'Racist' Schweizer-Reneke school picture ‘could have contributed to’ DA voter loss

Party also found that single most important factor in shaping its decline was a ‘failure of effective leadership’

'Racist' Schweizer-Reneke school picture could have contributed to voter loss - DA

8 March 2020

The DA has claimed an alleged segregation image taken at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke was one of the factors that contributed to it losing part of its electorate.

The party is expected to make public the finding of its investigation into the picture of Grade R pupils who were separated in their classroom along racial lines.

The image, taken last year, sparked a racial storm throughout the country, with some describing the image as racist, claiming black pupils were segregated from their white counterparts according to the colour of their skin.

Teacher Elana Barkhuizen was immediately suspended after being accused of being racist.

She was later reinstated after her case was taken to the Labour Court.

DA deputy federal chairperson Refiloe Nt'sekhe said the incident contributed to the party's first loss of support in the general election four months later.

Nt'sekhe added the DA took accountability seriously and was mandated to lead an investigation into the debacle.

Her report was presented to the party's federal executive (Fedex) a few weeks ago.

"After discussion, Fedex resolved to refer the report to the party's federal legal commission to determine whether disciplinary charges should be laid against any current DA member.

"The Fedex also resolved to report back directly to the interested and affected parties in Schweizer-Reneke before discussing the findings more broadly," she said.

Nt'sekhe said she was motivated not merely by trying to identify the reasons for The DA's electoral decline, but particularly to re-affirm the party's commitment to do what was right, rather than what was expedient.

She added the party had found the single most important factor in shaping its decline was a "failure of effective leadership".

"One of the symptoms of this failure, cited by the review panel, was a series of damaging incidents, which included many and varied disputes over race issues, from the leader's tweets about Ashwin Willemse, to the party's handling of the Schweizer-Reneke controversy to race-based redress policy.

"My investigation revealed that Schweizer-Reneke and other events must be understood within the framework of a strategic approach devised by the DA's former leadership and senior staffers, which deliberately sought out 'disruptive moments' the party could use to demonstrate how much it had transformed," Nt'sekhe said.