PRINCIPAL SAYS REFUGEE CHILDREN NOT VICTIMS OF XENOPHOBIA

Cape Times, 17 April 2007

PLEASE NOTE: Readers wishing to reproduce and reference this article
should contact the editors of the Cape Times for permission


The 4 refugee children attacked while walking home from Voorspoed Primary School in Philippi were not victims of xenophobia, principal Rodney Theys contends - but the children are not back in class. The school reopened on Monday after the two-week holiday. The parents of the children believe the incident was xenophobic and refuse to send them back until more is done to keep them safe. "The children are not willing to go back because they are scared," said Rosie Clasherebuka, a supervisor at Bonne Esperance, the refugee centre where the children live. But Theys said the school was perfectly safe. "I'm satisfied in my mind that I can ask them to come back to school and their safety would not be endangered." His investigation had found the attacks were not due to racism, but to "more criminal activity", Theys said. Asked whether any school procedures would be changed to keep the children safe, he said: "I don't have to change anything, because the thing didn't happen on school premises." Last week, the children said they were in school grounds when the attack occurred. But Theys has called this "misinformation". To satisfy parents, he said he would try to enhance safety on the route of less than a kilometre from the centre to the school. He is considering hiring a taxi or having teachers walk with the children, but no decision has been made. Three of the assailants have been identified as Voorspoed pupils and are to be brought before a disciplinary committee. They are continuing to attend classes, however. The attack occurred on March 30, the last school day before the Easter holidays, after teachers had left. The refugees, ranging in age from six to 14, were walking home from school at 11am. Five or more other children jumped out of bushes and began chasing them, they said. The assailants threw stones and brandished knives at them. Two of the children were taken to the Hanover Park Day Hospital, where they were given bandages and painkillers. The children know one of the assailants and say he has taunted them before because they look different and speak French.