THE picture that was circulated on social media showing black and white Grade R learners sitting at segregated tables at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke in North West. Twitter
Schweizer-Reneke - Racism in schools remains a raw nerve in the country amid the Schweizer-Reneke Laerskool class photo in which pupils were seen separated along colour lines.

The growing outrage has led to calls for an inquiry into institutionalised racism in schools, though some say recent cases do not warrant an inquiry.

The SA Human Rights Commission could not provide information on specific school racism complaints. However, it said it was “investigating the alleged segregation of pupils at Schweizer-Reneke and will make findings known once finalised”.

The SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) said pupils and teachers were still burdened with the scourge.

“Racism (in schools) is widespread, and most instances go unreported. If racism wasn’t institutionalised, it would be easy to have reports and complainants to provide affidavits under oath because they wouldn’t fear being ostracised or dismissed. Such an inquiry is crucial so that we can get to the root of the problem,” said Sadtu spokesperson Nomusa Cembi.

National Association of School Governing Bodies chairperson Matakanya Matakanye said recent cases were the tip of the iceberg of a deep-rooted and complex problem of class and racism.

However, he said an inquiry was not necessary, instead suggesting a safe platform where whistle-blowers could complain without victimisation.

“We don’t need an inquiry. We need parents to stand up and identify these cases. The problem with parents is that they don’t want to raise this issue because they fear that their children are going to be victimised, but we are saying this is the time that they must be whistle-blowers. If they don’t raise it, we will not know about these cases,” said Matakanye.

Cembi echoed Matakanye’s sentiments. “There is too much fear by parents who believe that if they expose racist tendencies, their children will be expelled on trumped up charges.

“Teachers working in these institutions take the treatment as normal because they are black. The seating arrangements in staff rooms and classes demonstrate what is being practised and, to some victims, this is normal.”

SA Institute of Race Relations policy fellow Sara Gon said institutionalised racism was a dangerous term as racism was defined as an intentional position. To say racism was institutional would, therefore, be difficult to prove but easy to allege.

“I do not believe an inquiry is of value because it’s just not feasible. And what would the education department do if it found it to be a scourge? Would it be able to satisfy us and itself that the issues are racism rather than broader social issues that affect a changing society. Wherever a group is dominant, its personality will be obvious in an institution. This changes with time as the make-up of the organisation changes. It cannot be forced,” said Gon.

The Department of Basic Education said Minister Angie Motshekga condemned all forms of racism in the strongest possible terms.

Sunday Tribune