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hat are you likely to do if a rel­a­tive were to make racist re­marks in front of your chil­dren? Would you set a good ex­am­ple by speak­ing out and show­ing that such com­ments aren’t ac­cept­able? Are you likely to re­pu­di­ate them or to join the con­ver­sa­tion?

Do you con­sider speak­ing out against racism part of your job as a par­ent?

Let us bring the ar­gu­ment closer to home. How do the par­ents at Rood­e­poort Pri­mary School ex­plain the school’s tem­po­rary clo­sure to their chil­dren af­ter protests be­tween par­ents over the school’s gov­er­nance and fi­nan­cial man­age­ment?

I have had more than 30 meet­ings with var­i­ous ed­u­ca­tion stake­hold­ers in the David­sonville com­mu­nity in Rood­e­poort over the past 11 months to re­solve chal­lenges at the school.

Dur­ing those meet­ings, some com­mu­nity mem­bers asked me to com­mis­sion an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ap­point­ment of the prin­ci­pal and con­duct a fi­nan­cial au­dit. I did that. But they re­jected the re­ports. The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment had no al­ter­na­tive but to tem­po­rar­ily close the school.

We have now taken a de­ci­sion to es­tab­lish a task team com­pris­ing re­li­gious and com­mu­nity lead­ers to me­di­ate and find a last­ing so­lu­tion to the school’s chal­lenges.

The ques­tion is how some of the par­ents are go­ing to ex­plain that, among other things, the school was closed be­cause some of the par­ents de­manded a coloured prin­ci­pal and claimed that the process of ap­point­ing a black prin­ci­pal was flawed.

I’d like to be a fly on the wall when par­ents try to ex­plain why their chil­dren have had to at­tend nearby schools. Why? Be­cause I know many par­ents strug­gle with what to do or say when some­one says some­thing racist in front of their chil­dren.

I know many par­ents will be too un­com­fort­able to talk about the fact that one of the rea­sons the school was closed was be­cause of the ap­point­ment of a black prin­ci­pal.

This is the ig­no­rance that’s be­ing passed down from one gen­er­a­tion to the next, and it is not mak­ing things bet­ter. The most im­por­tant thing is for par­ents and teach­ers to talk about it – not hide it.

I hope the par­ents of Rood­e­poort Pri­mary’s learn­ers will not be afraid to talk about racism. Fear of the topic cre­ates ig­no­rance, and that’s no way to live. Par­ents have a re­spon­si­bil­ity, be­cause bias be­gins at home, in our re­marks and at­ti­tudes.

There is no place for in­tol­er­ance in our hard­earned democ­racy. Schools must take the lead in in­sist­ing that learn­ers re­spect each other and that they, in turn, are re­spected.

Who is teach­ing chil­dren racist big­otry, and why? Ul­ti­mately it is the adults in their lives who are afraid or an­gry, like the Rood­e­poort Pri­mary par­ents. They are re­spon­si­ble for pass­ing ha­tred from one gen­er­a­tion to the next.

Chil­dren don’t know they are eth­ni­cally di­verse. They don’t know race, so they don’t know racism. They don’t know there’s a great deal of racism in the world, but they be­gin to feel it when par­ents and other adults make the dif­fer­ences ob­vi­ous.

Seg­re­ga­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion are wo­ven into all as­pects of life, in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tion. We’re all tan­gled up. It’s time to un­ravel this web of racial ha­tred.

Chil­dren grow up with the fear, anger and ha­tred they see in adults’ eyes. Too many adults don’t re­ject or cor­rect it, but ac­cept it. And so the ha­tred and racism goes on. This is not the way to fight big­otry. If we want to stop this legacy of ha­tred, we must work to­gether – blacks and whites – to erad­i­cate it from our homes, schools and lives. We must di­rect our anger and fight big­otry to­gether. If we suc­ceed, our chil­dren will live and learn in peace. Chil­dren have to be in­formed; they need a coat of ar­mour, a sense that they are some­body. Home and school pre­pare them. Let us talk to them about what they may en­counter in life. Speak hon­estly to them about racial bi­ases and how to ad­dress them.

I know that when it comes to sen­si­tive per­sonal be­liefs, peo­ple tend not to be hon­est; they don’t want to hurt oth­ers’ feel­ings; they don’t want their own feel­ings hurt. I hope this does not hap­pen with the Rood­e­poort Pri­mary par­ents.

Teach­ing chil­dren about racism and our history – with­out teach­ing ha­tred or fear – may be dif­fi­cult, but it is nec­es­sary. We must give chil­dren a pos­i­tive world view.

Teach them tech­niques for deal­ing with racist big­otry; tell them they will en­counter it daily and will need to be pre­pared.

When racism shows up in a child’s class­room, as at Rood­e­poort Pri­mary, the way a par­ent re­acts also has an im­pact on the child’s per­cep­tions. Chil­dren will take to school what­ever they learn at home.

Let us em­pha­sise a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to our chil­dren about who they are and en­sure that ev­ery­thing we do con­trib­utes to their self-es­teem, so that no mat­ter what they hear from their teach­ers, or any­one else, they will know bet­ter.

If we give them faith in them­selves, no one can take that away.

Le­sufi is Gaut­eng MEC for ed­u­ca­tion

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