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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 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 at the school on Tuesday “to monitor the commitment of reintegrating black and white children”.

The school’s holding company Curro Holdings, which own 42 schools with around 36,000 pupils across the country, has denied the racism allegations and suggested children had been separated for reasons of “culture”.

“Curro does not support any form of racial segregation in its schools,” the group’s CEO Chris van der Merwe said in a statement.

In response to charges that Curro employed only white teachers at the Pretoria school, chief operating officer Andries 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”.