Race row sparks probe at South African private schools
South African education and human rights authorities said Tuesday they had launched investigations into racism at private schools after parents at one school complained that black and white pupils were segregated.
The probe was ordered after 30 parents of children at Curro Foundation School – a pre-primary school in Pretoria wrote a petition last month condemning the splitting of classes based on race.
“The sector needs to be regulated,” said Panyaza Lesufi, the provincial education minister for Gauteng, the country’s most populous province which houses the economic hub Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.
“I will not allow any child to be reminded about where we came from,” said Lesufi.
Under South Africa’s former apartheid system, which ended with the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, racial segregation was the norm in all walks of life.
Lesufi said he had been inundated by complaints of racism at schools since the Curro case was exposed last week, and threatened to deregister any offending institutions.
Private schools are increasingly popular in South Africa among the middle classes who can afford what they consider to be superior education to that offered by government schools.
The official South African Human Rights Commission has launched a parallel probe into the Pretoria-based school.
“It is concerning to us as the Human Rights Commission that children will be segregated based on the colour of their skin in the new South Africa,” commission spokesman Isaac Mangena told AFP.
He said the school had promised to undertake “immediate reforms — in essence conceding to … the allegations of segregation.”
The rights watchdog sent officials to the school on Tuesday “to monitor the commitment of reintegrating black and white children”.
The school’s holding company Curro Holdings, which owns 42 schools with around 36,000 pupils across the country, last week denied the racism allegations and suggested children had been separated for reasons of “culture”.
But the group of schools chief operating officer Andries Greyling later said the word “culture” had been misunderstood.
“We never meant culture in the way it was perceived,” said Greyling.
The group CEO Chris van der Merwe said “Curro does not support any form of racial segregation in its schools.”
In response to charges that Curro employed only white teachers at the Pretoria school, Greyling said: “We are struggling to get teachers of colour to apply at Curro”.
The Human Rights Commission said that despite the end of apartheid 20 years ago, “racism is widespread and most of the complaints we are dealing with are around racism”.
The Curro furore has ignited mixed views from parents of the children at the school.
Thinus Pienaar, who is white, defended the splitting of classes saying language was the reason behind the separation.
“It was never a question of putting black people in one class and white people in another class. It was a question of putting language parameters in place,” he told AFP after dropping off his child at the school on Tuesday.
He suggested blacks prefer their children to be educated in English while some whites would opt for Afrikaans.
But Bonolo Sekgwe, a black parent, opposed the separation of classes because it went against the spirit of a free South Africa.
“We are building a democratic country, our neighbours are all different colours at home, so why come to school and segregate them. What are we teaching our kids? It is a problem,” she told AFP.