‘Bosch’-Langa partnership provides model for bridging race divide
WHEN Durban High School deputy head Roy Hellenberg walked onto the grounds of Rondebosch Boys’ High in his home city of Cape Town in 2004 to start his previous job, anger welled up inside him.
“My entire high school – Athlone High, grounds and all – would have fitted into those buildings,” he said, recalling the different opportunities apartheid dealt whites and coloureds. “I realised that if this anger overwhelmed me, it would destroy me and the boys.”
So the history teacher and father of four, who grew up as the youngest of 13 and once taught in Manenberg, in the heart of Cape Flats’ gangland, decided to build bridges between race and class divides.
He set up a partnership between the former Model C school and Langa High in the township with the same name.
First step was organising a township tour for “Bosch” ( as Rondebosch Boys’ High is fondly known) parents, the pupils’ representative committee and teachers, followed by spending time getting to know their Langa High counterparts.
“The next week there was a reciprocal visit. Then we workshopped together and built this partnership.”
Pupils from both schools spent three-day stays in each other’s homes and schools.
“Bosch” boys saw their host parents come home from work at 8pm. Their peers cooked dinner and were responsible for collecting younger siblings from crèche.
Then, one Africa Day celebration saw the two schools present a joint music concert.
On the surface “Bosch” was integrated 20 years on from apartheid. However, it had a long way to go and so did he, said Hellenberg.
Background differences included many white boys coming from families where there had been university graduates for generations, while some black and coloured boys’ parents may have been able to afford tertiary education but did not have a history of pursuing academic careers.
“That’s not to say they are not as intelligent, but it has context and this is passed down.”
At times Hellenberg discovered an odd communication between himself and his classes.
“I saw it in the way white middle-class boys answered me. I was sarcastic in my responses to them, especially in their understanding of apartheid. I began to become conscious of the non-verbal world.”
Unconscious bias, he called it. It presents itself in body language such as the arc of a smile or the proximity to which a teacher may stand to a pupil. Hellenberg said white teachers who believed they were not racist were more problematic in this regard than those who were blatantly racist. This is because, while they draw young people to them because of their warmth, their unconscious bias says “you’re not as good”.
This did not help in creating a space that was both safe and challenging: a prerequisite for proper learning to take place.
“Under apartheid, we grew up in (a) monocultural environment,” he said. “We never had contact with other cultures – navigating in your own culture is a simple thing.”
He learnt late in his teaching career while on a “facing the past” course that whites, too, suffered under apartheid, especially as a result of military conscription.
He also realised that the definitions of victim and perpetrator were blurred.
“I remember feeling passionate about the fact that as a schoolboy I couldn’t go to Rondebosch. But I didn’t protest that no one from Gugulethu could go to Athlone.”
The legacy of monoculture is a problem particularly for former Model C schools, like Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High, where a racial incident sparked drama this week.
“Eighty percent of schools in South Africa are not integrated. They are either predominantly black township schools, or private and predominantly white,” said Hellenberg. “Teachers have not had training on how to handle multicultural classrooms. If I moved to Japan I would go through cross-cultural training before I ended up in the classroom. In South Africa we may as well have grown up in completely different countries and there has been no cross-cultural training.”
Hellenberg said former Model C schools were manageable and strong when the dominant community made up 70% of the pupil body. However, when it gets to a 40:60 or 50:50 ratio, it’s not easy to manage.
“Any organisation in transition needs a leader with a vision for change. We don’t have enough school leaders who have a vision of what this change needs to be.”
He said it was also important for democratic systems to be functional in schools, “to teach them there may be avenues available to a citizen of a democratic country and that violence should be a last-resort option”.
Hellenberg is applying his “Bosch”- Langa partnership model with DHS and Claremont’s Sithokozile Senior Secondary School. He also offers courses to teachers on building inclusive classrooms.
‘If I were to move
Durban High School deputy headmaster Roy Hellenberg believes there needs to be more conscious cultural integration at schools.