South African police used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons on hundreds of mainly Black protesters who gathered again Friday outside a high school in a predominantly white neighborhood that’s become a flashpoint for racial tensions.
The opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party has organized protests at the school in response to a students’ prom they claim that only white kids were invited to.
The school said the party was a private function organized by parents and had nothing to do with them. Organizers of the prom say it was open to all children taking end-of-school exams, although it was limited to 100 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The issue forced its way into the public discourse in a country with deep wounds from a racist past when a man shared a video of what he said was the whites-only party on social media.
The EFF acquired a court order for the latest protest at the Brackenfell High School outside Cape Town, but protesters were met with a heavy police and private security presence Friday. The EFF said its followers were protesting peacefully when police used the tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons on them.
Police said they began using force after protesters ignored an instruction to stay at an agreed point for the protest and started approaching the school.
Some of the protesters were seen carrying machetes, sticks and golf clubs.
Another protest by the EFF descended into violence last week when Black members of the party and whites who said they were parents of students scuffled in the street outside the school. Then, the white community members attacked the Black protesters.
The chaos moved Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town, to release a statement through his foundation calling for “peaceful and rational discourse, and action. Not division.”
He said the protagonists on both sides are “actually acting with common purpose: To undermine non-racialism.”
“Brackenfell High School is a symbol of unresolved issues from South Africa’s past,” the foundation’s statement said.
Approximately 80% of South Africa’s 60 million people are Black but the majority of them still struggle in poverty 26 years after the end of the apartheid system of white minority rule. The EFF, and some others, say Blacks are held back by deep-rooted racism that remains in South Africa, and especially in neighborhoods like Brackenfell.
EFF deputy secretary general Poppy Mailola said the community of Brackenfell “had even taught their children to be racist.”
She also called the police at the protest, who were mainly Black, racist.
Recent anti-racism protests in South Africa have utilized slogans and imagery connected to the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. On Friday, one EFF protester wore a black T-shirt with the words “I can’t breathe,” a reference to the killing of George Floyd that sparked widespread protests this year.