Schweizer-Reneke Primary School in the town is still under heavy police guard with parents fearing for the safety of their kids. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi African News Agency (ANA)
The road trip from Joburg to Schweizer-Reneke is long and arduous. The destination offers nothing by way of rewards, or excitement. One could fare better by driving into town hoping to watch paint dry. The weekday’s sweltering heat made the boredom a tad more overwhelming.

The farmers in short pants and heavy woollen socks just below the knee made fetching their children from Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke a spectacle of pomp and ceremony.

Who could blame them? Theirs is a depressing town where there is little to do outside ploughing their fields and putting the black man in his place.

Being battered - often with fatal results - is the perennial black man’s burden in Schweizer-Reneke. The local farmworker does not know the good side of his master.

As Pule Ramabodu says, shaking with rage, a farmworker, a Mr Modise, was shot dead by a farmer because the latter mistook him for a guinea fowl.

“These cases are normal here,” a passer-by interjects, unsolicited.

This is the mindset in Schweizer-Reneke.

White residents see the world through a set of eyes different from the black perception. A man dies because the farmer thought he resembled a sumptuous meal he could put on the table for his family.

Black folk like Sandile Kgosing complain bitterly about the overcrowding in the township schools and reason that the 1:20 teacher-learner ratio at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke could mean more space for black children.

The white parents say, on national news media, that if those black parents with children already at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke do not like it there, then “take your children back to township schools”.

Kgosing talks about his home town with the zero zest of someone who has lost the fight. All he can do is tally the litany of racism cases he is aware of.

He says a black parent at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke, Akanyang Montshiwa, has had to leave town for fear of reprisals after the white parents accused her of exposing the identity of their children in the racist picture that went viral on social media.

Teacher Elana Barkhuizen was suspended for taking and circulating the offending picture of black children separated in class from the main table of their white peers.

Supported by trade union Solidarity, Barkhuizen claims her dignity has been impaired. Not a word is said about the dignity, if any, of the black children.

The chairperson of the school governing body, J du Plessis, in keeping with the ultra-right conservative thinking in the town, says the children were likely to have been separated because the blacks spoke Setswana only, while their peers spoke Afrikaans.

In Schweizer-Reneke, no one seems to possess even the basic layman’s understanding that children do not need a common language to interact.

Kgosing says during the school’s sports events, “black children only attend as spectators, they are discouraged at every turn to participate”.

“They always find something ridiculous to stop a black athlete from taking part,” says Kgosing, “like that the child is over-age. How can they not know that a child registered at their school is not of the qualifying age?”

Amenities in town such as the curiously named Bullet Pub are out of bounds to blacks.

“Now they even want to have their own cemetery,” Kgosing gripes.

The high school, predictably known as Hoërskool Schweizer-Reneke, is led by a white principal and her deputy, a black man of Nigerian extraction, known as Mr Orsula.

The principal, a Ms De Villiers, attends to the needs of the white learners, while Orsula strictly handles the school needs of black children, Kgosing says.

When it is pointed out by this reporter that the claim is absurd, the men with Kgosing hasten to echo his assertion, confirming it is not a figment of his imagination.

Ms De Villiers was said not to be at school on the day of our visit. The telephone number provided rang unanswered.

The station commander at the police station, a Lieutenant-Colonel Bothma, referred questions to the provincial spokesperson.

Colonel Adéle Myburgh, section head: media relations of the SAPS in the North West, based in Potchefstroom, was meant to respond to these allegations.

All she said was: “Please take note, as this is a sensitive issue, I need approval by the Provincial Commissioner for my reply.”

She had not responded by the time of publication.

In the meantime, it is business as usual at the police station in the small bakkie town.

Yet, Schweizer-Reneke is the birthplace of late Struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada, a fierce opponent of racism. 

His nephew, Fareed Kathrada, says he visited his home a few weeks before he died: “I had a braai for him here.”

Both Fareed and Rashied Kathrada would not be drawn on giving an opinion on the fractured race relations in the dorpie.

Sunday Independent