TIMELINE: A whirlwind of racism and emotions for Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke

2019-01-19 14:54
Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke school children. (Twitter)

Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke school children. (Twitter)

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The sleepy town of Schweizer-Reneke in the North West, gained popularity over allegations of racism that emerged after an alleged racial segregation picture taken at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke went viral last week.

Last Wednesday, what was meant to learners' first day in school, attracted ugly attention when white Grade R pupils were separated from black pupils in the same classroom.

A picture depicted them showing black pupils sitting far away behind door from white pupils in a classroom at the school where Afrikaans is the medium of instruction.

According to a parent of one of the black pupils, the children were separated by their class teacher as a temporary measure. One of the reasons parents were told, was that the class teacher wanted the children to know each other first according to their race before they could be reintegrated.

READ: More school racism claims: Parents protest outside Hoërskool Stilfontein, call for help from Motshekga

Elana Barkhuizen, a school teacher in the school who was employed by the School Governing Body and also responsible for running the school WhatsApp group then captured the racial segregation picture. Little did she know that the image she captured would cause more harm to her career.

It is not known who posted the picture on social media. But as soon as the image went viral the same day, MEC for education in the province descended upon the school with his entourage the following day.

A confrontation between white and black parents ensued. Some white parents were dressed in khaki hunting regalia and were armed with guns on their waists. Some of the black people who were demonstrating outside the school, jumped over the school fence into the school yard. Police had to come in and to quell the situation and to ensure that no blood was spilled.

Whites complained that their school was going to be petrol-bombed by an angry mob of black people, while come of the black protesters declared that the armed white men were there to intimidate them.

READ: Tensions high in Schweizer-Reneke ahead of North West education MEC's briefing

Black parents who spoke on condition of anonymity accused whites of 'owning' the school, saying that they had 'instilled racism in their children's minds' because some refused to play with black children and called them klein swaartiekies, loosely translated small blacks. Some white parents said there was no racism in the school and that their children loved black children.

The South African Human Rights Commission also visited the school and launched a parallel investigation at the school, after MEC Sello Lehari assigned a task team to investigate the circumstances around the picture and allegations of racism.

Barkhuizen was then suspended. Initially, it was presumed that she herself had separated the children. 

After being suspended, Barkhuizen wasted no time and headed to Gauteng where she met with trade union Solidarity and earlier this week, the two parties announced that they will be launching a legal war against her suspension saying it was unlawful.

READ: Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke: Principal, teacher facing suspension amid probe - source

While Barkhuizen is arranging to file papers, the teacher who allegedly separated the children remains in school working, despite threats by Lehari on Wednesday that more heads are going to be chopped.

The MEC also said there was no reason for him to consult with his legal team when he endorsed Barkhuizen's suspension. He said the SGB was the one that suspended the teacher and he only supported the decision.

A source in the department told News4 that the teacher and the principal were going to be suspended on Wednesday. However, Lehari addressed the media at the school, on Wednesday, saying "come tomorrow" two more employees would be suspended.

In the meantime, the school employed armed private security guards. The men arrived in the school carrying guns and wearing bullet proof vests, which angered the department's sub-district manager Gopolang Valtyn.

Valtyn ordered the men to remove their weapons as they were contravening the school policy that no firearm was allowed in schools. The men obliged.

SGB chairperson Jozeph Du Plesis said they employed the guards after they received threats that the school was going to be attacked, and that some parents felt threatened to bring their children to school without security guards in place.

By Thursday morning, the press conference meant to reveal the identities of those who were going to be chopped, was cancelled indefinitely by Lehari. He said he was consulting with his legal team despite not doing so when he supported the decision to suspend Barkhuizen, whom the South African Teachers Union (Sadtu) described as a whistle-blower saying if it was not because of her, the entire world would not have known about the segregation.

READ: Sadtu demands answers following suspension of Schweizer-Reneke teacher at centre of racism row

Sadtu's provincial chairperson Mxolisi Bomvana said they demand answers on why the teacher who separated children was still working in the school.

"We are calling for the investigations by the department to go deeper and the MEC must tell us why he suspended Barkhuizen. We are also calling for the department to investigate all racial discrimination in other schools in the province.

"The department must form a transformation task team to deal with racism and transformation in former Model C schools," he said.

However, teaching has resumed at the school under a watch of private security officers. On Thursday, about 90% of learners had turned up to school according to Bomvana.

Read more on:    elana barkhuizen  |  south africa  |  schwei­zer-reneke

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