Pupils faced censure from the school when a picture of them holding up T-shirts with pro-EFF messages on them appeared on social media last week. Picture: Twitter

The Department of Basic Education has thrown its weight behind the decision not to charge Maritzburg College matric pupils pictured brandishing T-shirts calling for return of land. 

Last week, a picture of three Grade 12 pupils in Maritzburg College uniform holding T-shirts brandishing the message, “EFF, our last hope of getting our land back”, went viral on social media.

The image then caused a stir online, resulting in the school charging two pupils with inciting violence for brandishing politically-branded T-shirts at the school. 

This action then caused public outcry from the likes of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and prompted an investigation into racism allegations at the school by the KwaZulu-Natal Education Department. 

READ MORE: Martizburg College pupils' EFF views stir debate

The national department meanwhile, said it supported the provincial department's decision to launch a racism probe. 

"Minister [Angie Motshekga] supports the head of department in KZN, who instructed the school not to proceed with disciplinary action against the pupils involved. 

"The minister feels the matter could have been dealt with much more constructively than the manner it happened, taking into account all the relevant factors related to the incident."

Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga added that while the School's Act does prohibit political activities at schools, The action carried out by the pupils could not be considered "political party activity". 

He said the pupils were merely exercising their right to freedom of expression. 

Mhlanga however, was at pains to stress the need for schools to remain neutral places "where poeple feel free to learn and teach". 

"Party political activity can be disruptive in school if not conducted within the confines of the curriculum. It cannot happen at any time.

"We do not want schools to be disrupted for whatever reason... it must be an academic environment allowing for freedom of speech learners and teachers."

Mhlanga again confirmed that the matter was currently being probed, adding that once a report has been made available, the minister would be in a better position to offer a more detailed response to the matter.