R25m school hit by race storm

Parents threaten to burn classrooms over principal’s appointment

A MAJOR battle along racial lines has erupted at a school in a small Eastern Cape town after a merger of two schools – one catering to coloured pupils and the other to black pupils.

Opened less than two weeks ago by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and costing R25-million, Thornhill Combined School is already experiencing difficulties, with some parents having expressed unhappiness over the appointment of its principal.

And the parents warned that, should the controversy not be resolved, they would burn down the school.

Xhosa-speaking parents living at a nearby informal settlement are upset with the Department of Education for appointing Mike Aweries as the new principal.

They say Shumikazi Sibhozo, who was the principal at their children’s former school, has been sidelined despite being the “brains behind the new school”.

Two schools – Xhosa-medium Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela and Afrikaans-medium Thornhill Primary – were merged on April 15.

Aweries was appointed principal, but the Department of Education says the appointment is temporary.

The Afrikaans-speaking community last week said they did not have a problem with the principal or the merger, while their Xhosa counterparts took exception and urged the department not to impose these changes on them.

“Failing this we will burn down this school,” some parents said.

“We cannot have a situation where Sibhozo is booted out and the school given on a silver platter to Aweries who never laboured for it,” one parent, 56, who spoke on condition anonymity, said.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Amanda Mbenya, 32, a mother of two who demanded that Aweries pack his bags and leave the school.

“He must go,” Mbenya said. “He does not treat our children equally.

“Sibhozo stood by that school and started it from the ground. If the department requests her to leave, then both of them must go,” Mbenya said.

Nikiwe Tyashu, 41, said when Sibhozo’s school was burnt down in 2007, Aweries allegedly refused to accommodate black children at his school. “But today he wants to inherit and be a principal of a school initiated by a woman they want to sideline,” Tyashu said.

“This is not going to happen. If she [Sibhozo] goes, then Aweries must also leave.

“The government must stop dictating to us,” she said.

Elsabe Goldman 50, whose child attended Thornhill Primary, said the school might have issues, but they were not so major that they should derail the education of children.

“Very often people choose to see things that are not there,” she said.

George Dirk, 45, said most of the Xhosa parents were not keen to have a mixed school.

“But I think it’s a good thing as we are living in mixed community. This is a very small area,” Dirk said.

Eastern Cape Education Department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said the appointment of Aweries was temporary.

“Once the merger is finalised, the post of principal will be advertised and filled,” Pulumani said.

“The department has provided a state-of-the-art school that requires the involvement of everyone.

“We cannot allow ourselves to be bothered with side issues.

“There is no need for parents to panic.”

Pulumani claimed Sibhozo had asked to be transferred to Port Elizabeth to be near family, but the department had not yet been able to find an alternative school for her.

But Sibhozo said: “I requested the transfer after I was told by department officials that there would be only one principal for the new school and that was Aweries.

“Most of the time I was being reminded by my colleagues that I am not from Thornhill and, therefore, I cannot be a principal.

“I feel hurt and disappointed,” Sibhozo said.

“I have always been willing to take up the position of deputy principal of Thornhill Combined School on condition that they give me a letter of appointment. “This has not yet happened.” Aweries said only a small section of the community was opposed to the merger.

“We are not appointed by parents and some of them do not understand the dynamics of it,” he said. “We are here to work. “Our children have to learn to live together and, as such, the adults must also learn to integrate and live side by side.”

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