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Human Rights Commissioner blames Western Cape Education Department over Brackenfell High saga

EFF supporters protesting outside Brackenfell High School yesterday. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency(ANA).

EFF supporters protesting outside Brackenfell High School yesterday. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency(ANA).

Published Nov 21, 2020


Cape Town - Human Rights Commissioner Chris Nissen has placed the blame of the racial flare-up in Brackenfell squarely at the door of the Western Cape Education Department.

Members of the EFF clashed with police outside the area yesterday. Police spokesperson FC van Wyk said nine people were arrested yesterday following scenes of clashes, teargas and water cannons.

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Nissen said the department needed to come up with an inclusive, socially cohesive policy to help avoid incidents of racial discrimination.

“This is not unique to Brackenfell High School, even schools in Delft experience discrimination, and we need to get to a point where a socially cohesive policy is drafted to ensure that everyone experiences a unified South Africa,” he said.

There was a high police presence at the corner of Frans Conradie and Paradys Drive where barbed wire was used as a barrier between police and the group of EFF supporters who were not happy with being barred from moving closer to the high school where they wanted to hand over a memorandum of demands.

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EFF supporters protesting outside Brackenfell High School yesterday. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)

In their memorandum, the party demanded that all the teachers and the members of the Student Governing Body that were involved in organising and attending a matric dance event that excluded black and coloured students, be removed from the school within seven days.

The party also threatened that if their demand was not met, “this school will become a permanent residence of the EFF, and we will leave only when our demands are met”.

Yesterday, during what was meant to be a peaceful protest of about 500 people turned chaotic when more than 2 000 EFF supporters felt aggrieved by the police’s refusal to allow them to move closer to Brackenfell High School where they had planned to deliver their two-point memorandum.

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Police used stun grenades, water cannons, teargas, as well as rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

EFF provincial chairperson, Melikhaya Xego told the crowd that the party was also preparing to shut down more schools in the Western Cape.

“There is still Rhodes High that we are going to. There is still Van Riebeek High that we are going to. We will shut down all these racist schools,” he said.

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The atmosphere in Brackenfell was tense this morning after the EFF made good on their promise to descend on the area en masse. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

The Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation also weighed in on the situation and blamed the WCED as well as the school’s leadership for failing to resolve the issue.

“The seething racial division seen in Brackenfell today is a consequence of a failure of leadership. Since the first violent protest at Brackenfell High School in response to an allegedly whites-only matric function, no leaders have stepped forward to manage the crisis. To engage the parties. To acknowledge the systemic problems they embody. Neither the Education Department in the province nor the school have been moved to unequivocally condemn the divisive function. Neither appears to recognise the polarities in our society, or feel any responsibility to fix them. Brackenfell High School is a symbol of unresolved issues from South Africa’s past,” they said.

WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said: “Over the past few years, the WCED has initiated discussions with schools, and we are continually developing a diversity strategy that all schools can tap from.”

Premier Alan Winde said in a statement: “Some learners of colour in our schools across the country do not feel welcome or heard. This can’t continue, because building our rainbow nation starts with all of us, including our children.

Police used stun grenades, water canons and tear gas to disperse crowds near Brackenfell High School. Picture Leon Lestrade. African News Agency/ANA.

“It is for this very reason that the WCED has already initiated a series of programmes with schools to address these concerns. And schools, like Brackenfell High School, are taking these concerns seriously with their own initiatives. We are committed to following this through with the gravity it deserves,” he said.

The FW de Klerk Foundation called “on President (Cyril) Ramaphosa and Premier Winde to call for calm and to ensure the maintenance of law and order. We also ask them, our churches and the Human Rights Commission to condemn racist actions and statements from all sides in an even-handed manner.”

Ramaphosa called on all parties concerned to exercise restraint and act in a responsible manner, "and to resolve their differences peacefully and through dialogue. The racial polarisation witnessed at Brackenfell High School goes against the kind of society we are seeking to build. Government and communities must share the responsibility of acting together to end all forms of racism, racial division and racial inequality. In doing so, we will improve the conditions for lasting reconciliation and unity in our country – objectives to which the vast majority of South Africans, black and white, are committed,“ he said.

Van Wyk said: “The protest action in Brackenfell necessitated police action to maintain law and to disperse the riotous crowd.  Eight protestors were arrested on charges of public violence, and they are due in court once they have been charged. One member of the public was injured when he tried to disrupt the protest. He was arrested on a charge of incitement and is also due in court in due course.”

He added that several police, Law Enforcement vehicles, windows of businesses, as well as private vehicles were damaged.

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