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MEC ordered to apologise to teacher who was falsely accused of racism

20 Jan 2023

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has issued a final investigative report on the 2019 incident at the Schweizer Reneke school where a teacher was accused of being racist.

The teacher, Elana Barkhuizen was suspended after a photograph of children in her class went viral.

The picture showed black children separated from white children.

The photograph sparked public outrage, with many people labelling the incident as racist.

Members of the public and other concerned groups gathered within the vicinity of the school to protest against what they perceived to be racial segregation.

The incident prompted the Commission to initiate an own accord investigation into whether the human rights of the four black learners were violated.

Following an investigation of the complaint, the Commission found that the teacher who was publicly denounced for racism and subsequently suspended by the Department without due process was not the teacher responsible for the class where the photograph was taken.

The Commission further found that although the school’s conduct of segregating black and white learners, as depicted in the photograph, amounted to discrimination, such discrimination was not unfair.

In coming to this finding, the Commission considered several factors, including the fact that the sitting arrangements depicted in the photograph did not last longer than 10 minutes and that another photograph taken after the impugned photograph showed black and white learners sitting on the same desk.

Therefore, the nature and extent of the discrimination were limited to a portion of the first day of school.

Secondly, the incident did not impair the dignity of the learners or adversely impact them in any other way.

The learners had since fully integrated.

This was confirmed by the parents of the learners, who advised that the learners had fully integrated into the school and were doing well academically and in different sports.

Thirdly, it was not uncommon at the school for seating arrangements to be based on differentiation on listed grounds, such as gender or sex, on the first day of school.
Findings by the Commission

    The unauthorised publication or circulation of the photograph in a manner that revealed the identity of the learners in the media and social media platforms violated the learners’ right to privacy, as well as their right not to have their well-being, education and development placed at risk.
    The public disclosure of the teacher's name who was wrongly accused of racism constituted a violation of her right to privacy and prejudiced her human rights, including her rights to due process, security, freedom of movement, association and human dignity.
    The violent protest at the school disrupted teaching and learning.


The SAHRC also ordered the current MEC for Education in the North West Province to issue a public written apology to the teacher who was wrongly accused of racism, for how she was treated, including the denial of her rights to due process and privacy which placed her life and that of her family at risk.


The trade union Solidarity assisted Barkhuizen in taking the matter to the courts.

They have welcomed the findings by the SAHRC.

Source: Algoa FM

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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