File photo: Ziphozonke Lushaba

Mpumalanga - A school in Mpumalanga planned two racially separate matric dance functions: one for its white pupils and another for its black pupils.

 Outraged black pupils at Hendrina Combined School, a co-ed public school in the town between Middelburg and Ermelo, said they had suffered many racist slights in the past, but this was the last straw, while some white pupils asked why they were being separated from their black classmates.

The DA and the Mpumalanga Education Department on Friday condemned claims that the parents’ committee at the Hendrina Combined School in Middelburg decided on “only-white” and “only-black” matric dances, citing “cultural differences”.

 While the Education Department said it was investigating, the school has apparently rescinded the decision, with plans for a combined matric event.

 “This school has had a lot of racist issues in the past. We left things as they were. But we couldn’t keep quiet with this one,” said the aunt of a girl in matric at the school.

The woman, who did not want to be named for fear her niece would be victimised, said she received an SMS from the girl on Wednesday afternoon informing her of a parents’ meeting. 

When she arrived at the meeting, she was surprised to find only black parents in attendance. 

She said a teacher, known as Mr van Wyk, co-ordinated the meeting and discussed with those present plans for a martic farewell, as well as the costs involved. 

The woman said she stood up at the meeting and asked: “If this is a function for matrics, why do I only see black people?”

 She said the teacher informed them that there would be two events and that this had been determined by a parents’ committee. 

The school accepted its first black pupils only in 2009, so this is the first year it has a mixed matric class. 

Among the other allegations of racism at the school are that black children are marked down, and that parents are not included in the school governing body or parents’ meetings, such as the one at which the dance decision was believed to have been taken.

 Another black parent said their children were being discriminated against. 

“These children have been in the same class from Grade 8 until Grade 12. Why are they being separated now?” 

A black matric said some of her white (English-speaking) classmates were disappointed. 

“I heard that the Afrikaans kids will hold their matric dance at a church. My friends wonder why we are being separated,” she said. 

The DA’s provincial spokesman Anthony Benadie said he was told of the segregated matric dance plans by angry parents. 

“(They) were… notified at a meeting for the English matric class that the school’s white parents and scholars had decided to host their own matric farewell, and that the black learners must hold their own,” said Benadie. 

Department spokesman Jasper Zwane said: “The department condemns any form of discrimination based on race, sex or colour that may take place in any of its schools and will institute a probe into this matter.” The principal of the school, Arthur Williams, said he was under instruction not to comment on the matter. 

According to the DA, white parents cited “cultural differences” as the reason for the separate events.

Benadie said he spoke to Williams on the phone on two separate occasions. “During the first, he stated that because the school was unable to pay for a matric dance, the required funds were raised by a parents’ committee.”

 However, in the second discussion, Benadie said, Williams changed his stance, saying that the school was hosting a combined farewell which all pupils were invited to attend.

 Pretoria News