GALLERY: Lesufi renames Höerskool Hendrik Verwoerd to Rietondale High School

Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi during a ceremony at the newly renamed Rietondale High School that used to be Hendrik Verwoerd High School named after the architect of Apartheid, 23 August 2019, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi during a ceremony at the newly renamed Rietondale High School that used to be Hendrik Verwoerd High School named after the architect of Apartheid, 23 August 2019, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Lesufi vowed that other historically divisive names such as Jan Smuts will also fall.

After months of pushback from various Afrikaans interest groups and other sectors of society, Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi officially renamed the Pretoria-based Höerskool Hendrik Verwoerd to Rietondale High School on Friday.

The school had earlier taken an independent decision to rename itself.

Speaking during the ceremony, Lesufi said “this is for me a historic occasion as it opens a much-needed discussion about what we do with historic colonial and apartheid symbols as we build a new nation. Many will ask – why all the fuss? What is in a name? Should we not just go on with our lives? Some who ask these questions are doing so out of innocence. Yet some do so to protect old privileges.”

The renaming comes hot on the heels of an Equality Court ruling that gratuitous displays of the apartheid-era flag constitute hate speech.

Lesufi said it was the department’s mission to reverse everything Verwoerd had done to South Africa’s education system and, in renaming the school, his department was removing one of the many offensive symbols of apartheid history.

“Verwoerd represents the most virulent form of apartheid euphemistically called ‘separate but equal,'” added Lesufi.

According to Lesufi, in order to achieve the “separate but equal” aim, Verwoerd disrupted the lives of many black South Africans through forced removals enforcement of the pass laws and a police state that closed off political space by banning organisations and individuals.

“Of course, we are slowly emerging from a bitter and divided history – a history of oppression and economic exploitation. Much as we have achieved so much in the past 25 years, the journey to a new society is not over. The legacy of the past still exercises so much influence and has proven hard to eradicate,” said Lesufi before vowing that other names such as Jan Smuts would also fall.

Lesufi urged the audience not to forget the history of Verwoerd’s introduction on the Bantu education system, “whose aim was to keep the black child subservient to whites”.

“We have made it a priority for the next five years to promote national unity in our schools. Racism, sexism, tribalism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination have no place in our schools and society,” said Lesufi as he wished the school the best on a new chapter in its history.

“I believe in equal education for all. I believe all our children deserve the best and have a right to learn in their mother tongue.”

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