Schweizer Reneke a class, apartheid racially divided


– Teacher Elana Barkhuizen’s pleading victimhood – and vows to fight –

The annual school year marked as 2019, twenty-five years after political freedom started at Laerskool Schweizer Reneke with published photographs taken by one of the teachers, Elana Barkhuizen. While more than one photo was taken one of them, showing four black children sitting apart from their white classmates, stirred the hornets’ nest. We later learned Barkhuizen took the photographs in another grade R class. The photo was taken to show a grade R class in an apparent pleasant and tranquil environment on the first day of the new school year. Until here there appears nothing wrong to take a photograph of any class in an orderly fashion on day one of the new school year.

The only problem was that the photograph showed more than what appeared obvious and innocent to the photographer (Barkhuizen) who was subsequently suspended by the school principal following a notification from the North-West, MEC of Education Sello Lehari Just when you get ready to clap your hands in honour of the school for having acted swiftly to suspend the teacher, we were told Barkhuizen was not suspended for what appears the outing of a visibly and undeniably racist grouping of the class that flagrantly displays four apartheid defined black kids one side separately from their fellow apartheid borrowed white denotations. In a sense, the photo shows a class-divided, if only it was a leaf from the vintage lesson from Jane Elliot’s ‘blue eyes/brown eyes’ exercise? Schweizer Reneke is a class racially divided in undeniable white privilege racial histrionics that boldly continues to live in democratic SA.

Last night Barkhuizen released her verbose and loaded statement as carried by the Afrikaans news. It finally showed the teacher whose name and identity which remained kept unknown for the better part of the new school week, I can almost hear you retort because in SA white privilege lives and gains momentum daily.

In an interview that reminded one of the Judge Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings sagas, which had all the theatrics of tears, anger, threats with intermittent activism she dared to accuse everyone but herself. We heard her speak of how she innocently took a photograph of a class she is proud of since she has been in the teaching profession for the last 24 months. She then frames herself as an activist if not an emerging messiah who will fight until no teacher is subjected to the same treatment. This was, however, the precursor for her to be unleashed charade of victimhood proverbially draped in what the Dutch still defines as their ‘national costume’. She would bemoan victimhood and simultaneously claim a martyrdom from which she has found activism.

She would label those who covered the story, reported on it and commented on the flammability of it ‘opportunists.’ In what appears to be her defence and irrational deflection of the problem to blame the ‘opportunists’ for fuelling racial tension, she introduced us to an angry her, one who has a score to settle with the ‘opportunists’ among others. She prognosticates there was nothing wrong with the photograph, may we surmise, evidently nothing wrong with the one who took the photograph and ultimately nothing sinister or morally bankrupt with what the photograph indirectly celebrates in a glaring sense.

I know you cringing now, that’s exactly how I felt until I reminded myself this is South Africa the only country in the world where the majority remained a minority, and where white privilege despite a black democratically elected political leadership proves more pronounced. I could not cringe further because that is the stuff the elites do when they are embarrassed, a false embarrassment that usually only last until the next incident of naked racism evidence itself. The elites never fix things, they will write and opine on nation-building as if to say there was a time in the past 400 years when we were a race-free nation as they consciously deny the polarised society SA is and have always been.

I also reminded myself how little meaningful progress we have made. Needless to say, it remains my seminal work’s interest that the democratic era, committed an unforeseen error for wholly and uncritically adopting the apartheid race configurations of labels it invented as social constructs.

Schweizer Reneke in this sense, therefore, is the direct fruit and product of the negotiated settlement of the elites across the railway line divide. Yes, despite all the sophistic claims of significant even grandiose transformation apartheids uncritically adopted lie of a supreme white identity remains revered and a black political elite deeply buried in white monopoly economic pockets appears to govern in accordance with positive outcomes for white interest and in the protection of white privilege, while the poor remain black.

Ms. Barkhuizen shouted threats maybe correctly so for the procedural flaws with her suspension for which the school must take full responsibility. The saddest realization is that Barkhuizen and the school including the unknown class teacher of the grade R class where the photo was taken, appears hitherto not to have seen the error of a class racially divided with melanin as the premise for separation. Regardless to all the media coverage of this incident, she a week later has found no need to agree with the justified rage of what her photograph depict as fuelling if not showing racism in stark terms, that’s she for not seeing anything wrong made herself guilty of.

If you like me wanted to know why Barkhuizen could be this arrogant and have the audacity to accuse others while she denies the racist reality of the class as her photograph captured. I momentarily reflected back how insulated apartheid kids in the ’70s and ’80s were not to remotely appreciate that the townships were burning and blacks living in squalor at the hands of a white government. She protests that she as a good teacher was vilified and her good name rubbished. She may really be a good teacher, yet her epistemology on a complex racial-hate South African history and present is shaded by a sense of ignorance that relies on her false white identity.

I realized that Barkhuizen who with this singular act and wilful absence to engage what her photograph stands for may herewith inadvertently have entrenched racialized education in an era of bereft-of-content, ANC rhetoric of non-racialism, is plausibly the product of a school who until now has seen nothing wrong with the class separation and divided in praxis informed by race.

I must again as so often in my musings lean on Wolfram Kistner, when he reminds us, “The society and religious or ideological community or cultural group which has contributed towards shaping the mind of the offender shares in the responsibility of the offence and is in need of repentance on its part and forgiveness on the part of God and the victims with the view of facilitating a process of healing and taking precautions against religion of the offence.”

Barkhuizen as the offender does not stand alone, she is defined and contained by a religious, cultural and ideological system of a group that eight days later still finds nothing wrong with the photograph. It must then be that if we rightly seek to condemn Barkhuizen’s ignorance, we still remain confronted with the reality of a need to address the society that produced and condones this action. We appreciate this societal dimension of Barkhuizen in the claim of Kistner’s ‘perpetrator’ when you hear Solidarity Trade Union’s Dirk Herman informing SA that they are readying to challenge her suspension. Solidarity is protesting the fact that Barkhuizen is not even the teacher of the class where the photographs were taken, the department has according to them suspended the wrong teacher.

In case you forget, remember the school suspended Barkhuizen not for the racial divide of a grade one class, but for taking a photograph which we learned was against the school’s policy. This begs the question, why is the School so obsessed to not have photos taken of daily stuff? Does the school have something to hide, if so what? We may not assume we know.

We must pause and ask ourselves what does it mean that the school could be suspending a teacher for taking a photograph when the elephant in the room, racism screams from the walls of this classroom? What hope then is there for a teacher to know better? Is it reminding us all of the power of privilege? What is privilege I hear you retort? One definition read: “Privilege is defined as a benefit or set of benefits that members of certain social groups have. These benefits are usually unearned and they are easy to take for granted when you have grown up as a member of a privileged social group. Think of privilege as being issues that you do not have to think about on a daily basis.”

We again dare not confuse privilege with white privilege. Schweizer Reneke Primary its school governance that suspended its teacher, Elana Barkhuizen for the cited reasons as a collective lay bare the undeniable reality of white privilege. A definition of white privilege reads as follows: “White privilege is the societal privilege that benefits people whom society identifies as white in some countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political or economic circumstances.” It is the inalienable born right of the apartheid white identity bearers to be separate from the others. The others here refer to those who did not qualify to be white as apartheid dictated.

It may be that Barkhuizen was suspended in questionable means since it was the North West MEC of Education Sello Lehari who suspended her. It may be that Lehari did not have the powers to suspend Barkhuizen since she was employed by the school governing body (SGB) and not by the provincial education department. Brace yourself, that she very well may win the procedural matter case for her suspension. However, she cannot be made a victim and heroine as she parades herself in threats of willingness to fight for her name and on behalf of all teachers, can we assume white again?

We may also surmise that since the school and the teacher are in agreement as to the normality of the depicted photograph to the extent that its preoccupation is not the challenge of racism in a society that remains polarized and in the throngs of racial hate, their collective interest remains to defend white interest. That both school and teacher can see nothing wrong with the divide of the class as done last week by the teacher, is perhaps the biggest tragedy.

It confirms the blindness of arrogated power defined in a questionable and unsustainable white identity of supremacy. It at another level underscores the stubbornness of racism that easily can strip itself from the reality SA finds itself and see as normal what all of us see as abnormal

Why then are the actions of the teacher and school not seen for what it is? Why do we allow the school to be this insensitive to tell us they suspended the teacher for taking a photograph?

We ask these questions when education is today again divided in sophisticated means of privilege albeit with an unscientific white race as its fulcrum. We see this with the larger majority of white students today attending private schools who have a deliberate annual calendar that runs opposite to the standard calendar year for vacation breaks and starting periods of quarters. This means when the public schools close and open the private schools have a schedule where they again have unfettered access to the national amenities of pristine SA beaches, holiday spots etc, available in off-peak seasons at a lesser price. You guessed right again for the benefit of apartheid’s false unique Arian race of whiteness.

This happens while the black political elites led by the ANC have as its biggest interest the need to pacify the poor when the latter asks, how many more Clifton beach and Schweizer Reneke incidents must we live through, before you start governing, because you have been in office for 25 years now?

Clyde N.S. Ramalaine a life-long activist for social justice is an ordained Theologian with SA and USA credentials. He is currently reading towards a D. Litt. et Phil, in Political Science. He earned a Masters in Systematic Theology (Cum Laude) from NWU, with a thought-provoking dissertation: “Black identity and experience in Black Theology: A critical assessment.” He is a writer and political commentator whose work has appeared in most major SA newspapers. including The Thinker Pan African Journal among others. He is the Founder-Chairperson TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA, actively engaging in developing a different narrative for discourse. Ramalaine in 2017 consciously supported the NDZ campaign with his incisive public commentaries and writings.
Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA
PICTURE: Supplied