party's youth leader issued a statement demanding answers from the school for their "outdated attitudes toward integration".

Hermann wrote that the statement welcomed Barkhuizen's later suspension, but failed to indicate that she was not the class teacher and that she merely took the photograph.

"Despite the chaos observed at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke, due to protest action spurred on in part by the tweet form Mr Mphithi, the DA's press release still warned South Africans of the populist rhetoric from other parties.

"Protesters threatened violence – yet the DA still deemed it necessary to mention Elana Barkhuizen in the press release by name. This action by the DA further endangered her, the kids in her classroom, and her own family."

Hermann requested "clarity" on the DA's position regarding instances of alleged racism.

"Is Mr Mphithi's position – that facts do not matter where racism is concerned – indeed the DA's position regarding instances of alleged racism? If this is the case, we request that this change in policy be communicated to stakeholders to clearly state that where instances of alleged racism is concerned, due process should not be followed. If racism is alleged, one can act recklessly without facts in identifying alleged racists and in defaming them.

"If this is not the DAs position, then we request formal sanctions be brought against Mr Mphithi."

Mphithi countered that it was not true that Barkhuizen was suspended after he released her name and that this sparked the national outrage. He said the allegations against him were "peddled by political opponents who seem to be against transformation and are instead running a malicious targeted campaign to silence me".

"I reacted to a picture four hours after it went viral. I was hugely concerned by media reports of alleged racism at this particular school. Shortly thereafter I released a statement stating I would visit the school to seek answers which I did the following day and stated that the matter must be investigated and members of the community must remain calm," he said.

"To this end, both on social media and in my press statement, I have made no mention of the teacher. I challenge Solidarity to come forward with the evidence in which I have made mention of the teacher and called her racist."

He said the idea that he had "enough power and influence to suspend a teacher, when I do not even serve in the provincial government of the North West, is laughable".

"Members of the community, stakeholders and myself all heard about the suspension the same day during the press conference of the MEC. Again, I challenge Solidarity to produce evidence of how I influenced the suspension of the teacher and why they have attributed a statement released by another person to me. However, they fail to mention this person in their communication which proves that it is indeed politically motivated."

Mphithi said the photo had been viral for four hours before he commented.

"However, as a leader, I am prepared to stand at the centre of this storm and as many throw insults my way, I know that as young people in South Africa, we do not want to inherit a country that is divided. It is up to us to raise above the hate of the past and create a new future.

"As a young man raised by a domestic worker, I will continuously see the need to continue to bring these conversations to the forefront to all South Africans. That is a responsibility that I take seriously and thus will continue to fight for. Thus, I will not let this issue go no matter what the cost."

He would never tolerate racism, Mphithi insisted.

"I will rather be prosecuted, attacked and written off than to continue in a society that continues to perpetuate racial divisions of any kind."

Mphithi said he and as the DA youth at large had "on countless occasions stood up against racist vitriol".

"We did this when the EFF spewed racism against Indian people on June 19, 2018, where we reported them to the Human Rights Commission. We did the same on August 22, 2018 when we condemned #AdamCatzavelos for his racist comments against black people, as well as on November 5 when I took a stand to condemn the YES programme for excluding white unemployed youth," he said.

"As an organisation, we will continue to stand for non-racialism and that all citizens belong in South Africa."

Read more on:    solidarity  |  da  |  racism

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