Fury over 'brown classes' at Cape Winelands school

01 February 2015 - 01:59
By Nashira Davids

It is called the Valley of Cheese and Wine, marketed as "awe-inspiring" with "unpretentious hospitality". But there is a foul odour hanging over the town of Bonnievale in the Western Cape.

The teachers at its former Model C school have been accused of sowing division along class and race lines by creating a second, inferior level for coloured, and predominantly poor, children, whereas the well-off and mainly white pupils receive first-rate education.

Some pupils call the second tier offered at Bonnievale High School the "Bruin Klasse" (coloured classes).

"We have just accepted that when you're coloured, you must know your place. You will be in the coloured class if you come from the coloured primary school," said one boy, too afraid to be named.

The Bonnievale Education Crisis Committee, which was established in 2001, lodged complaints with the South African Human Rights Commission and the public protector this week.

They accused the school of racism and the provincial department of education of failing the coloured community. The school governing body and the department have rejected the allegations.

Community activist Errol Vollenhoven said Bonnievale High School catered for grades 1 to Grade 12. Bonnievale Primary School, based in the coloured township, catered for grades 1 to 9.

Every year, up to 80 children who have passed Grade 9 apply to the high school, which is about 3km away.

But, said Vollenhoven, only between 30 and 40 were accepted for Grade 10 due to "space constraints".

The rest have to find schools as far as 50km away. As a result, many drop out and end up working on farms.

"The principal only chooses those coloureds who are good at sport, do exceptionally academically or whose parents are well off financially," said Vollenhoven.

One matric said there was one class for every grade - but there had to be two classes for grades 10, 11 and 12 to accommodate the children from the primary school.

He said children in the coloured class had to take "dumb subjects" such as maths literacy. In the other class, which is mixed, subjects such as pure mathematics were offered.

"When we ask to do pure maths, we are told the class is full," said another girl.

Elizabeth Cloete said her daughter left the school in 2013 because of racism.

But Donovan Kortje, a coloured pig farmer, said his son had been at the school since Grade 1 and had never experienced racism.

"He is an excellent athlete and competed in the South African championships. He does well academically and wants to become a pathologist," said Kortje.

Wilhelm de Wet, chairman of the school governing body, said there were no exclusively coloured classes.

"The allocation of learners to classes [is] done purely on the basis of subject choices. I can categorically state that it is not done according to race. I confirmed with the headmaster and there is definitely room in the maths and sciences classes," said De Wet.

He admitted the school was "full to the brim", but said the department had to find a solution.

Paddy Attwell, spokesman for the provincial education department, said it would build extra classrooms at the school.

"Bonnievale High should have enough space to accommodate Grade 10 pupils from both schools in the town from next year," said Attwell.

Last year, many children applied to the predominantly coloured Ashton Secondary School about 25km away. But that school is bursting at the seams too.

The principal would not comment, but Vollenhoven said the department had sent temporary classrooms to accommodate the children.

"Why not send temporary classrooms to Bonnievale High School?

"Why must our children travel so far to coloured schools?" he asked.

On Wednesday, Sydney Scholtz hitchhiked to Ashton to "plead" with the principal to accept his daughter Simoné. He walked home in 35°C heat with just an application form and no guarantee.

"Don't cry, my child," he told Simoné, who listened as he explained his predicament.

"It breaks my heart to see her cry for an education."'