Apart, not apartheid
Parents say it’s no big deal, but other parties are fuming at a second incident of racial separation at the school
Two schoolbuses offload precious little cargo, fresh from a school trip early in June. A grainy video captures the scene. The children get off in neat racial groups. Whites from one bus. Blacks from the other. The racially fragile country exploded as the images emerged this week.
The Curro Foundation school in Roodeplaat near Pretoria now faces shareholder pressure from the government’s powerful pension fund, which is a major shareholder, and a second probe in just four months by the Human Rights Commission.
In February, Curro was at the centre of a school race scandal when black parents complained about racial segregation by class. The school’s explanation then and now is the same: the learners were separated for language not race.
Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi is fuming – he has the power to suspend Curro’s licence. “The day we [only] allow Tshwanas to play with Tshwanas and Xhosas to play with Xhosas ... the day we tolerate that we should separate learners on the basis of their own language ... that will be a sad day for this country,” he said.
But nine parents who spoke to City Press say the incident’s been blown out of proportion and that improvements have been made. Black parents are concerned that almost the entire teaching faculty is white.
The Public Investment Corporation (PIC), which has poured hundreds of millions of rands into Curro, said it “condemns the practice of racial segregation in any form and shape as it goes against the spirit and the letter of the Constitution.
“The PIC is concerned because these allegations follow hot on the heels of a report by the Gauteng department of education, which concluded that Curro Roodeplaat was practising racism.”
SA Human Rights Commission spokesperson Isaac Mangena said it had opened a new investigation into the latest incident. “We cannot have one group of children being segregated from another in a democratic country,” he said.
The commission is also investigating Curro Kathu in Northern Cape where racism claims surfaced earlier this year with allegations that teachers and staff were addressing English-speaking parents in Afrikaans.
City Press spoke to nine parents on a visit to Curro Roodeplaat a day after Lesufi described the actions of the school as “disgusting”. Parents were interviewed across racial groups and the overall opinion was that the incident had been blown out of proportion.
When City Press arrived on Friday afternoon, children of all races were playing on swings and the jungle gym outside Curro Roodeplaat Primary School.
They laughed and squealed as they chased each other around the swings or brushed each other’s hair as they waited for their parents.
Doreen, a white grandmother, said her two grandchildren at the school were well integrated.
“I have heard a lot about this and I don’t understand how parents can be so childish. As they fight, the children will continue playing together. My grandchildren have all sorts of friends, at home they are taught to be good people and colour does not matter,” she said as she picked up her two grandsons.
One of her grandsons is four years old and the other is in an English Grade One class, which she said was chosen for him by his parents even though they speak Afrikaans at home.
Another white parent, who did not want to be named, said she was extremely upset because the children risked being marginalised.
“My daughter can’t even wear her school uniform at the shops because people are giving her dirty looks. People think her school is racist and wearing the uniform is some kind of sign.”
Her daughter has been in the school for nine years, and she has never considered moving her. “I wish the parents who are spreading this and those who believe it, could come to the school and see for themselves. These children play sport together, go on camps together, this is not a racist school.”
Reshoketswe Nakeni, a mother of a Grade 2 pupil, said: “There was no racism, not this time and not in this video. Things have changed for the better here. I’m involved in this school and the management and teachers are really trying hard to do better and change the way they did things, but to suspect racism is wrong because I have not seen it since the first incident, which was blatantly racist in my view.”
Nakeni said she chose the school because it had good policies and she was not contemplating taking her child to another school.
Another black parent, who asked not to be named, agreed saying although the latest incident was not racist, the school had not learnt from its past mistakes.
“Our children go to that school and black people are gardeners, cleaners and security guards. With no black teachers, our children think they are inferior and we can’t have that. Although Curro has promised to hire black teachers, its explanation that black teachers do not meet the requirements is false because there are many black teachers who have applied, but get turned away,” said a father of two pupils at the school who has applied to another school for his children next year.
He said he was leaving Curro Roodeplaat due to the bad publicity around the school and was concerned this could affect his children’s education.
“The first incident was racist, but there was no racism on this trip. My child went there and we saw many pictures of black and white children playing and interacting together,” said the father.
A black mother of a Grade 3 child said another racial incident was the last thing she had expected, but agreed that the video painted a wrong picture.
Curro Roodeplaat and its holding company, Curro Holdings, said they would not make any further comments apart from the statement issued earlier this week denying allegations of racism.
CHILD’S PLAY Children of various races play at Curro private school in Roodeplaat, Pretoria. The school has been at the centre of another racial controversy