Schweizer-Reneke: Schooling disrupted in a divided town
11 January 2019
Racial tension remains high in the small farming town of Schweizer-Reneke in the North West.
Many black and white people remain divided after an image went viral on Wednesday, depicting black Grade R pupils seated apart from their white peers at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke.
On Thursday, photos emerged, seemingly from the same set, and they showed the pupils sitting together.
However, before that, a group of protesters - mainly Economic Freedom Fighters members - converged on the school as North West Education MEC Sello Lehari conducted an inspection.
Teaching was disrupted and parents fetched their children after school officials advised them to do so.
Later in the morning, Lehari announced that the teacher of the Grade R class had been suspended.
The tension in the town continued to play out in common interactions on Friday morning.
Several parents approached journalists outside the school, demanding to know what they were doing in their town.
"Who called you here? What are you doing in our town?" asked Esmé Venter.
Another resident, John van Wyk, quickly jumped to the defence of the reporters, saying they were in town to do their jobs.
"They are South Africans and can work anywhere in the country. They were called by us black parents to show what kind of town we are living in," he said.
The situation later calmed down.
Solly Bouer, who arrived with Venter, said he was angered by what happened on Thursday, claiming that some protesters jumped over the school fence and entered the yard when Lehari's entourage arrived at the school.
"Children are supposed to be in school now. This place is dangerous, there are people who want to destroy our town. Who called the media here?" asked Bouer.
Van Wyk replied that the situation became more dangerous when scores of white men arrived at the school on Thursday, wearing bullet proof vests and carrying guns.
"They were there to protect the school. Blacks wanted to petrol bomb the school. They wanted to burn the school, learners and later burn our town," said Bouer.
He denied that there was racism at the school and in the town. He said Afrikaners were only protecting their Afrikaans language.
Nothing wrong with the image
Venter said she saw nothing wrong with the photograph.
"I looked at the picture and saw nothing wrong. Children were separated in class for them to know each other according to their race. It is [not] fair for their teacher to be suspended. It was not her fault at all. She told us she liked all her children in her class," said Venter.
"We want to clean this town. I have spent 73 years of my life in this town. I know how black people operate. We are here to protect our children. White people who arrived at the school carrying guns, came to protect the school.
"It was right for parents to carry guns to the school. They didn't hurt anyone," she said.
Another parent who refused to be identified claimed that her child had black friends in the school and she didn't see anything wrong with the photo.
"When is this going to end? Our children are afraid to come to school. We white people are afraid to bring our children to school. There is nothing wrong with that picture. There are more pictures showing black children sitting next to our children.
"Those children were rotated according to their race. I was angry when I saw the picture because it was unfair to their teacher," she said.
While most children did not arrive for school, there were a handful of pupils on the premises. However, it was unclear whether any teaching took place.
Racism rife in the sleepy town of Schweizer-Reneke – residents
The sleepy town of Schweizer-Reneke in the North West is on tenterhooks after a picture showing black and white pupils sitting separately according to race in a Grade R classroom at the local primary school went viral.
The image shocked the country and senior government officials in the province descended on Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke demanding answers.
MEC of education and sports development Sello Lehari suspended the Grade R teacher who allegedly separated the pupils.
Lehari also established a task team to investigate the matter and other reports of prejudice at the school.
"I strongly condemn what had happened at the school as racism isn't allowed in all our schools and should be weeded out. Transformation is important in all our schools," said Lehari.
A teacher from another school in the town told News24 that racism would never end in the area, especially among white people.
Children 'don't mix at all'
"We don't know democracy here. Whites think they are superior than everyone here. They own everything in this town including public schools. This primary school is an example of their behaviour and hatred toward black children," said the teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity.
She said the primary school would never be transformed because white people "own" it and don't want black children interacting with their children.
"We often visit the school to hold workshops and I have never seen black people playing with their white peers. Children play separately according to race. They don't mix at all. We have always wanted to march against the school and have never done so.
"The department is aware of discrimination in the school and we want to thank the person who posted the picture on social media to alert the country and the world of what we are going through here daily," she said.
The teacher also complained about the school's language policy.
"They don't want to offer English as a medium of instruction, yet it is a public school meant to teach all races.
"Why must our children suffer when there are resources on their doorstep?" she asked.
Waiting list for black people only
Concerned resident Lebogang Motlhabane claimed that black children were often denied access to the school and were placed on waiting lists when they applied for enrolment.
She claimed the white children did not have the same experience. "They don't even apply for space."
She said there were also reports of white pupils threatening black pupils.
"We hear complaints that black children are often threatened by white pupils not to touch them or else they tell their fathers who have guns to deal with them."
She claimed that some parents carried guns on their waists when dropping their children off or fetching them from school.
Motlhabane said what hurt her most was that children were not born racist or hating people of another colour but that it was something they were taught while growing up.
"Nelson Mandela taught us to unite and love each other no matter our races. But here it is different, whites hate us more. They think we are still living in the era of apartheid which our fathers and mothers died fighting against," said Motlhabane.
School to help staff with 'integration'
The school's governing body chairperson Jozeph du Plessis also released a statement saying the image was not a true reflection of the school ethos and that it was only a reflection of a "single moment in a classroom".
"The governing body does not condone any distinction based on race. Learners from different backgrounds, including race, religion and language, are not merely accommodated but are fully integrated in all aspects of the school environment."
He said that the school would help staff in "aspects where it appears that integration is not taking place as it should".
Earlier, parents had to fetch their little ones after protests intensified outside the school.
While the picture has sparked outrage others have pointed out that the it was seemingly part of a series of pictures taken on the same day in the same class.
In the other pictures, children of different races can be seen interacting.