The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation notes with concern the alleged Islamophobic sentiments expressed by a teacher at Apex Primary School in Lenasia, Johannesburg South.
The incident involved a teacher allegedly calling a grade 7 Muslim learner a ‘terrorist’ after reportedly hitting his topi (Islamic skullcap) off his head.
The Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has confirmed that “religious intolerant behaviour” took place at the school. “We view religious intolerance in a serious light and condemn it. The alleged teacher is on precautionary suspension and a disciplinary action will be instituted where necessary,” said Oupa Bodibe the Acting Spokesperson for the GDE.
A letter, purportedly from the teacher, was later circulated on social media. It contained an apology for the “religious remarks made to the learners of the Islamic faith”. The Foundation was unable to verify from the school if the teacher had indeed written the letter.
Furthermore, the Jamiatul Ulama South Africa (Council of Muslim Theologians) indicated that they had approached the school, and both the principal and staff were ‘disgusted by the incident’.
Commenting on the issue, the Foundation’s Director, Neeshan Balton, said, “If the allegations against the teacher are found to be true, it raises serious concerns about ongoing incidents of racism in SA schools. It is extremely worrying that Islamophobia may have found its way into a classroom. It calls for a full investigation by the Gauteng Department of Education, and appropriate penalties should be imposed if the teacher is found to be guilty.”
He added, “Just yesterday, following the horrendous ‘coffin assault’ case, we speculated whether the rise of Donald Trump would have emboldened racists across the world. The school incident reinforces the idea that right wing ideology, particularly regarding Islam and Muslims, is not just found in the US and Europe. The result of racist, anti-Muslim propaganda has shaped views globally. We must remember that this comes just after South African cricketer Hashim Amla was the target of Islamophobic graffiti in Australia. Expressions of religious intolerance have not however, been a major feature of racism in SA schools and we hope that this incident and the few others reported to date do not mark the start of a new trend.”
“We have been on record previously as saying that schools should be laboratories of anti-racism. We reiterate that educating young people in an environment that is anti-racist is fundamental to deepening non-racialism in our society. Any incident of racism and related intolerances in school should be challenged and treated with the severity that it deserves,” Balton added.
The Foundation welcomed the immediate intervention by the Gauteng Department of Education, as well as the local district for offering psychological support to the pupil.
The department has meanwhile indicated that tomorrow morning, learners, teachers, SGB members and the district director will gather at the school for a “religious tolerance and diversity session”.
“This model, if successful at Apex School, should be considered for usage in all multi-faith schools in SA to prevent further incidents of this nature,” Balton stated.