NEWS
17/01/2018 18:06 SAST | Updated 17/01/2018 18:06 SAST

Hoërskool Overvaal: The Heart Of Racial Tensions

The EFF, ANC and parents of pupils who were not accepted at the school started their protest early this morning.

Pontsho Mabena

Hoërskool Overvaal was the centre of racial tensions and protests on Wednesday, as South African schools opened their doors for the 2018 academic year.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the ANC and parents of pupils who were not accepted at the school started their protest early this morning.

The crowd, which initially consisted of about 10 people, started growing as more red beret-wearing supporters and community members started trickling in.

While the EFF sang songs like the highly controversial "Kill The Boer", parents chanted: "Viva, Panyaza, viva," and: "Down with racism, down".

The EFF said it was protesting against both the school and the department of education.

Some Vereeniging residents are upset that the High Court in Pretoria on Monday ruled in favour of the high school, which did not want to admit 55 English-speaking children.

They believe that it has more to do with race than capacity, which was the school's reason given.

The education department is appealing the ruling.

READ: Overvaal: Where Is The Outrage Over Panyaza Lesufi?

Mofokeng Tlhorso, one of the parents and a member of the Hoërskool Overvaal Transformation Committee, told HuffPost about the inconvenience this incident has caused his child.

"It's bad, psychologically – it deals with a child. A day before the school re-opening, a child doesn't know where he's going. It is a problem," he said.

Tlhoriso also had a message for Judge Bill Prinsloo, who presided over the case.

"We want to pass a message to [the] country, in particular Judge Prinsloo, who failed our learners – that they might have won the battle, but [they won't win] the war."

Police who were on standby throughout the day quickly intervened.

One parent told HuffPost how "unnecessary" the protest was, claiming the matter had nothing to do with race.

"I'm an English-speaking parent and my daughter goes to an Afrikaans school; there is nothing big about it. I feel like the EFF is totally making this a racist case. It is not at all a racist case. My daughter's best friend is a black student; there are black students at the school," Renelle Peny said.

She explained that parents should not wait for the last minute to find a school for their children.

The first scuffle broke out between a member of the EFF and a parent who allegedly showed his middle finger to another black parent.

Minority rights group AfriForum also had a representative present, who said it was "a constitutional right to learn in your mother tongue".

According to Ian Cameron: "Unfortunately, we see the department's reaction after a court decision – we see that the department is making quite irresponsible utterances, like you've seen from MEC Panyaza Lesufi regarding this specific school or this specific incident".

Lesufi then informed the media that he would be coming to visit both Hoërskool Overvaal and Riverside High.

"The Gauteng MEC for education, Mr Panyaza Lesufi, will today [January 17, 2018] visit Hoërskool Overvaal to monitor the first day of schooling. Subsequently, the MEC will also visit the school that accepted some of the learners who were not placed at Overvaal," the department said in a statement.

However, the MEC was a no-show at Hoërskool Overvaal and only went to Riverside High.

As he briefed the media, violence broke out at Hoërskool Overvaal and police clashed with protesters.

It is alleged that the protesters were trying to gain access to the school when the scuffle broke out.

"We were trying to come inside the school and the police shot stun grenades at us," said EFF supporter Mzizi Mkhulu.

This was not the end of the conflict, as protesters burnt tyres in the middle of the road and started singing struggle songs.

Closer to the time that pupils at the school were supposed to be dismissed, police fired rubber bullets at the protesters, leading to a number of injuries.

They also arrested both EFF and ANC supporters.

The EFF said it was not the end of the road, and that they would be back for another protest on Thursday.

"We are coming even tomorrow," Mkhulu said.