South Africa (GU) – “If any foreign child arrives here on Monday we will phone the police …” – Eastleigh Primary letter to parents
During a week of renewed xenophobic sentiment in Gauteng, a letter from Eastleigh Primary school telling parents to ensure their immigration documents were in order caused controversy as it circulated on social media. The letter, later withdrawn, warned that any children arriving at school on 27 February without verified documents would be handed over to the police.
Many initially believed that the letter was a hoax, including Home Affairs minister Malusi Gigaba, who tweeted a picture of the letter over which someone had written, ‘FAKE-NEWS!!’ on Friday 24 February. The Minister was responding to urgent requests for information on the letter, and distanced the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) from the matter. However, the letter was authentic.
On Friday evening Eastleigh Primary posted a statement on its Facebook account withdrawing the letter at the request of the Gauteng Department of Education. The school wrote that the letter should not have been distributed as it “does not portray the ethos and transformation at the school”. The following day, Graeme Stratton, the chairman of the School Governing Body, posted a longer statement apologising unreservedly for the letter and stating that the school wanted to deal with immigration issues in a compassionate and caring way going forward. Eastleigh’s Facebook page had attracted considerable criticism over the letter in comments.
DHA media liaison Thabo Mokgola confirmed on Friday that officials had visited Eastleigh Primary. However, he noted in a follow up discussion with GroundUp that the visit was at Eastleigh’s request, in line with DHA policy. An article reported that at the initial meeting DHA officials had stated that proper documentation of enrolled learners was the principal’s responsibility, and that failure to do so would result in the principal’s liability for a R25,000 fine per undocumented learner. However, Mr Mokgola could not confirm whether this was in fact discussed at the meeting and had no comment as to whether it was department policy to fine principals over undocumented learners.
The social movement Equal Education condemned the Eastleigh letter on Friday afternoon, citing section 29 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to basic education to all persons in South Africa, regardless of their immigration status.