Report into racism claims at #LaerskoolSchweizerReneke postponed indefinitely
The much waited release of a report into allegations of racism at Laerskool Schweizer Reneke has been postponed indefinitely.
MEC for the Department of Education in North West, Sello Lehari, was supposed to have released the preliminary report on Thursday following investigations that started last week.
However, the matter took a U-turn after Lehari decided to postpone the release of the report indefinitely.
Departmental spokesperson, Freddy Sepeng, said just before the report could be released, Lehari decided to consult with the legal team to ensure that mistakes had not been made hence the postponement.
"The MEC will do some pronouncements on the matter after the consultation with the legal team. However, right now the press briefing has been postponed indefinitely," Sepeng said.
The school found itself in a racial storm after a picture circulated on social media on the day of the school re-opening last week.
It showed what looked like a class that had been racially segregated, with the white and black children seated separately.
The picture caused a huge uproar with many accusing the school of racism. While other pictures were later released showing the class integrated, the public did not buy that.
They said the pictures were taken only after the uproar and were just damage control.
The department went to the school after the pictures were released and the teacher who had taken the picture, Elana Barkhuizen, was later suspended.
Speaking to The Star, Sepeng said it was not the department that had suspended Barkhuizen but the School Governing Body (SGB).
"She was employed by the SGB and they're the ones who suspended her. The MEC just made the pronouncement."
Sepeng also revealed that Barkhuizen was not the class teacher. He said Barkhuizen found herself in that class because the class teacher had asked her to take the picture.
"The class teacher is still in school. She did not deny she was the class teacher. We don't know who separated the children but the report says what happened," Sepeng said.
In the meantime, trade union Solidarity has served court papers on Lehari, the North-West Department of Education and on Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke and its governing body. In the papers the union asks that the suspension of Barkhuizen be lifted.
Solidarity requested the Labour Court to give a ruling as early as 24 January to the effect that Barkhuizen’s suspension is unlawful and should therefore be lifted.
According to Anton van der Bijl, Head of Labour Law Services at Solidarity, Barkhuizen should never have been suspended in the first place.
“An innocent and extremely capable teacher, who does not look at the little ones in her class through a political lense, was abused by political hopefuls for their own gain. It cannot be allowed that competent people who excel at their job are vilified, as has happened to Elana Barkhuizen,” Van der Bijl said.
Van der Bijl further stated that the manner in which Barkhuizen was suspended was in direct contravention of labour law, saying she was not given the opportunity to state her side of the case.
"But the wrong ‘employer’ Lehari– took steps against her. It was not within the MEC’s powers to suspend her because she is in the employ of the governing body,” Van der Bijl explained.
“There is a very strong case to be argued in Elana’s favour, and we are most confident that the court would also see it in that light,” Van der Bijl said.