The incident, which was caught on camera, has led to the suspension of the culprit.
The Department of Education yesterday confirmed that action had been taken against the 20-year-old pupil from Luthayi High School in Hammarsdale, north of Durban.
In a video circulating on social media, the pupil can be seen facing off with teacher Sunday Ajibabi. The video shows other teachers and learners trying to intervene.
Educators’ Union of South Africa (EUSA) provincial secretary Nathi Mbambo said the assault started after the learner had attempted to interfere with exams that were in progress.
Mbambo said when Ajibabi reprimanded the pupil, he made degrading xenophobic remarks.
“The pupil came to the class and demanded to see one of the learners who was writing exams.
“When the teacher asked the learner to leave the class as exams were in progress, the boy was rude to him and called him a foreigner.
“The pupil then punched him,” Mbambo said.
He said the fight quickly moved to the schoolyard and was recorded and shared on social media.
Department spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa said an urgent hearing had been scheduled for Monday next week.
Mthethwa said MEC for Education in KwaZulu-Natal Kwazi Mshengu wanted to make it clear that schools were not places of violence.
“We will not tolerate this behaviour, irrespective of whether it was by a teacher or a learner. The schooling system has disciplinary measures in place and will use such prescripts to determine the appropriate course of action,” Mshengu said.
EUSA has called for the pupil to be criminally prosecuted, adding that he should face severe consequences for his conduct.
The union accompanied Ajibabi to the Mpumalanga police station in Hammarsdale to open a criminal case yesterday.
Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele confirmed that they were investigating the incident.
“A case of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm was opened by a 39-year-old man for investigation at Mpumalanga police station,” she said.
Attempts to speak to Ajibabi were unsuccessful yesterday.
Mbambo said this was not the first time Ajibabi, who is a Nigerian national, had been attacked at the school and he had been a victim of xenophobic taunts from some pupils.
Mbambo said if Ajibabi had assaulted the pupil, a criminal case would have been opened against him.
“He would face allegations of child abuse and lose his job. The suspect in this case is 20 and is not a minor, so he should be arrested. What happened there was also demeaning and it undermines the teacher in the eyes of other pupils. It creates an impression that the teacher is a ‘sitting duck’ for learners,” he said.
Vee Gani of the KZN Parents Association said assault, irrespective of whether it was committed by a child or a teacher, was a criminal offence.
“Violence at schools is not acceptable. If a teacher assaults a pupil, that teacher could lose their job. If a learner assaults a teacher, nothing really happens to the learner.
“That sends a message to the 90000 teachers we have in the province that teaching is a health hazard. Teachers now fear that, in the course of their work, they might be assaulted if they reprimand pupils,” he said.
He said pupils that went to school with the intention to cause distress either to teachers or other learners must be removed from the school environment.