Pics: Racial war at school
Johannesburg - “It’s a full-blown colour war.” This was all Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi could say to describe the crisis paralysing Roodepoort Primary School.
On Tuesday, the row over his appointment of Nomathemba Molefe as principal spilt over into a fist fight between angry parents from the mostly coloured community and an official from the Gauteng Department of Education.
On Monday, Lesufi had vowed to close down the school permanently if teachers continued to be threatened with violence by parents. Black teachers have stayed away from school for a week, unprepared to subject themselves to either the intimidation or the risk to their lives. The school has already been shut down twice.
Given an ultimatum to return on Tuesday morning, they didn’t.
Angry parents thronged the reception area, swearing and cursing at the staff. They were incensed at being accused of arson attacks at the school, including a recent petrol bombing of the deputy principal’s car and firebombing the offices of the principal and her deputy.
“We won’t burn the school down, we built it ourselves,” the enraged group shouted at the official.
The school’s security guard had to intervene, using force to separate the fight, which played out on the school grounds in full view of the pupils.
Parents insisted that the deputy principal set her own car alight in a bid to sabotage parents who were against alleged irregular appointments at the school. The school has been in crisis since last year because of this.
No classes could be held again on Tuesday. Lesufi’s spokeswoman, Phumla Sekhonyane, said only about 300 pupils came to school on Tuesday, while 15 teachers were absent as they feared reprisals from angry parents.
She said the absent teachers were consulting their unions, as they, as well as the department, feared for their lives.
The department hired 24-hour armed security for the school at the end of last term.
“We are worried that learners have lost time and want the disruptions to stop. If this continues, we will have to find alternative placements so that they can catch up on their studies,” Sekhonyane said.
Briefing education committee members in the legislature on Tuesday, Lesufi said all the department’s numerous interventions at the school had failed.
He added that one of the interventions had been an abortive bid to take all the teachers on a three-day team-building session focused on race, but that had failed too.
The MEC said that when department officials visited the school on Tuesday, they were manhandled and dragged out of the school by members of the coloured community. “By the power vested in me… I will have a community meeting to announce my decision. We’ll have a press briefing on Thursday morning to announce the decision.”
He said some people in the community were using the problems at the school to campaign for next year’s municipal elections.
Lesufi said once the school was closed, pupils would be sent to three nearby schools in Roodepoort and Dobsonville, Soweto. “It is a full-blown colour war. They accuse me of fuelling the race problems. In that community, I hear that the coloured residents want to go to the library and chase the black people out for taking their jobs. They also want to go to the police station to chase the black police officers out.”
He said he was more worried that the pupils were behind in the curriculum. “They are still stuck in April-May and they have to write annual national assessments.”
Speaking to The Star after the committee meeting, he said recovery programmes and extra support would be offered to the pupils.
Ola Matthews-Sekhokelo, one of the many parents who decided against sending their children to school on Tuesday, said her children would be affected if it closed down.
“I am unemployed and I won’t have money to transport my two children to another school if they were relocated to another area. The department must find a way to fix the problem before we are all affected,” she said.
Matthews-Sekhokelo said she wouldn’t blame the department if it decided to shut the school down.
“I don’t blame them, because no one is running the school and now our children are going to suffer, because they are already behind in their syllabus,” she said.