CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South African police fired tear gas and stun grenades on Friday to stop a large crowd of Economic Freedom Front (EFF) supporters from reaching a high school in Cape Town following a racial spat over a matriculation party.
Hundreds of protesters belonging to South Africa's second-largest opposition party gathered in Brackenfell, a mainly white Afrikaner community in Cape Town's northern suburbs, to protest against perceived entrenched racism at the school.
On Nov. 9, a smaller protest outside the school was marred by violence when concerned parents and community members, mainly white, overwhelmed a group of EFF members with bats and fists.
The clashes have laid bare simmering racial and class faultlines dividing South Africa 26 years after electing its first democratic president, Nelson Mandela, who championed the ideal of a unified "rainbow nation".
Protesters targeted the Brackenfell High School, accusing it of not inviting black and mixed-race students to a private party that some pupils and their parents arranged after the school's official matriculation ball was cancelled because of COVID-19.
"We are not the children of Nelson Mandela, when they give us fire, we respond with fire," Marshall Dlamini, the EFF's secretary general, told the crowd, many of whom brandished wooden poles and golf sticks.
Standing behind coiled rows of barbed wire, police in riot gear and plastic shields kept the crowd at least two blocks away from the main school entrance, despite ongoing skirmishes.
The EFF was granted permission by the City of Cape Town, run by the official Democratic Alliance opposition party, to have only 100 protesters gather outside school from noon on Friday.
Education authorities said ahead of the march that arrangements were made to ensure matriculating pupils taking their final exams on Friday could do so without disruption, while end-of-year exams for other grades would be re-scheduled.
"This is a wake-up call for us all with regards to the fact that we need to learn to live in peace with one another," Guillaume Smit, chairman of the school governing board, told Reuters.
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf, Editing by MacDonald Dzirutwe)