Outrage over photo of school children 'split up by race'

A primary school teacher in South Africa has been suspended “with immediate effect” after a photo taken inside the classroom appeared to show students sitting in racially segregated groups.

The pupils were attending their first day at the Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke in the North West province when the teacher took a photograph to send to anxious parents, the Times Live reports.

The image, which rapidly spread across social media, showed about 17 white children sitting around a large table, with four black children around a small corner table in the background.

One concerned mother told the publication that she and other parents dropped their children off before being asked to leave at around 9am.

The teacher sent this image to parents after they dropped off their kids for their first day at school. Image: Times Live

She said later that morning they received a WhatsApp message from the teacher to show how the students were going.

“This was meant to be an exciting day for me but it’s not,” the mother said.

“All I saw was messages from the white parents saying ‘dankie, dankie’ [‘thank you, thank you’] but no one was saying anything about the separation of the learners.”

After the mother and other parents complained to the school, they later received a second photo showing that the children had been “moved to different seating spaces to ensure they were not separated according to race”, the Times Lives reports.

It’s understood some parents of the white students removed them from the school after protesters gathered outside on Thursday.

After complaining, the parents received a second photo of the children in different seats. Image: Times Live

School authorities investigating several claims of racism

Provincial education minister Sello Lehari said the teacher’s explanation was that “the learners were separated according to those who could understand Afrikaans and English”.

“We are suspending her [the teacher] because we want the investigation to be fair and free.

“From the information I got from the meeting, it seems that there are a lot of cases here of racism… I will send a team to do an investigation into all schools… to deal with issues of racism in totality.”

Jozeph du Plessis, chairman of the school’s governors, told the eNCA television channel that they ddin’t see any intent of racism.

“The kids were quite unsettled, you must realise they were five years old on their first day at school,  and she grouped them in a way she thought would settle them quickly and comfort them,” he said.

“There was no intent of racism or segregation from the teacher’s side… perhaps it could be a language issue.”