DURBAN - THE provincial Education Department has sent psychologists to Phoenix schools to counsel pupils over racial killings.
Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu announced this during his visit to Phoenix on Monday, to assess the opening of schools amid fears of outbreaks of racial fights between African and Indian pupils. There were fears that the racial tensions might spill over to schools.
Various government officials have visited Phoenix over the past few weeks, as a result of the looting and violence in KwaZulu-Natal that resulted in more than 200 fatalities in the province.
Racial tension has been high in Phoenix, as a result of vigilantism and racial profiling. Most of the victims’ families said their relatives were killed while coming or going to work, and had nothing to do with the looting mayhem that gripped the province and Gauteng.
The MEC said he had ordered department officials to immediately send psychologists to counsel pupils to defuse the racial atmosphere prevailing in Phoenix. Mshengu also ordered principals to hold sessions with pupils, to openly discuss racism. It was important to talk about what happened so pupils themselves would provide their views on the killings and racism, he said. “We want psychologists to counsel our pupils on the killings and racism in Phoenix. Pupils saw graphic images of their relatives, which might confuse their minds, and they may fail to concentrate on their studies.
Secondly, pupils must be told how bad racism was because they never experienced it in the past. We don’t have to brush this aside, we must call it as it is. Black innocent people were killed by some Indians, who must be isolated by this same community,” said Mshengu.
The MEC urged pupils to go back to their parents and teach them good things about being in a multi-racial school because their parents never had an opportunity to attend multiracial schools. “I only got an opportunity to mingle with students of other races at university. We know some of you may be racists because your parents unconsciously taught you. Some parents are racist by circumstances,” said Mshengu.
Accompanied by officials, including head of examinations Dr Barney Mthembu, the MEC visited three schools, including Greenbury High School, where black teachers and black pupils were allegedly racially abused. The school governing body chairperson Victor Chetty said the matter was reported to education officials and the school was awaiting the report.
Nokuthula Ngcobo, the National Teachers Union (Natu) chairperson in Phoenix, said racism was rife in the area. She said Natu discovered that pupils were grouped according to their race at the school, and there was a class for only black pupils.
School principal Suresh Panday said the school population is made up of 80% Indian pupils, 15% black pupils, and a few coloured pupils. The school opened under heavy security, as SANDF soldiers and police patrolled the streets.
SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) provincial secretary Nomarashiya Caluza, who also accompanied the MEC and his team, said the situation needed to be closely monitored because anything bad could still happen. Sadtu proposed that the army should stay for at least three months, she said.
KZN Parents Association chairperson Vee Gani said he was aware that some parents did not send their children to school for fear of new violent tensions. It was a well-known fact that societal problems spilt over to the schools, so parents’ fears were justified, he said.
“I think some parents adopted a wait and see approach, but we hope more pupils would return to school.”
Gani said the association supported the use of psychologists to counsel pupils and school sessions to discuss racism. “Children must be taught at an early age how bad racism was because they were not there during apartheid.”