So many ques­tions in Rood­e­poort school race row

CityPress - - Voices - Ebrahim Har­vey voices@ city­press. co. za

Twenty-one years into our sup­pos­edly non­ra­cial democ­racy, it sadly ap­pears that the com­bustible cri­sis at Rood­e­poort Pri­mary School was mainly ig­nited by the re­fusal of many coloured par­ents to ac­cept an African fe­male prin­ci­pal and her deputy. Although des­ig­nated as a coloured school un­der apartheid, African pupils now form the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity.

Af­ter al­le­ga­tions that such ap­point­ments were ir­reg­u­lar, Gaut­eng ed­u­ca­tion MEC Panyaza Le­sufi or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that cleared the depart­ment of any ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties. The in­trigu­ing thing about this mat­ter is that it hap­pened in 2011. Why did it take the coloured par­ents so long to vent their spleen on so many heated is­sues?

If they deny any charges of racism for their chronic dis­sat­is­fac­tion, why are they still un­happy af­ter KPMG, a rep­utable au­dit­ing firm, cleared the prin­ci­pal in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the fi­nances at the school af­ter par­ents al­leged that fraud, cor­rup­tion and mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion had taken place there?

Fur­ther­more, is it not un­fair for the par­ents to con­tinue to re­ject her if an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into her ap­point­ment and their al­le­ga­tions had cleared her?

It was hardly con­vinc­ing when a David­sonville Com­mu­nity Fo­rum mem­ber, Theo van Rens­burg, said in last week’s City Press that par­ents had “ac­cepted 80 black kids and 16 black teach­ers into our school. It shows we are not racist. If we are racists, why did we al­low all the other black teach­ers to re­main at the school when we had prob­lems?”

He spoke not only as if the school rightly be­longed to coloured peo­ple, but that they were good and gen­er­ous enough to “al­low” African pupils and teach­ers into it. This has con­de­scend­ing racist con­no­ta­tions. We live in a non­ra­cial con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy that al­lows African par­ents to place their chil­dren in any school of their choice.

What ap­pears to re­in­force an un­der­ly­ing racial bias is the fact that the coloured par­ents wanted the for­mer deputy prin­ci­pal, a coloured man who was act­ing prin­ci­pal for three months in 2011, to re­turn.

But the depart­ment said although he had ap­plied for the post, he had failed to di­vulge es­sen­tial in­for­ma­tion and it was on those grounds that he was not short-listed for the post.

It needs to prove this to the task team Le­sufi ap­pointed last week to in­ves­ti­gate the cri­sis.

It is also ev­i­dent that the acts of ugly, sense­less and provoca­tive vi­o­lence by some coloured par­ents are not only coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, but have widened the racial gulf and ex­ac­er­bated ten­sions.

It is de­cid­edly not what we need. The k-word was also re­port­edly used sev­eral times by an­gry coloured peo­ple when the media vis­ited the area. That such vul­gar racism is hap­pen­ing at a pri­mary school where the in­cul­ca­tion of an an­tiracist ethos is so im­por­tant makes this worse.

The racist de­mand that the prin­ci­pal be re­placed by a coloured per­son for no good rea­son can­not and must not be ac­ceded to. Be­sides the il­le­gal­ity of such ac­tion, it sets a bad prece­dent for other schools.

But what is the most tragic re­al­ity of this racial con­flict is the fact that it oc­curs among largely work­ing class com­mu­ni­ties that face sim­i­lar eco­nomic cir­cum­stances. In­stead of unit­ing be­hind their joint in­ter­ests and con­cerns, they are at war with each other.

But it con­cerned me that the depart­ment failed, or re­fused, to re­spond to ques­tions I put to it about the se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions Van Rens­burg made in his City Press in­ter­view, in­clud­ing that the sealed en­velopes con­tain­ing the CVs of ap­pli­cants for the post were opened, that an ob­jec­tion to this was raised but ig­nored, that depart­ment heads at the school were by­passed for the post of deputy prin­ci­pal and a ju­nior teacher was ap­pointed.

Its si­lence to these and other ques­tions, like the claim in last week’s Sun­day Times by David­sonville Com­mu­nity Fo­rum mem­ber Ron­ald Dy­ers that it was only af­ter the fi­nan­cial books were stolen that KPMG was ap­pointed to do an au­dit into cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions, is con­cern­ing. These are se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions the depart­ment should have re­sponded to.

The fact that it did not do this makes me won­der if this is a case where the full truth lies deeper and not sim­ply with one or the other side, but some­where be­tween their dif­fer­ent ver­sions.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to read the find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions of the task team.

Har­vey is a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, com­men­ta­tor and au­thor

PHOTO: FELIX DLANGAMANDLA

TENSE TIMES A Gaut­eng depart­ment of­fi­cial (cen­tre) ar­rives at Rood­e­poort Pri­mary un­der po­lice es­cort as an­gry par­ents con­front him

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