OPINION

Schweizer-Reneke: What the SAHRC should be investigating - Solidarity

Werner Human says rights of pupils and teachers at school were transgressed by politicians and parties

15 January 2018

Ms Mpho BoikanyoProvincial Manager, Northwest

South African Human Rights Commission

BY E-MAIL:

Tseliso Thipanyane Chief Executive Officer

South African Human Rights Commission

BY E-MAIL: 

Dear Madam, Sir

COMPLAINT AGAINST VARIOUS PARTIES – SOLIDARITY – LAERSKOOL SCHWEIZER- RENEKE

1. This is a formal complaint lodged by Solidarity in relation to the protests and disruptions that took place (of which are to a lesser extent still ongoing and might escalate as the investigations continue) at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke (“the school”), by political formations and community groups.

2. This complaint specifically takes issue with the manner in which the MEC for Education in North West, Mr. Sello Lehari, is dealing with the matter. We shall elaborate on this in the passages that follow.

3. We make mention for record purposes that we act on behalf of our member, Ms Elana Barkhuizen, who have been, in our view, unlawfully suspended from the school.

4. We note that the North West Education Department (“the Department”) and the SAHRC is conducting an investigation in tandem. Although the formal process pertaining to the unlawful suspension of Ms Barkhuizen is distinguishable from the investigation of the Department and the SAHRC (“the parties”), we believe the current investigation conducted by the parties needs to be supplemented.

5. It is our understanding that the focus of the investigation by the parties is on the broad theme of racism. The impetus to investigate seems to be inspired by the claims of protestors. Drawing from media reports and statements, the SAHRC seems to have pronounced on the matter of the school, and now aims to investigate the town of Schweizer-Reneke, so to speak.

6. Although the readiness to launch an investigation of this magnitude is curious, however, it seems that a few essential aspects of the events at the school is unaddressed. The demonstrations were indeed an unlawful public gathering, which led to threats of violence made to the school and the outright disruption of the school program.

7. It is our request that this complaint be included in the current investigation by the parties, as the demonstrations to date have led to the school being temporarily closed and learners consequently being denied access to education.

8. Furthermore, the issue as of yet has not been settled, which may lead to escalated protests. It is only appropriate that these aspects are included in the investigation.

9. We shall refer to the following condensed sequence of events that took place on 10 January 2019, that forms the basis of our complaint. We are happy to elaborate on request:

9.1. Protestors gathered at the school just after the commencement of the school program on 10 January 2019.

9.2. As the morning progressed, a few aggressive protestors attempted to breach entry to the school (which they eventually did).

9.3. The growing swell of protestors disrupted the school programme and created a safety risk for the staff and learners of the school. An evacuation operation followed amidst the safety concerns of the learners in particular. We understand it is the SAPS which has called for an evacuation.

9.4. Specifically, the EFF, the Young Communist League, the SACP, the ANC and a few community organisations were present and leading the demonstration. As the morning progressed the desperation to breach entry into the school escalated, with one protester going as far as to pose as a parent of a school in order to gain access.

9.5. It must be asked, those so desperately trying to gain entry to the school, what was their intentions for the school once they have entered?

9.6. Eventually, MEC Lehari, arrived and instead of calming the crowd and requesting them to disperse, he upped the ante by joining the plight of the protestors. It is of importance that he had insufficient information to derive at the decision that he did.

9.7. Through MEC Lehari, the protestors gathered at the school hall where he without consultation with Ms. Barkhuizen and ostensibly with the concurrence of the Principle and the SGB Chairperson, unceremoniously announced his decision to suspend Ms Barkhuizen (which we contend to be unlawful and will challenge in the formal processes that follow).

9.8. Very troubling indeed is that the MEC Lehari, named Ms Barkhuizen by name repeatedly, well knowingly this might even escalate the situation. Her name was in the public domain from thereon and her presence at school was accompanied by immediate safety concerns.

9.9. Ms Pule Ramabodu, a member of the Young Communist League and the South African Communist Party, has repeatedly stated that they will be present at the school on “a frequent basis” and that they will render the school “ungovernable”.

10. It needs to be stated that the continuous illegal public gathering at the school, the insistence of violence and confrontation, has not come without consequence.

11. A flurry of constitutional rights has been implicated by this, includes the following:

11.1. The learners’ right to access education has been impeded.

11.2. The educators, especially Mrs Barkhuizen’s right to freedom of movement.

11.3. Ms Barkhuizen’s right to privacy, given that MEC Lehari announced her by name to the national media.

11.4. Ms Barkhuizen’s right to a fair process, as she did not have an opportunity to present her case before a decision is to be made.

Conclusion

12. This simply cannot be acceptable that on the basis of the demonstrations that school was in the first place temporarily been closed, - it is urgent that action the SAHRC intervene in making findings and recommendations in respect of MEC Lehari and the political formations and community groups as Schweizer- Reneke.

13. It is our request that this complaint be received and investigated, and this can be done with the investigation that is ongoing.

14. As this matter is yet to conclude, your swift action would be highly appreciated.

15. As Solidarity, we are more than willing to assist with any further information and shall elaborate on any aspect of this complaint. Writer hereof can be contacted via e-mail: [email protected].

Yours sincerely

Werner Human

Deputy Chief Executive Officer : Legal Services

Issued by Solidarity, 15 January 2019