File picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/Africa News Agency (ANA).

Schweizer-Reneke - Schweizer-Reneke remains tense ahead of the release of reports on controversial classroom seating arrangements and racism in schools in the North West.

The sleepy town made news headlines following a controversial photograph portraying four black children seated separately from their white classmates in the Grade R classroom. 

The photograph went viral in social media on January 9, after a teacher at the Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke sent it to a parents' Whatsapp group with the intention of showing them how their children had settled on their first day at school.

It inadvertently sparked allegations of racism and the school became somewhat a battleground.

Activists and political parties protested at the school demanding answers. In no time, Schweizer, as the town on the banks of the Harts River is commonly known, was divided along racial lines.

Fearing for the safety of their children parents arrived in numbers at the school. Some of them were armed. Black parents were in a group protesting outside the school. They were toyi-toying and singing.

The school gates were locked and some white parents broke down a fence to gain entry into the school because they said they wanted to remove their children. Some of those parents were armed.

Amid the commotion and counter-accusations of threats and intimidation, the teacher who took the picture and published it on social media was suspended for breaching school rules.

The teacher who put the children in a seating arrangement that separated the children into race groups remains at the school. She said her actions were meant to keep children in groups that shared the same language and background because she thought the children would settle down easier that way. 

Concerned parent Johannes Phutiyagae, said the situation had been blown out of proportion.

"This is a perfect school, there is no racism here,"  he said.

"The people who distributed the photograph in social media did not investigate the origin of the photograph. Within days our was school was labelled as a racist school.

"My child is traumatised by events that unfolded last week. He thought people who jumped into the school were SVK gang members attacking them at school. I am struggling to bring him back to school."

SVK is a notorious criminal gang that operates in the North West.

However, another parent whose child was in the photograph said: "I was informed by my sibling about the photograph, I was shocked to see my child seated at a corner in a classroom. To me, the children were separated based on their race.

"I am bringing back my child to school hoping that the situation will not be repeated and racism will be addressed."

The North West education department has since offered counselling for affected children.

A report on the seating arrangement matter was expected to be completed by next week, while another report on racism in North West schools was expected to be finalised in six months.

African News Agency (ANA)