Protest … Patriotic Alliance deputy president Kenny Kunene leads protest outside Esikhisini Primary School on February 12, 2024
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Activists from a small South African anti-immigrant opposition party marched on a public school in Pretoria on Monday “to stop” the teaching of the Shona language.
Twenty percent of pupils enrolled at Esikhisini Primary School in the Atteridgeville area are allegedly Zimbabweans, according to Kenny Kunene, the deputy president of the Patriotic Alliance party who spoke to school authorities.
Wearing green T-Shirts emblazoned with the name of the party, activists sang and danced outside the school while demanding that Zimbabwean learners and the Zimbabwean chairman of the School Governing Body (SGB) be removed.
Kunene told the protesters: “The school has applied to the department of education to teach Shona here. We met with the principal Mr Nkabinde who says he has not applied to the department of education for Shona to be taught here, but our information is that the chair of the SGB is a Zimbabwean and he is the one who is orchestrating with the department to teach Shona.
“This is a public school. Shona is not in the curriculum. We understand that the department is entertaining this nonsense. We are here to demonstrate our anger and dissatisfaction at what they are trying to do to our communities.”
He said they would find parents whose children were denied a place at the school and then direct the principal to “take out a Zimbabwean and put a South African.”
Later writing on X, Kunene said their protest was “to make sure that Shona is not taught at that school.”
The Patriotic Alliance party, led by Gayton McKenzie, is campaigning on an anti-immigrant platform ahead of elections due this year. McKenzie previously led a group of activists to the Beitbridge border with Zimbabwe where they filmed Zimbabweans crossing over into South Africa without following immigration formalities.
A census report published by South Africa in October last year said there were 1,012,058 Zimbabweans living in the country, but some estimates put the number as high as three million.
The rising number of Zimbabweans settling in South Africa to escape economic and political turmoil at home has created friction with local populations in the competition for social services.
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa is set to declare an election date soon, thought to be in May. The influx of foreigners is one of the top campaign issues, with Ramaphosa saying in October last year that undocumented foreign nationals had “exacerbated many of the country’s social and economic problems”.