South Africa

SAHRC confirms probe into 'coloured' teacher who self-identified as 'African'

SAHRC confirms probe into 'coloured' teacher who self-identified as 'African'

Is the official use of apartheid-era racial categories a human rights violation?

It’s a question the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is due to answer after the organisation confirmed it was looking into a race row involving a Western Cape teacher.

The commission on Monday confirmed it would rule on a complaint it received relating to Oudtshoorn teacher Glen Snyman, who last month was formally charged with fraud by the Western Cape education department after self-identifying as “African” in a 2017 application for a post at another school.

The application was unsuccessful.  

The department nevertheless accused Snyman — who is officially “coloured”, according to department records — of trying to obtain an unfair career advantage by changing his race identity to African during the job application process.

However, the disciplinary hearing never went ahead after the department withdrew the charge after an outcry over its conduct in the matter. Among those critical of the department’s move to discipline Snyman was Western Cape education MEC Beverley Schäfer, who is also probing the matter.

Snyman has been an outspoken critic of race classification for many years. He founded the group People Against Race Classification (Parc).

The SAHRC said it would investigate both Snyman’s case and the broader question of whether the official use of apartheid-era racial categories constitutes a human rights abuse.

In doing so, it would be mindful of the current use of race categories to address injustices caused by apartheid.

“The commission acknowledges that special measures are necessary in various contexts to redress both past and new forms of unfair discrimination based on race, ethnicity and other prohibited grounds of discrimination,” it said.

“Special measures are required in various socio-economic spheres, including education, housing and land redistribution, to achieve social justice.

“However, special measures should be flexible enough to cater for evolving societal nuances as SA pursues the transformative constitutional objectives of equality, human dignity and freedom.

“A delicate balance therefore needs to be struck between the need to promote human dignity by recognising the importance of self-identifying, while simultaneously developing and implementing special measures holistically to achieve substantive equality.”

The commission undertook to deliver a progress report on the matter to parliament’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services.

Snyman declined to comment on Monday.

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