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South African teacher caught in race row returns to school

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A Labour Court in South Africa has ruled as “unlawful” the suspension of a teacher from a school the North West provincefor allegedly seating pupils based on their race, local media reports.

Elana Barkhuizen was suspended on 10 January after an image of white and black pupils seating at separate desks was shared online.

The image had been initially posted on a parents’ WhatsApp group.

Sello Lehari, the education minister for the North West province, said the Schweizer-Reneke school’s explanation was that “the learners were separated according to those who could understand Afrikaans and English”.

The picture sparked protests leading to tense confrontations between white and black residents inside and outside the school premises.

In her defence, Ms Barkhuizen said she was not the one who had sat the children.

She said she was only supervising them because her class was next door and only took the photograph to send to parents who were inquiring about their children.

She said the school authorities did not listen to her explanation.

The teacher who sat the pupils remains in the school despite Ms Lehari saying two more people were going to be suspended.

Labour Court Judge Connie Prinsloo found Ms Barkhuizen had not been given a hearing before being suspended.

“I am very happy. I want to thank everybody who supported and was there for me. I am happy that justice has been served,” Ms Barkhuizen said after the ruling.

Though the judge ruled that she could return to the school on Friday she opted to apply for leave for a few days, which has been granted.

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