Brackenfell High School. Photo: Alan Winde
Brackenfell High School last year. Photo: Alan Winde

The Democratic Alliance (DA) says it condemns the South African Human Rights Commission’s (SAHRC) “blatant attempt” to further fan racial conflict related to Brackenfell High School in the Western Cape.

Brackenfell has been at the centre of a furore over a private matric party allegedly attended by white students only. The private party was organised by a group of individuals after Brackenfell cancelled its school matric dance because of Covid-19 restrictions. At least 42 of the 254 Matrics at the school, and their parents, plus two teachers, attended the private party.

Since video footage was posted last week showing only white people arriving at the red carpet affair, the EFF has been protesting outside the school against the alleged racism and has called for the two teachers to face disciplinary action. The protests turned violent yesterday when, according to the school, “armed right-wingers” who are not from the school community “hijacked” the demonstration to confront peaceful protestors.

On Monday, the SAHRC said  that it was “shocked to learn that in this day and age a racially segregated private event was held for matric learners from the school”.

Refiloe Nt’sekhe MPL – DA National Spokesperson – said the Commission’s “absurd” statement is “a ridiculous attempt to fan the flames of racial divisions without any regard for facts.

“The Commission’s attempt to brand this private party as ‘a racially segregated’, ‘whites only’ event is wrong and highly irresponsible. It is madness for a Chapter 9 institution to assert that private, social gatherings attended by persons of one particular racial group is ‘segregation’. Does the SAHRC now expect that all private, social gatherings across the country adhere to certain racial criteria?”

Nt’sekhe said those who attended the private event are being attacked by the SAHRC in “what can only be described as the most deplorable example of grandstanding”, adding: “This is not the first time the SAHRC has sought to grandstand during this pandemic at the expense of learners. In June, the Commission sought to take the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to court for opening schools as per the Government Gazette. A decision they later had to backtrack because the WCED had complied with the law.”

The DA said the facts about the private party held by some learners from Brackenfell are an “an inconvenience to the narrow, race baiting interests of the SAHRC and their fascist friends, the EFF.

“While the violent scenes outside the school should rightfully be condemned – the race baiting and misinformation should be rejected.”

The violence has heightened tensions, with several EFF supporters tweeting it was time to fight back. EFF Leader Julius Malema said yesterday evening: “Wait until we respond, all fools will have an opinion.”

A woman who was seen being pushed and beaten with a bat by a man shouting ‘hardloop‘ (run) will apparently lay charges.

Meanwhile Western Cape Premier Alan Winde visited the school on Tuesday morning, with WC Education MEC Debbie Schäfer to meet with South African Police Service (SAPS) officials. He said the school has applied for an interdict against the EFF.

Winde said: “Our top priority is to ensure that the school and its surrounding area are safe, and that learning can continue. Our matrics need to be able to write their exams without any disruption.

“I have also had a conversation with Provincial Police Commissioner, General Matakata, and we are in full agreement that the safety of the school and its learners is non-negotiable and that the necessary police resources will be deployed to ensure this.”

Winde said: “I particularly want to call on the EFF to not continue with their plans to escalate the situation in Brackenfell, as announced in their statement. As a political organisation, this escalation is not the leadership that SA needs right now.”

SAHRC Full Statement on Brackenfell High School:

The South African Human Rights Commission (the SAHRC or the Commission) condemns the scenes of violence that erupted outside of Brackenfell High School, in the Western Cape on Monday, the 9th November 2020.

We have seen on news media the eruption of a violent confrontation between people said to be parents of learners at the school and members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) outside the school premises. These unfortunate events follow reports that two teachers from the school attended a private matric function, which only included white learners and their parents.

The Commission is deeply disappointed by the violence as well as the allegations that preceded it. The SAHRC is shocked to learn that in this day and age a racially segregated private event was held for matric learners from the school. More disappointingly, is the fact that this event was attended by their parents and two teachers from the school.

The alleged holding of a “whites only” event, if true, is also strongly condemned. No one should be allowed to bring back racial segregation to this country. The deep racial divisions of South Africa’s apartheid and colonial past cannot be healed whilst children are socialised separately on the basis of race and thus, as a nation, we will never be able to forge a South Africa where all are equal, free and are treated with dignity.

The Commission condemns the violence, especially as it occurred in full view of young people who should be preparing and dedicating themselves for end-of-year examinations that are expected to be difficult due to the interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown.

The Commission has on numerous occasions called on communities to exercise their right to protest within Constitutional and legal limits, peacefully and unarmed. The conduct seen on television of one of the men repeatedly beating with a stick a Black woman in EFF uniform, is beyond shocking and we urge the police to trace the man and charge him, among others, with assault.

The inciting incident, although it should never have occurred in the first place, should have been dealt with by the authorised authorities including the national as well as the provincial departments of Basic Education. Learners should not have been exposed to the violence and racial tensions that played out in front of their school.

The Commission calls for swift action in investigating the conduct of the two teachers who allegedly attended the racially segregated matric event and the Commission will play an appropriate role within its mandate to promote, protect and monitor human rights, coming out of this event.