The Labour Court in Johannesburg has ruled that the suspension of the Learskool Schweizer-Reneke teacher was unlawful.

Elana Barkhuizen was suspended earlier in January following a photo of black pupils sitting separately from white pupils in a classroom, which went viral on social media.

The Labour Court in Johannesburg has ordered Elana Barkhuizen to return to work on Friday, as her suspension was unlawful.

Trade union Solidarity approached the court on an urgent basis seeking the suspension against Barkhuizen to be lifted. The court found there was no basis for Barkhuizen to be suspended from the school.

Judge Connie Prinsloo found that the correct labour processes were not followed as Barkhuizen was never afforded the opportunity to explain herself.

“Thank you to everyone for all the support, everyone who helped, everyone who was there for me. Justice has been served and for that I am glad and for that I am grateful and thank you to all,” says Barkhuizen.

Solidarity has welcomed the judgment by the Labour Court. Solidarity’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dirk Hermann, says he hopes this judgment sends out a strong message against the violation of workers’ rights.

“This judgment says the MEC went far, far beyond his powers. We welcome of course this judgment. We see this as a victory but it is unfortunate that we had to come to court to fight this. And we hope this judgment sends out a message to South Africa on how a democracy is not supposed to work,” says Hermann.

Hermann says Barkhuizen received overwhelming support from her community.

“She received overwhelming support from everyone. And the support is from black parents, white parents, Afrikaans parents, English parents, Tswana parents. So the support at this stage is overwhelming for the simple reason. She is a good teacher,” says Hermann.

Officials from the North West Department of Education say they will study the ruling before deciding what to do next.

Spokesperson for the Department, Freddy Sepeng, says they are currently conducting an internal investigation into the matter.

“The teacher was not suspended by the MEC, she was suspended by the SGB. But as the Department we are busy investigating and then we will soon be doing some pronouncements. But as we speak, we just hear it from you and we will be studying those papers and we will take it from there,” says Sepeng.

Solidarity says they expect Barkhuizen will get a warm welcome back at school.

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