School of shame
A boy died. A pregnant teenager was pelted with stones. A 14-year-old was assaulted and called a "k*****" and a "monkey".
But it has taken at least five years of complaints about racism at Hoër Volkskool in Heidelberg for the Gauteng Department of Education to finally launch an official investigation.
In the most recent attack, a Grade 8 pupil was allegedly assaulted, insulted and sworn at by a white Grade 11 pupil. It is claimed that when a school gardener intervened, he, too, was manhandled by the youth who told him he should let him "bliksem (hit) 'n k*****".
Gauteng Education MEC Barbara Creecy is to set up a team to investigate.
"We are deeply disturbed by these shocking allegations. The principal has been called to head office today," she said yesterday.
Hoër Volkskool headmaster JH van Heerden has confirmed the attack and racial slurs.
Van Heerden, who took over as principal this year, confirmed other hostilities, but denied these were white-on-black issues. "I know the white student called (the 14-year-old) a 'k*****' and a 'bobbejaan' (monkey). That is in the affidavit that has been submitted to the SAPS," he said.
The boy's father has laid a charge, and the accused appeared in the Heidelberg Magistrate's Court on Monday. He was released into the custody of his parents.
This is not where it ended. The father claimed he received an SMS from the accused's mother, saying he had "destroyed her child's future because of the charge".
"Julle het nou my kind se hele toekoms verwoes," reads the SMS. "Baie dankie."
He said the child's mother had earlier asked him not to press charges. But his son's battered face bore evidence of a violent attack - and this was not the first time that the same pupil had attacked him. According to the son, the same teenager attacked him earlier this year, but off school grounds.
According to eyewitness accounts, in the latest incident, the 14-year-old was coming out of the bathroom on the school premises when the attacker pounced.
"I was just coming out of the toilet. He (the attacker) was standing next to the door. He pushed me and then started hitting me with his fists. Everything just became fuzzy," the pupil said.
According to Creecy, an independent investigation will look into the substance of the allegations, whether they were reported, what was done about them and, if nothing was done, why not. The probe would also come up with recommendations for departmental action.
But this is not an isolated incident.
In 2005, a Grade 9 pupil, Happy Thabethe, faxed a letter to then-minister of education, Naledi Pandor, lodging complaints of racism against some of her teachers and white schoolmates.
This prompted Pandor to visit the school and then-Gauteng education MEC Angie Motshekga was instructed to investigate. It is unclear whether this happened.
In 2006, a 15-year-old Grade 8 pupil, who had just joined the school, was allegedly attacked by a group of white pupils. The teenager died in hospital a few days later, and his friend - who cannot be named - said that after the brutal attack he was too afraid to remain at Hoër Volkskool. He decided to enrol at another school.
The friend who was to be a witness in the case said charges were withdrawn against the pupils.
In July 2008, Aviwe Mhlontlo, 18, six months pregnant and in Grade 11, said she was attacked by two white schoolmates - for walking on a lawn seen as a "victory spot" for under-15 rugby teams. It was known as the "no-blacks zone" at the school.
Black pupils named it "no k***** zone".
Mhlontlo was accused of assaulting her schoolmates - she said she had fought back after being pelted with stones.
In 2008, a group of white pupils, said to have called themselves "AWB", were expelled after they were involved in a fight with a black female pupil.
Heidelberg police station has confirmed about 22 cases of white-on-white, white-on-black and black-on-black school violence since 2006.
A nurse from a local clinic told The Star they had attended to "many badly injured pupils from the school - both black and white". She said the staff "sometimes have to stitch wounds".
Human Rights Commission spokesman Vincent Moaga has encouraged parents of affected pupils to lodge formal complaints with the institution.