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18 Jan 2019 2:14
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  •   Home > News > International

    Photo of 'segregated' classroom reopens old wounds in post-apartheid South Africa

    A teacher in South Africa is suspended after a backlash over a photo showing her students sitting in racially separate groups at a school in the country's North West Province.

    A teacher in South Africa has been suspended after a backlash over a photo showing her students sitting in racially separate groups.

    The photo, taken at Schweizer-Reneke school, in the country's North West Province, shows white children at a long table in the centre of the room, while four black students sit at a separate table.

    It ignited widespread outrage in a country still grappling with racism, 25 years after white-minority rule ended.

    Dozens of people converged on the school to protest against what they saw as racial segregation.

    The photo also sparked an angry debate on social media.

    "What seems to have happened at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke is an absolute disgrace," wrote one of South Africa's prominent black academics, Professor Jonathan Jansen, on Twitter.

    "If you cannot accept children as children, get out of the classroom."

    The image circulated on social media after the class teacher reportedly shared it on a WhatsApp group on the first day of school.

    A black parent told TimesLive that she thought her child's first day at school had started well until she saw the image.

    "This was meant to be an exciting day for me, but it's not," she said.

    'Keep calm', local official pleads

    Schweizer-Reneke has a population of less than 50,000 and is considered a conservative rural town, surrounded by a farming community made up of mainly white Afrikaaners.

    The education minister for the North West province, Sello Lehare, said the school explained that "the learners were separated according to those who could understand Afrikaans and English", the BBC reported.

    "We are suspending her [the teacher] because we want the investigation to be fair and free," he added.

    According to TimesLive, parents were later sent a different picture showing that the children had been moved to ensure they were not separated according to race.

    A ward councillor in the town, Coenrad Herbst, told local media outlet Open News SA it was important to get all the facts first.

    "A picture tells one story," he said.

    "If you're not there you don't know what the real story is. So I ask everybody, they must keep calm.

    "But honestly, my take is I doubt if it's a racist thing and I think it's an election year [and] that politicians are making a big thing of it."

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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