Klipspruit school protest was racially motivated: human rights commission

01 February 2019 - 07:00 By Nonkululeko Njilo
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Klipspruit West High School. File photo
Klipspruit West High School. File photo
Image: Sowetan LIVE

An investigation by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has found that the protests against the employment of a black principal at Klipspruit West Secondary School were racially motivated. 

"It is the commission’s finding that the rejection of a black school principal, Ms B Makatu, was racially motivated and, therefore, unconstitutional and inconsistent with section 7 of PEDUDA [Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act],” said advocate Andre Gaum of the commission.

The report was investigating the impact and underlying causes of service delivery protests in Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, as well as the disruption of teaching and learning at the school. 

Classes at the school were disrupted by protesters last year. They were against the appointment of Makatu.

In one of the SAHRC hearings to deal with the matter last year‚ former school governing body member Rita Davis said the community was concerned that the "rotten" black teachers at the school would be at an advantage if a black principal was appointed to oversee them.

"Not all of them [black teachers] is rotten. There is very good black teachers [sic] at our school, but certain teachers have serious abuse and allegations towards the coloured [pupils] ... but also to their own.

"The fear of the community was that our children are suffering now and it means that our children will suffer more [with a black principal] ‚" Davis told the commission.

Gaum said: "No matter the reason for objecting to the appointment of the [Klipspruit West Secondary School] principal, the protesters could have found expression in a manner that did not disrupt the rights of learners to a basic education.

"A collective interest in ensuring that the right to education was not affected would have seen other options adopted by protesters including choices around the area of protest, time of protest or method of protest without forcing schools to close or having teachers embark on a go-slow for prolonged periods of time."

The commission also noted that while the community had the right to protest, other rights needed to be considered, such as the right to education and the principle of the "best interest of the child". 

"Ensuring that children do attend school should be a priority for communities, public officials and civil  society, acting in concert in the interests of the children’s right to education," the commission said.

Gaum said the commission had gathered enough evidence to suggest that there were racial tensions in the Eldorado Park community.

Following the findings, the commission directed the Gauteng department of education to conduct a survey at the school and in neighbouring areas to identify and assess policy and procedures which deviate from the constitution and law, as it relates to racism.

The department was also directed to submit its findings and plan of action to address any negative findings within two months of the 2019 school year.  

Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi thanked the commission for the report, which he described as very important. 

"This recommendation gives a firm indication that there is no excuse for disruption, if we have differences let’s find a mechanism that will assist to deal with those differences," he said.

Lesufi quashed the suggestion of unlawfulness in the appointment of the principal.

"We feel vindicated, as the department. The appointment of the principal at Klipspruit West Secondary School was not flawed, it was not out of an influence of a certain teacher and it was not of an influence of a certain racial interest to undermine those communities. Our approach remains appointing the best candidate for the post," he said. 

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