'We'll train our teachers better, but there is no discrimination' - North West school
As scores of demonstrators turned up outside Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke in the North West on Thursday to protest against the alleged segregation of pupils based on race, the school issued a statement claiming there was no racism or discrimination.
"A photo taken in a classroom of Schweizer-Reneke Primary is not a reflection of the true character of the school," said the school's governing body in the statement.
The picture, which went viral on social media on Wednesday, showed four black Grade R pupils on their first day of school seated at a desk placed at one end of the classroom, while 18 white children had been placed at a separate, longer table in the middle of the room.
"Schweizer-Reneke Primary School is proud of its integrated character. The school's ethos is built on inclusivity as a reflection of the broader South African society," said Jozeph du Plessis, chairperson of the school's governing body.
Explaining the picture, Du Plessis said it was a reflection of a "single moment".
He said the school did not tolerate racism. "The governing body does not condone any distinction based on race. Learners from different backgrounds - including race, religion and language - are not merely accommodated but are fully integrated in all aspects of the school environment," he said.
The mother of one of the black pupils in the photograph earlier spoke to TimesLIVE, quashing earlier claims that the children had chosen their own seating positions.
"When I got to the class before school in the morning, all the children's names were already written on the desks they were supposed to sit at. The labels had been put on their tables and their aprons," she said.
She said she did not immediately notice who had been placed next to her child as class had not yet begun.
"So everything they are saying is not true. We had expected the principal would give an excuse that they had put our children separately from the others because of language. Maybe they could have said that the children were more comfortable speaking to other children who spoke their own language and would later be integrated once they got comfortable - but they put it all on our children," said the mother.
Later, another picture of the same classroom surfaced. It showed two of the white pupils sitting at the table that was previously occupied by the black children. Two black pupils had been moved to the larger table where the white children had been seated.
According to the parent who spoke to TimesLIVE, the change was made following complaints to the principal, who said she would look into the matter.
While Du Plessis did not offer any explanation to these allegations, he indicated that the school would be willing to address any shortcomings. He said the governing body would "support the school's staff in aspects where transformation is not taking place as it should".
"The governing body is committed is committed to transformation and to make a positive contribution to society. We will make sure that the necessary resources are available and that staff members have access to information and training," said Du Plessis.
Meanwhile, members of several political parties and community groups arrived at the school on Thursday, prompting school officials to cancel lessons for the day and to send children home.
TimesLIVE spoke to Eugene Khasu, chairperson of a community group called Restoration of Hope. He said he and his members had joined other groups in demonstrating outside the school.
"Officials are still in a meeting. We have been told to form a delegation that will meet with the school officials and the MEC as we cannot all go inside," said Khasu.
"The children have already left but what was disturbing is some of the white parents who came to fetch their children had guns on them."
Khasu said they were not there to cause trouble but only wanted "an example to be set".
"We need to deal with this thing decisively," he said.
The Democratic Alliance has also condemned the incident. DA Youth leader Luyolo Mphithi said they planned to meet with school officials. "It is outrageous that a classroom in 2019 can be racially segregated, which will only serve to teach young children from day one to see each other as different and separate. This is unconscionable," said Mphithi in a statement.
TimesLIVE was yet to receive an update from the department of education.
On Wednesday, department spokesperson Freddy Sepeng said they had learnt of the situation through social media. "We have seen the picture and we are investigating the allegations. The MEC will be paying them a visit," said Sepeng.
"If it is true, we strongly condemn it," he added.
This is a developing story.