It's just a Roman salute, says school in 'Nazi' matric photograph furore

The main photograph on the website of Somerset West Private School, depicting the 2018 matric class, includes three students giving Nazi salutes. The photograph was later removed.
The main photograph on the website of Somerset West Private School, depicting the 2018 matric class, includes three students giving Nazi salutes. The photograph was later removed.
Image: Somerset West Private School

A school that showed matrics offering Nazi salutes on its main website image said they were actually Roman salutes.

After a social media furore over the Somerset West Private School photograph, which was removed on Wednesday, principal Morne Coetzer told TimesLIVE: “It has come to our attention that there have been objections to a matric photo where some learners give what appears to be a Roman salute.

“While we don’t believe that the learners intended to offend anyone, we have removed the photograph from the website.”

None of the hundreds of people who commented about the photograph on Twitter interpreted the three front-row boys’ gestures as Roman salutes.

Luke Waltham said the boys were “doing a Nazi salute unashamedly", and Elsa Lila said: “As a German citizen, it hurts my heart seeing how poorly educated some kids are on that matter. Schools should do better. Everywhere. You’re insulting and disrespecting millions and millions of innocent people who have been murdered by a brutal, cold and soulless regime.”

Devon Rolfe said: “As someone who went to school in Somerset West, I always saw this school as the place troubled rich kids went.

"Maybe that’s not all the students there, but many kids who got expelled from my school ended up there. That’s not to say this isn’t evil (it is!), it’s just not surprising.”

Okuhle Sapo said: “It’s not surprising at all and we’ll be told they’re misguided youth and all that nonsense. The school needs to be condemned, and parents for embracing bigotry. These are teenagers in a democratic SA. Who taught them to embrace such hate?”

In his statement to TimesLIVE, Coetzer said: “Somerset West Private School’s primary objective is to maximise the academic achievement of its learners.

“We do not promote or support any particular political or religious views. Learners are encouraged to develop as individuals, think freely and to express themselves freely, provided that such expression does not impair the dignity of others.”

Italian fascists started using the Roman salute in the 1920s. It was adopted by the Nazi party led by Adolf Hitler and became compulsory for all German public employees in July 1933.

It is a criminal offence to use the Roman salute in Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria. Section 86a of the German Penal Code provides for punishment of up to three years in prison for anyone using the salute.


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