By Sihle Manda
Racial tensions that flared up outside Hoërskool Overvaal, resulting in several protesters getting injured as they ducked rubber bullets, could boil over on Thursday morning.
Parents and supporters of the 55 children denied places have vowed to turn up in even bigger numbers to force the Afrikaans school to admit English-speaking learners
The fact that the affected learners have been placed at Riverside High School has failed to pacify the protesters fighting the language policy of the school that excludes non-Afrikaans-speakers.
Emotions ran high outside Overvaal on Wednesday as black parents, some draped in ANC and EFF regalia, demonstrated outside the school, chanting Struggle songs and burning tyres while their white counterparts looked on.
Almost without warning, police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the large crowd. A few sustained injuries, while those happy with the status quo cheered on the police.
Twelve protesters were arrested on charges of public violence while a parent dropping off a child was severely assaulted by those demonstrating.
The school recently made headlines for refusing an instruction from the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) to place 55 English-speaking learners.
It claimed not to have capacity, despite having a number of unused classrooms it has since converted to “specialised classes”.
The department took the matter to court but lost the case, angering both backers of the rejected learners and the GDE.
Judge Bill Prinsloo of the Pretoria High Court ruled that the department’s instruction to the school was unlawful and not supported by applicable legislation.
Addressing a press briefing, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi confirmed that the learners had been placed at Riverside High School, which is 17km away from Hoërskool Overvaal.
“Yesterday we had a long meeting with the leadership of the parents and they insisted we place the (rejected) kids in one area while we deal with the challenges of the law. After persuading each other, we agreed to place the learners at Riverside,” he said.
Lesufi pleaded that the children “be not treated as the children of Overvaal”. “They are children of South Africans. They must be integrated into the classes and not have their own class as if we are in a zoo,” he said.
Lesufi also expressed concern about the distance between the two schools. “People will ask: ‘MEC, why are you bringing them here?’
“You’ve seen the distance coming here. The distance is huge and these parents stay right next to that thing (Overvaal),” he said.
Mofokeng Tlhoriso, the chairperson of the Overvaal Transformation Committee, said they would not back down in demanding that the school opens its doors to all children in the area. He believes the judge’s ruling against the department was biased.
“We received that very racist verdict from a racist judge called Prinsloo. We want to pass a message to Prinsloo: your racial discrimination has ended. Your love for your culture does not build this country,” said Tlhoriso.
He vowed that more people would be at the protest at the school on Thursday morning.
An ANC member is arrested during a protest outside Hoërskool Overvaal over the exclusion of 55 English-speaking learners
EFF Sedibeng convener and provincial legislature member Azwi Tshitangano said the school could not justify allowing only Afrikaans-speakers when most of the community were Sesotho-speaking.
“We are going to defy these unjust laws. If the laws are going to discriminate on the basis of race, we are going to defy them.
“We are going to make sure that the doors of learning in this school are open.”
Shaka Radebe, a local ANC leader, reiterated Tshitangano’s words.
He urged community members to descend on the district office at 7am on Thursday to block access to the school.
“We are not only failed by this school, we are also failed by the department and that’s why we are going there,” he said. The Star