SAHRC closes Brackenfell High racism row probe

A racism row over a party where only white pupils were invited to a matric party led to racially-charged and violent clashes outside the school months later. The human rights watchdog has found no racism in how the event was planned.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has found that there was no racism in the manner in which a matric party for white pupils only was held at Brackenfell High School in 2020.

The row that followed the event led to violent clashes among black EFF supporters and white Brackenfell residents.

The commission said in a statement on Thursday that while it found that some of the school’s officials knew about the event, evidence before the SAHRC exculpates the school from the planning, funding, advertising or hosting the event.

SAHRC spokesperson, Gushwell Brooks, said details of the event were shared by parents, guardians and pupils of the school on social media and by word of mouth. He said four teachers had been invited in their private capacity.

“Accordingly, the commission found that the school did not host a ’whites-only matric ball’ and therefore did not discriminate, whether directly or indirectly, fairly or unfairly, against Grade 12 learners on the ground of race,” Mr Brooks said.

The SAHRC also found that the event’s organisers did not “directly or indirectly discriminate against learners on the ground of race”.

“The commission is grateful for the co-operation it received during its investigation from all relevant parties: school learners who identify with the various race groups, parents and guardians of learners, learners from a different school, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) and the school,” Mr Brooks said.

Northern News asked to see the full report, but Mr Brooks had not responded to this request at the time of publishing.

EFF supporters and Brackenfell residents clashed outside Brackenfell High School late in 2020, following allegations that black pupils had been excluded from the contentious event.

In a statement late on Thursday, EFF provincial spokesman, Wandile Kasibe, said the party is shocked by the commission’s finding, calling for it a “defeated institution” that should “rather close shop” as it “fails” black people.

“It seems like the commission did not investigate at all. What they did was wait for the WCED to release their report, then copy and paste the contents when nobody was paying attention, (and) release it. This is a lazy job coming from the commission,” Mr Kasibe said.

Mr Kasibe said the probe was flawed as the school’s HR and social media resources were used to promote the party and there were no voices of pupils of colour.

Education MEC Debbie Schäfer welcomed the watchdog’s decision as “confirmation” of her department’s probe into racism claims around the event. “I hope that this serves as a warning to parties like the EFF, who jump to conclusions of racism without establishing the facts, and which drive wedges between people instead of bringing them together,” Ms Schäfer said.