Protest at Soweto school engulfed in race tensions

Exams disrupted as parents prevent teachers from entering school

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Photo of Klipspruit West High School
Learners leave Klipspruit West High School at home time. No exams were written as protesters blocked some teachers from entering the premises. Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee

Examinations were cancelled for students at Klipspruit West Secondary High School in Soweto as a small group of parents protested outside the main gates on Monday. The parents called for the removal of three teachers and a general worker. The protesters, who under the banner of Patriots for Equality, accused the teachers and the worker of abusing, assaulting and insulting coloured children at the school.

The protesting parents blockaded the school entrance in the morning and refused to allow the teachers they have a grievance against to enter the premises. The teachers that were denied entry were then joined outside by other black African staff members in solidarity and proceeded to leave the school in a convoy of cars.

By the time the situation had calmed down eleven teachers had left the school. Three left because they were denied entry and the others left in solidarity with their colleagues.

One of the teachers who had been denied entry spoke anonymously, saying that the accusations levelled against them were “all lies” and that their main concern was just to oversee the preliminary examinations which were underway.

This latest protest at the school comes as learners are in the middle of exams. Exams for the day were cancelled for grades 8 to 11. GroundUp observed some students leave the school in the morning through the broken back fence as no classes were taking place inside.

The embattled school has been in the news in recent months as parents, educators and the department continue to clash over a variety of issues. The only reason the matric exams were not disrupted was because the venue for their trial exams had been moved to a nearby primary school due to the recent tensions at the high school.

Last month a bus was torched and the school shut down as protesters – in what is a predominantly a coloured area – took to the streets after a black African principal was appointed.

Protesters rejected claims of racism, claiming that the process used to appoint the principal was flawed as there were already more suitable coloured candidates that were overlooked. They blamed the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) for pushing an agenda that discriminates against coloured people.

But Desmond Luvhengo, chairperson of SADTU in Eldorado Park, said that the protesters were just causing trouble and that most of them did not even have any children at the school.

Following the previous protest, MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi met with the aggrieved parents. He appointed a temporary principal and agreed to investigate the various grievances.

Anthony Phillip Williams, a protest leader, said they embarked on a disruptive protest because their grievances are being ignored by the authorities in the Gauteng Department of Education. He accused the department of failing to honour agreements made between the community and the department. “The principal today is not the main issue. The main issue is four teachers in particular who continue to violate their code of conduct,” said Williams. He went on to accuse the teachers in question of abusing children verbally and physically.

Williams once again denied accusations of racism stating that some of the accused teachers that they want removed are coloured men. “Some of these teachers come to school drunk and sleep in their cars the whole day. This is not fair on our kids. These kids are our future; they deserve better than this,” he said. He said that a grievance on teacher conduct was lodged with the department head but they have yet to receive any feedback.

Two metro police vehicles were at the school but then left as no incidents were reported.

As the bell rang for the end of the school day, learners streamed out of the main gates. One grade 11 learner just shrugged his shoulders when questioned as to how he felt about his delayed exams. “We didn’t do much today. We were supposed to write Business Economics but we just ended up playing around the entire day. I’m really not sure what’s going on or when we will write the exam,” he said.

Gauteng education department spokesperson Steve Mabona described the current situation at Klipspruit West Secondary High School as sad. He said that the head of department had received the grievances of the community, but needed time and space to conduct his work and investigations into the matter. He lamented the fact that learners were forced to delay their exams and indicated that the community protesters were just being impatient. 

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TOPICS:  Education

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