15 January 2019
Leader of the Democratic Alliance Marks Building (2nd & 3rd Floor) Parliament
Plein Street Cape Town
Dear Mr Maimane
SCHWEIZER-RENEKE AND THE DA’S POSITION ON RACISM
1. Solidarity is a trade union in good standing in the Republic of South Africa and has more than 190 000 members. Our members are ordinary working men and women, including teachers.
2. On 9 January 2019 the Democratic Alliance’s Federal Youth Leader, Luyolo Mphithi, tweeted a photo of a Grade R classroom in Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke. Mr Mphithi did not bother to protect the children’s identities – their faces are clearly visible.
3. Mr Mphithi implied that the school segregates 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 correction.
4. Even though serious doubts arose about the alleged racial segregation, Mr Mphithi still issued a press release demanding answers from the staff at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke for their “outdated attitudes toward integration”.
5. On 10 January 2019 Mr Mphithi travelled to Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke. After the MEC for Education in North West, Sello Lehari, announced the suspension of Elana Barkhuizen to a crowd of protestors who had threatened violence, the Democratic Alliance welcomed the suspension in a press release.
6. The fact that Elana Barkhuizen was not the class teacher, she merely took the photo, was not mentioned in the press release. Neither was the fact that the MEC for Education in North West, Sello Lehari, had no power to suspend Elana Barkhuizen, since she is in fact not an employee of the Department of Education, mentioned in the press release.
7. Despite the chaos observed at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke, due to protest action spurred on in part by the tweet from Mr Mphithi, the DA’s press release still warned South Africans of the populist rhetoric from other parties.
8. 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.
9. When asked during an interview on PretoriaFM if he had acted too hastily in responding to a situation before all the facts were known, Mr Mphithi responded that “where racism takes place, there is no question as to whether it should be investigated or not… Regardless of what the facts and background are, the values of the Constitution are quite clear – we live in a non-racial society.”
10. Thus far – no official sanction has been issued against Mr Mphithi by the DA. The DA has also not apologised for the factual errors made in the initial press releases. The Democratic Alliance has also not distributed any of the other photos taken of the classroom.
11. This implies that the DA believes Mr Mphithi did nothing wrong in the handling of the incident.
12. The DA condones exposing someone’s identity based on nothing more than spurious allegations of racism. Of exposing this person to danger, based on nothing more than dubious allegations of racism. Of posting pictures identifying children in a classroom, if an unfounded allegation of racism can somehow be addressed by this action. Of not correcting its own populist rhetoric – since an allegation of racism was involved.
13. Considering these actions – we request clarity on the DA’s position regarding instances of alleged racism.
14. Is Mr Mphithi’s position – that facts do not matter where racism is concerned – indeed the DA’s position regarding instances of alleged racism?
15. 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.
16. If this is not the DA’s position – then we request that formal sanctions be brought against Mr Mphithi.
17. Mr Mphithi sowed racial division by declaring a photograph a clear-cut case of racism, despite evidence that seems to prove the contrary. The DA mentioned Elana Barkhuizen in a press release, welcoming her suspension, despite Elana Barkhuizen being the wrong teacher and her suspension being unlawful.
18. A formal apology by Mr Mphithi to Elana Barkhuizen should be forthcoming. Mr Mphithi should also formally apologise to the children whose identities he exposed on Twitter and their parents. Lastly – we trust that the DA will publish a correction regarding the false facts and use this opportunity to elaborate on the context of the situation at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke.
19. It is only by ensuring accountability for reckless actions, that we can ensure cool heads prevail – for all the children and teachers in South Africa.
Yours faithfully Dirk Hermann
Chief Executive Officer – Solidarity
Issued by Solidarity, 15 January 2019