'When people protest, it must be peaceful': 5 key findings from SAHRC's Brackenfell investigation

24 November 2020 - 18:00
By cebelihle bhengu AND Cebelihle Bhengu
Hundreds of EFF supporters assembled on November 20 for a march on Brackenfell High in Cape Town.
Image: Esa Alexander Hundreds of EFF supporters assembled on November 20 for a march on Brackenfell High in Cape Town.

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has condemned violence during a EFF protest in Brackenfell, Cape Town, last week, saying all protest action should be peaceful and not infringe on other people's rights.

Hundreds of EFF supporters gathered in Brackenfell to protest against alleged racism after it was reported a group of parents at Brackenfell High School held a private, unofficial matric ball which was only attended by white pupils.

The City of Cape Town gave permission to 500 demonstrators, but this number was exceeded to around 1,000 marchers.


A scuffle broke out between protesters and police and the crowds were dispersed by stun grenades and water canons.


The commission addressed a media briefing on Tuesday to provide an update about the investigation into allegations against the school.

Here are five important findings:

Site inspection at Brackenfell High

The SAHRC said the school management denied allegations of racism during an unannounced site inspection and meeting with its officials. The school will receive sensitivity training which will be facilitated by the commission.

“The school denied the allegations of unfair discrimination and racism at the school. Based on this meeting, the commission understands and welcomes the fact that the school has a diversity committee and recently revisited its code of conduct to ensure diversity and inclusion.”

Meeting between schoolteachers, SGB and education department

The commission has written to the Western Cape department of education outlining the complaints against the school. This will allow the school to formally respond to the allegations. The SAHRC has requested a meeting with stakeholders at the school to address the allegations.

“The commission has requested a meeting with the Western Cape education department and the school, with an invitation also extended to the representatives of the school governing body (SGB) and the pupil body.

“Based on the outcome of this meeting, the commission will decide which further interviews to conduct. These could be with teachers who attended the function and governance structures at the school.”

Rising racial tensions will be investigated

The commission said it has taken note of “rising racial tensions and racial polarisation” in SA and will launch a summit to address these issues.

“The commission will also convene an inquiry into social cohesion and nonracialism in schools. Both initiatives will take place in early 2021 because this is a systemic issue. It is not only related to a specific school.”

Violence is not the answer

The SAHRC said protests must always be peaceful. It said police acted with “great restraint” although they used stun grenades and water cannons to quell the violence.

“When people protest, it must be peaceful. What we saw were people with axes and stones and on a number of occasions, stones were rained on the police and  people on the other side.

“The police acted with great restraint. However, we should say police should be looking at the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law, because allowing those people to protest in a peaceful manner would not have had the kind of consequences we saw that day.”

Political parties must not interfere 

The commission said law enforcement agencies must be allowed to protect both the marchers and the community without interference from political parties.

“There were other political parties that called on people to come out and defend the school and the community. That was the wrong thing to do because the law enforcement agencies are there to protect the community, including on that particular day.”