The Western Cape Education Department has found that Brackenfell High School had not broken any rules when a group of matric pupils allegedly held a private farewell, which excluded students of colour.
The school has been the centre of much controversy over the past few weeks, after protests erupted and allegations of racism at the school ran rampant.
A series of protests organised by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) outside the school took place after rumours that a matric farewell alleged to have been arranged by the school deliberately excluded learners of colour.
The school attempted to distance itself from the allegations, repeatedly saying the event was private, and not racially exclusive.
Political parties believed otherwise, and a series of violent demonstrations resulted in tear gas, water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets being used around the premises.
Fights among parents and political party members also ensued.
Following the allegations, the Western Cape education department compiled a report to determine whether the allegations of racism were true and if the matric farewell really was attended by only white learners.
Western Cape education MEC, Debbie Schäfer said on Monday morning that not only was the event not a school event, but that the school has committed to ensuring that any forms of racial tension will be dealt with through a Diversity Committee, an update of student governing body (SGB) policies, and activities to “improve learner leadership and improve relations between learners from different backgrounds.”
“Diversity workshops” to be facilitated by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation for staff members is also on the cards.
‘Not a school event’
According to the education Department’s findings, on 11 September this year, parents were sent a letter by Brackenfell, confirming that the 2020 matric farewell had been cancelled due to Covid-19.
A parent whose daughter is a matric student at the school decided to “do something special for her following the cancellation of the school’s farewell.”
The parent and daughter opted to arrange a private function on a wine farm on 17 October, with tickets costing R500 each.
Schäfer said she had seen the invitation, and that “there is no reference to the school at all.”
She said the event was limited to 100 people, and that the invitation was widely circulated on WhatsApp.
Class representatives were reportedly asked to distribute the invitation to their class’s WhatsApp groups as well by the parent, which Schafer said was allowed by the principal.
However, the invite was also open to students outside Brackenfell High, who’s matric farewells had also been cancelled.
In total, 42 learners from Brackenfell and 30 learners from surrounding schools attended the event.
Invitations were extended to all
Out of those who RSVP’d, another WhatsApp group was started.
Schäfer said this explains the allegations that some people, including the school’s head girl and boy, did not attend. It was alleged they did not attend because they were learners of colour. However, Schafer said “they had other plans on that day and were organising their own farewell functions.”
Four teachers also tagged along, in their personal capacity, the department said, because they had “close personal links to the organising parent.”
Due to the event being privately arranged, no permission from the governing body or the principle was needed, and supervision was done by parents.
A photographer was said to have mistakenly uploaded pictures of the event on the school’s website, which were then removed.
“The fact that people from other schools attended, shows that it was not a “school event”. It was not held on school property, as has been widely reported, despite repeated corrections.
“The evidence is thus that invitations were circulated to all matric class. There is no evidence that people were excluded based on their race.
“There are also no grounds to take action against teachers who attended the private event,” Schafer said.
Subsequent racial tensions
The infamous private matric farewell was not the only hint of alleged racism at Brackenfell.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) called for an investigation into the event and the school, and also slammed the violent nature of the demonstrations.
Schafer said the school had formed a Diversity Committee in June, but that Covid-19 delayed activities, which will now be “fast-tracked”. The committee was set up “after allegations of racist behaviour by some individuals.”
A number of accusations from current and former learners alleged that racism was not only rife at the school, but that it neglected to foster a culture of accountability.
The student governing body said it is considering “whether a policy needs to be adopted to address some of the issues that have arisen out of this event.”
The school also said it would create structures to encourage more feedback from parents, and that a number of activities are being planned “to improve learner leadership and improve relations between learners of different backgrounds.”
Diversity workshops will also be facilitated, the department said.
“We are also concerned, though, that people use events to mobilise racial tensions without ascertaining the facts.
“This is a dangerous practice that is more likely to exacerbate racial tensions than break down barriers.”