‘Bosch’-Langa part­ner­ship pro­vides model for bridg­ing race di­vide

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - DUN­CAN GUY

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.

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