In Klipspruit West, south of Johannesburg, children are playing in the streets in the middle of the day in their pyjamas. Rocks barricade the streets to the two local schools, St Ives Primary and Klipspruit-Wes Secondary. Logs burn next to the front gate of the secondary school.
Teenagers stand on street corners and next to shops dressed in their school uniforms. Other children, standing next to their parents along the R558 road, carry placards.
“There’s enough highly qualified coloured teachers, give them a chance. How is that racist?” reads a poster held by Rosezetta Paremora.
These scenes of protest played out on Thursday morning.
The area of predominantly coloured residents has been in the news since last week over claims that residents rejected the appointment of a black principal at Klipspruit-Wes Secondary School.
But Paremora says their objection to the principal has nothing to do with race. “It’s not that we don’t want a black principal, but we also want coloured people to be given opportunities.”
She is a former pupil at the school and matriculated in 1998. “We had one or two black teachers, but it was mostly coloured teachers. Our school was good, one of the best,” she says nostalgically.
In those days everyone at the school was like family – “a coloured family”.
Paremora insists again that wanting coloured teachers and a coloured principal is not being racist.
“But I feel that children get along better when it’s a familiar race,” she says.
The school has about 60% coloured pupils, according to Paremora.
“People started saying that it became racist, but our argument from day one has been that we’ve got enough qualified coloured teachers and also our children relate better to coloured teachers, and a coloured teacher will relate better to a coloured child, knowing where they come from,” she says.
“And also, English is basically not our first language and a lot of children struggle [with it], so it will be easy to have a principal that can speak Afrikaans and that was one of the requirements. I doubt this principal can speak it fluently or understand it well,” she says.
Among the small group of protesters is a boy no older than 10, who stands with a poster that reads: “Stop undermining coloured people. We have degrees.”
On the south side of the R558, not far from where the boy is standing, a tow truck is loading the remains of a burned-out Putco bus, a victim of the protest action.
Last Wednesday, Gauteng MEC for education Panyaza Lesufi met the parents of pupils at the school, its management team and the school governing body.
After the visit, Lesufi said in a statement that he acknowledged the need for all communities to be treated equally and benefit from socioeconomic development, but that the department had the responsibility to uphold nonracism and nonsexism and to promote diversity.
‘However, the appointment of principals and educators should be based on merit and competence while taking into account employment equity considerations.”
Lesufi also announced that he had dissolved the school governing body.
On Monday, Lesufi said he had deployed a district official to the school as an interim measure to ensure learning and teaching was not disrupted. On Thursday, however, the two schools stood empty.
Anthony Williams, a leader of Patriots for Equality, the organisation leading the protests in Klipspruit West, doesn’t believe that schooling will return to normal any time soon.
He said one of the resolutions taken on Thursdayby the Klipspruit West community was to urge Gauteng Premier David Makhura to visit the area within 48 hours to hear their grievances.
“We have a plan for matriculants, in particular, because preliminary exams are around the corner. The kids will know in the next 48 hours where to go and what to do and who are the educators that will be helping them until further notice,” he said.
“From next week, we will also be developing the plan for the other grades. It is important that we don’t leave our kids out to dry.”
He also reiterated that it was “hogwash” that what people wanted was racist; they only wanted “fairness and equality”.
“Sadtu [the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union] has got a project which is called ‘Operation Vat Alles [Operation Take Everything]’. What this project does, it ensures that all principals and deputy principal positions in coloured areas are all going to be filled by black African people. That is the project,” Williams alleged.
“We can’t allow that to go uncontested and sit around here and clap hands … That is structural racism. It’s an administrative injustice. We have hierarchies of blackness. What is happening here [at Klipspruit-Wes Secondary] is the project that Sadtu came with.”
He said if residents of the area were indeed against black teachers, they would never have allowed the first black teacher, who came to the school 15 years ago.
The general secretary of Sadtu, Mugwena Maluleke, said the union does not subscribe to racist practices.
He said the national office of the union had asked Sadtu in Gauteng to give it a report on the allegations regarding the so-called “operation vat alles” project.
“But [the] SGB [school governing body] appoints [staff] and not us. There is no Sadtu interview, but we sit to observe. So that is why we want the province to give us a report and if there is that kind of a project, then people must tell us where is it in our policies,” said Maluleke.
He added that the union was against the disruption of schooling, and that Sadtu believed teachers should be hired on merit and not through any kind of “special arrangement”.