Schweizer judge: Don’t find racism if there’s none
The judge lifted the suspension of the Schweizer-Reneke teacher
“Racism needs to be eradicated, but not be searched for where there is none to be found.”
These are the words of judge Connie Prinsloo, who on Thursday lifted the suspension of Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke teacher Elana Barkhuizen.
Prinsloo ruled Barkhuizen should return to work on Friday.
Barkhuizen hit international headlines when photographs she took of black and white Grade R pupils, sitting at separate desks on their first day at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke in a fellow teacher’s classroom, went viral on social media.
Within hours of the photographs making their way onto social media, North West education MEC Sello Lehari announced her suspension with immediate effect and the establishment of a task team to investigate the incident.
After the Labour Court ruling on Thursday, Barkhuizen asked for a few days’ leave, which the Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke school governing body (SGB) granted.
Despite the court lifting Barkhuizen’s suspension, SGB chairperson Jozeph du Plessis said on Thursday the SGB was “busy with its own investigation and will discuss it with Mrs Barkhuizen and her representatives soon”.
Du Plessis said they were investigating the role of SGB personnel in the incident, general management, policies, “our integration, diversity management and what changes we must make to optimally function”.
Horn en Van Rensburg Attorneys is conducting the investigation.
Barkhuizen said she was overjoyed at the ruling.
“It is an incredible feeling. Justice has a great impact. I’m grateful and happy. It is just too many emotions at this stage,” Barkhuizen said.
“I just want to jump up in my chair and say, yay!”
She said she had been receiving messages from pupils who wanted her to return to class.
“Now I can go and say hi to everyone and give them a hug.”
The court ruled Barkhuizen’s suspension was unlawful on the grounds that due process was not followed. A key aspect of the challenge was that she was employed by the SGB and not the education department, which was, therefore, not in a position to suspend her.
The judge said she received an affidavit from North West education MEC Sello Lehari indicating the department would not opposing Barkhuizen’s urgent application. Spokesperson Freddy Sepeng said the department would not comment at this stage.
“We only got the information from you [the media],” said Sepeng.
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga on Wednesday offered her thoughts on the saga during an interview with eNCA on Wednesday: “If I was him [Lehari], I was going to say: ‘Wait, camera. Wait, everybody. Let me try to understand what was happening here so that you can deal with it properly.’
“Then I know who separated children and what was the intention and deal with it in that sense, but I just have difficulties with reacting at the moment without giving yourself space to understand what was happening … But to fire someone, that is a short-term thing. I just don’t think it’s sustainable.”
Motshekga believes condemning or reprimanding Lehari now “doesn’t add any value”.
“It’s water under the bridge. It doesn’t matter now, because we’ve passed that stage about how to react.”
Barkhuizen hit international headlines when schools reopened, when photographs she took of black and white Grade R pupils sitting at separate desks on their first day at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke in a fellow teacher’s classroom went viral on social media.
Within hours of the photographs making their way onto social media, Lehari announced her suspension with immediate effect and the establishment of a task team to investigate the incident.
The photograph that went viral was not taken in Barkhuizen’s class, raising questions over whether the right teacher was suspended.
Solidarity trade union stepped in to help her challenge her suspension.
Dirk Hermann, Solidarity’s chief executive, at the time claimed Barkhuizen was not the offending teacher, “yet she was suspended while the other teacher was still working”.
“All that Elana did was go to her classroom and take photographs of the children. The photographs were shared with the parents of all Grade R children via a parent-teacher WhatsApp chat group,” said Hermann.