The uproar at Schweizer Reneke Laerskool last week shows us how little progress we have made in South Africa. White-‘splaining rules the day and there is little sign of any Rainbow Nation.
In many ways Blacks and Whites are further apart than ever.
In my daily life in Durban I see many people happily watching sport, eating in restaurants, shopping, working and just going about their normal daily life without much regard to the skin colour of the person next to them. It lulls me into a feeling of comfort and peace in my city and country.
Schweizer Reneke Laerskool Incident Explodes
But like a former war zone dotted with landmines, every now and then a Schweitzer Reneke type incident explodes and leaves a field of carnage.
Excuse me for mixing my metaphors, but this “incident” had all the ingredients of a category 5 hurricane:
- innocent little kids on their first day at school, separated by race in an image that went viral
- a pretty blond teacher who became a martyr with Solidarity backing her
- angry white parents who stormed to the school
- protests and outrage from the black majority
- the provincial government frantically trying to investigate.
The Devil is in the Details
To understand how polarising this whole incident was, we must take a look at how it has been perceived. Our perceptions show the deep chasm between races.
Most white people seem to believe it is a racism hoax. I couldn’t believe the energy they were expending white-‘splaining and assuring everybody they came across that there were other pictures taken that day showing the kids mixing.
So called AntiHateCrime
I found this Twitter platform titled AntiHateCrime which actually seems to not quite live up to its name. They also believe that Clifton Beach incident is a racism hoax and perpetrate the falsehood that the “race merchants” are looking for racism incidents because of elections.
Racism hoax: more information has surfaced regarding the #SchweizerRenekeLaerskool incident. On the points below:— AntiHateCrime (@HateCrimeSA) January 9, 2019
2. Using one picture out of context by not adding the others is deceitful
4. At one stage, kids were given a choice to sit with whomever they chose. Later they mixed pic.twitter.com/BPRrOCoyAh
They believe it is a hoax and make these statements in their tweet. Let me deal with the statements in this tweet one at a time:
Using one picture out of context by not adding the others is deceitful
One picture is enough. It is insensitive and hurtful in the least and racist in the worst case scenario. In case the teachers at Schweizer Reneke Laerskool haven’t noticed, the vast majority of this country is Black. And if one has any EQ at all you must understand that we are still so close to our terrible apartheid history that these things hurt and enrage. They press all the buttons of separation and exclusion.
At one stage, kids were given a choice to sit with whomever they chose. Later they mixed.
The demographics of that Laerskool are certainly not representative of the demographics of South Africa. Of course the little ones will sit with friends. If I were a little black kid in such a big group of white kids, I’d huddle with my brothers and sisters for unity.
But the teacher, the adult in the room, who is preparing them for their future, should not have allowed that. She should have integrated them and made everybody comfortable. That is why what that photo represented is wrong!
For those who are wondering, Schweizer-Reneke, sometimes referred to as Schweizer, is a town of approximately 41,000 people in the North West Province of South Africa.
So, last week, school teacher Elana Barkhuizen, who took and circulated the controversial image, was suspended. A few days later, backed by Solidarity, she gave a tearful explanation of what happened. She said that she had taken the picture and sent it to a parent-teacher chat group. As we know, the picture showed black children seated separately from white children and, after going viral, caused widespread anger and condemnation.
White-‘splaining the issue, Barkhuizen said a photograph she took of what she’s described as happy children on their first day in school was used by opportunists against her and her pupils.
Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann says a top legal team has been appointed to represent the educator: “A huge injustice has been done to her and her family. She deserves an apology.”
Not 1960s White South Africa
We are not living in 1960s White South Africa.
When I listened to her statement I wanted to cry. I was so sad because I also come from a small-town Afrikaans background and I’ve known people like this all my life. I am sure she is a good teacher and a good woman. I am sure she goes to church on Sundays and believes she is a Christian.
But it is the context. We are not living in 1960s white South Africa – and just being a kind hearted person and a good teacher is not enough. As white South Africans we have an add-on to our lives. Call it my white guilt if you like, I call it reparations.
We cannot undo the past but we can put in an extra effort to ensure that we all enjoy a better future.
I don’t know Elana Barkhuizen personally, but the mere fact that she is “fighting” this suspension and the “injustice” shows that she actually doesn’t get it.
My Facebook Post
On January 15, I posted this on Facebook and got 26 comments – I also unfriended four people – all white and all attacking me for believing this “hoax”. They sent me this video from someone called Renaldo Gouws (with a pic of Tata Madiba in the background).
She just doesn’t get it. Whether she was the teacher or the person who took the photos, it is wrong!
By segregating the kids you are doing them such an injustice as we live in an integrated world. All the kids will benefit from getting to know and making friends with children from different cultures. There are so few things we as white people can actually do to repair all the damage of apartheid, but we can do our best to prepare our youngsters for a better, more equitable future.
As a teacher being paid by government money, Elana and all teachers need to teach “unity in diversity”; they need to encourage the kids to get to know each other and sit and learn together.
How can they not get it?
We Live in a Democracy
In spite of the rage and pain and chest beating and political posturing that these kinds of explosions generate, I guess we all feel better afterwards when there has been some kind of resolution. North West Education MEC Sello Lehari said he stood firm on his decision to support the school governing body’s (SBG) suspension of Barkhuizen and will announce two more people implicated. And no doubt Solidarity will come to their aid.
After all, we live in a democracy.
Schweizer Reneke Incident Wrap Up
I have no doubt that this will happen again and again, but at least we talk about these race issues – it is all out in the open. I just wish white people would interact and talk a bit more with people of other races. Not just talk, but listen. Sit down and ask difficult questions. No more white-‘splaining.
Hell we all make mistakes, but I was brought up to believe that when I did wrong, I must apologize and make sure I do better next time.
At its best this Schweizer Reneke Laerskool incident was thoughtless and insensitive and at its worst just plain racist, in spite of all the white-splaining.