Johannesburg - Overvaal Hoërskool’s language policy has fast degenerated into a political hot potato that forced the Afrikaans school to shut down on Thursday.
A ring of steel met thousands of teachers, ANC, EFF, Black First Land First members and pupils when they marched to the school.
Heavily-armed private security personnel and police kept a close eye on protesters that were seeking to force the school to change its policy and admit non-Afrikaans-speaking pupils.
SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and Congress of SA Students (Cosas) members in the Midvaal handed over a memorandum of demands to education officials at the school and gave them seven days to respond.
The memorandum demanded that the school adhere to transformation by accepting other pupils and that there was equality on the school premises, according to Sadtu member George Mollo.
“There are kids that live right next door to this school but you find that they have to get on to a bus and pay over R800 just for transport to attend other schools when there is one right here,” Mollo said.
The presence of pupils in the march forced Department of Education representatives to accept the memorandum of demands drawn up by members of Sadtu, Cosas and the Overvaal Transformation Committee.
A teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Star that the presence of the schoolchildren reduced the chances of violent clashes with law enforcement agents.
Hundreds of pupils from different schools came in buses from as far as Soweto and Ekurhuleni to support the Sadtu and Cosas-led march.
“We are pleased that the pupils are also part of the protest because what we are fighting for is for their own benefit in future.
“We are very comfortable and happy that they're here. As you have seen, they are very disciplined and as Sadtu we have been working very closely with Cosas,” said the teacher.
Sadtu Sebokeng leader Khehla Matale said they wanted Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi and Education Minister Angie Motshekga to suspend the school governing body (SGB) indefinitely.
“Something must be done in terms of this act to force this SGB to amend the language policy.
If you check, most of the pupils here, the white Afrikaans kids, are not from Vereeniging. Some are from Sasolburg, Parys and different plots around Vereeniging,” added Matale.
Motshekga and Lesufi visited the school earlier this week to address issues around admissions. However, Sadtu maintained there was still no change.
Matale said: “The MEC has the power to shut down this school.
“The MEC can redeploy the principal to report to the district every day.
“Why can’t the MEC do that? “He has got the powers to shut down this school.”
The school is expected to reopen its doors today.
Gauteng Education Department spokesperson Steve Mabona said they were not happy with the continued disruption of classes.
“The safety of our pupils is a priority. There is no area where we want to compromise security,” Mabona said.
Last week, aggrieved parents who protested against the school's admission policy that turned away 55 non-Afrikaans speaking pupils ran running battles with the police which resulted in several arrests and injuries.
Mabona said the issue of transformation was emotive and the department would continue to engage stakeholders at the school.
“We don’t want a situation where we have to force people to do things.Their fear is that we want to abolish Afrikaans. We cannot abolish Afrikaans but what we are saying is that there is no language that must be paramount,” he said.
School students marching and chanting down the street of outside #HoerskoolOvervaal.
The department and the SGB of the school have accepted the memorandum of demands drawn up by Sadtu members. @ReporterStar pic.twitter.com/dZYUAW3vEc
He told The Star that teachers who were involved in the march on Thursday must remember that they would not be paid.
“The teachers who were here know that there is no work, no pay,” he said.
Overvaal parent Mofokeng Tlhoriso said they were pleased the march was peaceful but demanded that the school change its policy.
“As the founding committee of what you see today, we have an open policy with the department. We are currently happy that the chairperson of the SGB came and received the memorandum of demands,” said Tlhoriso.
Meanwhile, the DA laid charges against a Facebook user, Aubery Thamasanqa Mabele, for the incitement of violence following his controversial post.
Mabele called on President Jacob Zuma to give him "a gun to defend our democracy” “one bullet, een boere kind" while checking in at Hoërskool Overvaal, the post read.
Isabel Lotz, DA chairperson of the south constituency, told The Star the region had not been in contact with Mabele but said many people were upset by the social media post.
Lotz said: ”It's easy on social media to give your opinion, but you don't think about what is going to happen afterwards.
"If the ANC, the government and other institutions can lay charges against someone who made comments about the (black) people on Durban beaches, then I think it's time for us to also take a stand on people who are attacking DA members.”