Raw feel­ings as town reck­ons with its no­to­ri­ety

Racism the only topic as Sch­weizer-Reneke hits the head­lines

Sunday Times - - News Racism - By GRAEME HOSKEN

It shows things are not right. This town is a bed of racism … Our chil­dren get called swartetjies [lit­tle blacks] by some teach­ers and pupils

● The anger is etched on Ed­win Koloi’s face.

His seven-year-old daugh­ter, Kar­line, is hang­ing on to a green pal­isade gate, beg­ging to be al­lowed to en­ter the play­ground of her school, Laer­skool Sch­weizer-Reneke.

Just me­tres away from the school — which has be­come the epi­cen­tre of SA’s lat­est race bat­tle — gun-tot­ing white fa­thers stand watch­ing, their anger and sus­pi­cion clear.

A school no­tice board dis­plays the words Ons het re­spek vir mekaar (We re­spect each other).

It went up within hours of the school mak­ing in­ter­na­tional head­lines af­ter pho­to­graphs cir­cu­lated of four five-year-old black chil­dren sit­ting at a desk on their own, apart from their white class­mates.

“I have just been told Kar­line may not come in,” Koloi told the Sun­day Times.

“I was told I should have got an SMS last night [Thurs­day] which said the school was go­ing to be closed for to­day. A teacher said I should come back on Mon­day and maybe I will be lucky and the school will be open. But, if not Mon­day then by Tues­day it will def­i­nitely be open.”

He’s deeply frus­trated.

“Ap­par­ently all the white par­ents got the mes­sage last night, but those of us who are darker did not. I’m not the only one here. Look at the oth­ers. Kar­line loves this school and all she wants to do is play with her friends. She is not in­ter­ested in this non­sense of racism. She just wants to learn.”

The pho­to­graph that started the race bat­tle — taken by Elana Barkhuizen, one of the school’s grade R teach­ers — was one of sev­eral cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia.

The other pho­to­graphs showed the chil­dren later min­gling with each other.

Barkhuizen, who has been sus­pended by the provin­cial gov­ern­ment, re­port­edly fled the town on Thurs­day.

The North West ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment con­firmed on Fri­day that she was not the teacher of that class, but had merely taken the photo. How­ever, said ed­u­ca­tion spokesper­son Freddy Sepeng, she had been sus­pended be­cause “she took the pic­ture and she [must have known] what she saw was wrong”. He said the class teacher was also be­ing in­ves­ti­gated and a re­port would be handed to MEC Sello Le­hari on Mon­day.

“The school claims it was not de­lib­er­ate — that it was ini­tially done be­cause of lan­guage bar­ri­ers, but all the kids who go here — black and white — speak Afrikaans,” said Koloi.

He said the re­ac­tion to the pho­to­graphs — pro­test­ers stormed the school grounds and gun-wield­ing par­ents de­scended on the school to res­cue their chil­dren — had left him fright­ened.

“It shows things are not right. This town is a bed of racism, ” he said.

“It’s not the first such in­ci­dent at the school. Our chil­dren get called swartetjies [lit­tle blacks] by some teach­ers and pupils.”

Fel­low par­ent An­nie Lee is also an­gry.

“This ex­cuse of the kids be­ing sep­a­rated be­cause of lan­guage is rub­bish. Our home lan­guage is Afrikaans. This is the only Afrikaans school in town.”

A mother of one of the four grade R pupils, who asked not to be named to pro­tect her child’s iden­tity, said: “When I got the pho­to­graph I phoned the prin­ci­pal who said it was a mis­take and things would be changed. The teacher was sus­pended, which I am glad about, but it doesn’t change what hap­pened.

“Peo­ple have said if we don’t like it we should move. I thought of do­ing that and told my son I was tak­ing him out, but he got cross and said no.

Ed­win Koloi Laer­skool Sch­weizer-Reneke par­ent

“He said he had friends at the school and wants to stay. He’s right. Why must we leave when it’s this town’s racists who are the prob­lem?”

White res­i­dents deny racism is en­trenched in their town. But their de­nials ap­pear to be con­tra­dicted by two pubs just out­side Sch­weizer-Reneke — Bul­lets and Ka­trus — which dis­play apartheid mem­o­ra­bilia, in­clud­ing busts hon­our­ing HF Ver­wo­erd.

“There are no-go zones in this town for black peo­ple,” said Mac­Beth Boit­shoko of the civic ac­tion group Restora­tion of Hope.

“If you go to Bul­lets and you are black you will be beaten. There are shops here where if you are stand­ing in a queue and a white per­son is be­hind you, staff will serve them first.

“We are try­ing to change minds, but it is dif­fi­cult. Racism is deeply en­trenched.”

Dur­ing a visit by the Sun­day Times to Bul­lets, pa­trons and staff openly used the Kword.

“Ons vertrou hulle nie. Nie die k ***** s en nie die En­gelse bitches soos julle [We do not trust them. Not the k ***** s and not the English bitches like you],” shouted one pa­tron, John, who de­clined to give his sur­name.

Com­mu­nity leader Rashid Kathrada, nephew of anti-apartheid ac­tivist Ahmed Kathrada, who was born in Sch­weiz­erReneke, said cool heads were needed.

“The only way this will be re­solved is through di­a­logue. Emo­tions are high. Peo­ple need to step back. Like else­where in SA, there are small pock­ets of racism here.

“For­tu­nately there are more good peo­ple here than those stuck in the past. In the end we need to be think­ing about the chil­dren.”

School gov­ern­ing body chair Jozeph du Plessis said the school had not been closed.

“Maybe the so-called par­ents say­ing this were stag­ing this,” he said, when asked why black par­ents had not been told the school was shut. “We sent SMSes out say­ing the school was open … If there were no kids here then it could be be­cause par­ents didn’t get the mes­sage be­cause they changed their cell­phone num­bers, or they were scared for their child’s safety. I wouldn’t blame them if they were scared,” he said.

Koloi said he re­ceived the SMS only af­ter he re­turned home late on Fri­day. “If they say they sent it on Thurs­day that’s a lie,” he said.

Sch­weizer-Reneke mayor Aaron Motswana said he was con­fi­dent the in­ci­dent would not over­shadow the good in the town.

“We have been through dif­fi­cul­ties, just like any other town, but we held hands to­gether, black and white, and pulled through.

“[Barkhuizen] must be af­forded an op­por­tu­nity to give an ex­pla­na­tion for her ac­tions, which to date she has not been granted.”

Ad­mit­ting that Sch­weizer-Reneke “has not moved equally like other towns”, Motswana none­the­less in­sisted that racism was not en­trenched.

“You have pock­ets within our so­ci­ety who still re­sist change, but it is not the en­tire white com­mu­nity. What we need is di­a­logue to per­suade and drive pos­i­tive change.”

Pic­tures: Alais­ter Rus­sell

Days af­ter it found it­self at the cen­tre of a race row over the ap­par­ent seg­re­ga­tion of black grade R pupils from their white class­mates, Laer­skool Sch­weizer-Reneke in North West ap­peared to be closed, though not all pupils had been told.

The pic­ture taken by a Laer­skool Sch­weizer-Reneke grade R teacher that caused out­rage when it was shared on so­cial me­dia this week.

Pic­ture: Tiro Ra­matl­hatse

Some mem­bers of Sch­weizer-Reneke’s white com­mu­nity came armed dur­ing North West ed­u­ca­tion MEC Sello Le­hari’s visit to the school.

A bust of the ar­chi­tect of apartheid, Hen­drik Ver­wo­erd, and other apartheid-era mem­o­ra­bilia at the en­trance to Bul­lets Pub just out­side Sch­weizer-Reneke.

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