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Bokaap community backs Vista principal

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Bo-Kaap residents are giving their full support to the deputy principal of Vista high school, who has come under fire for the use of anti-Zionism posters at the school. Mr Ismail Esau is facing a disciplinary hearing, which community members feel is a means to curtail his right to freedom of expression and his strong anti-Zionist activism.

The matter reared its head when learners from Herzlia high, a Jewish school in Cape Town, spotted the posters while visiting the school as part of a voluntary service programme. The schools have an exchange programme in which Herzlia students tutor struggling learners at Vista. Herzlia learners are also involved in an upgrade project of the Vista library and playground.

When Herzlia pupils visited the school last week, they took offence to the posters and a complaint was lodged with the education department’s district manager. Education MEC Debbie Schafer ordered the school to immediately remove the posters, which was done this week. The department’s Paddy Atwell said the SA Schools Act prohibits any form of political activity at schools. Vista high school principal Charlotte Little has since apologised for the incident and is eager to have the exchange programme continue.

While Mr Esau declined to comment on the matter at last night’s meeting, Vista educator Mr Barnes gave a broad overview, saying many teachers were not happy about the Herzlia exchange problem. 13 teachers allegedly expressed their concern and felt the principal did not consult with them about the decision. There was a sense that she made the decision unilaterally, and many of them “are still not in the clear” on the arrangement between the two schools.

Many of those in attendance at the meeting were Bokaap residents, ex pupils, community activists and ulema, who felt Mr Esau is being dealt with too harshly. They accused the principal of not following the proper processes in this regard.

“Mr Esau is being called to a disciplinary hearing with the principal today but yet the WCED investigation has not concluded,” said Shaykh Dawood Terblanche.

“This is problematic as she has found Mr Esau guilty before affording him a hearing with his legal representatives. The matter is also under investigation by the Department of Education and thus no pronouncements should be made until all investigations are concluded.”

He called on the principal to withdraw the charges against Mr Esau with immediate effect.

Other community activists felt the posters were not “anti-Semitic” as labelled by the director of Herzlia high school. Two of the posters read “Judaism is not Zionism” and “Israel is a terrorist state guilty of ethnic cleansing”.

In the meeting, many residents accused the principal of betraying the trust of the community. They said school has been a part of Bokaap and the principal should have known the sensitivities of the broader community, who are historically in support of Palestine.

In a letter written by Shaykh Terblanche to the principal, he said people of Bo-kaap are a proud multi-cultural and ethnic community that have coexisted in harmony and respect with other faiths.

He said Vista High School is a symbol of justice and produced many activists who championed the cause of all oppressed and participated in the liberation struggle. He said he hoped Vista High School continues with this legacy. VOC

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