Pretoria News

FIX RACISM, OR ELSE…

Girls High pupils vow to take action if report calling for change is ignored

- SAKHILE NDLAZI sakhile.ndlazi@inl.co.za

PUPILS at Pretoria High School for Girls yesterday vowed to take authoritie­s to task if recommenda­tions in the report on racism at the school are not implemente­d.

Girls told the Pretoria News they were prepared to move on for now, but would adopt a wait-and-see approach.

“I endured five long years of discrimina­tion at that school and hope that the report will provide justice to the next generation,” a matric pupil said.

Another pupil praised Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi for taking a firm stand against racism at Girls High and said she hoped things would be better for future girls as a result.

“I hope that pupils will hold the teachers, MEC (Lesufi) and the school governing body accountabl­e if they don’t stick to the report’s recommenda­tions.”

The report, released on Friday night by Lesufi, found teachers at the school had been insensitiv­e and unresponsi­ve to claims of racism by teachers.

The report was commission­ed by Lesufi in August after allegation­s of racism in implementi­ng hair policies at the school surfaced.

The report found the school guilty of racism, and confirmed that allegation­s made by pupils were true. It found black pupils had been singled out in a class to demonstrat­e ethnic origins during apartheid and that in one instance, black pupils were told they were monkeys.

The pupils also complained that there were rules against using their mother tongue in private conversati­ons. However, this could not be substantia­ted apart from one incident between a teacher and pupils.

The report recommende­d disciplina­ry action against teachers where there was sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. In addition, it said the practice of asking black pupils to “sort out their hair” must cease with immediate effect.

The school apologised for the racial abuse and victimisat­ion of black pupils shortly after the release of the report, which has been sent to Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga.

“We want to be corrective rather than punitive‚” Lesufi said of the recommenda­tions‚ which include diversity training and a culture survey to independen­tly establish pupils’ attitudes and experience­s. He had held onto the report until exams were finished so as not to cause further upset for the girls.

Parents have pulled no punches in voicing their opinions shortly after the report was made public, with some saying the girls’ accounts affirmed yet again that failure to address structural racism and sexism perpetuate­d white supremacy.

“It is evident from the report’s findings that the code of conduct in schools need to be reviewed,” according to one parent.

Another said the report was a step in the right direction, but a lot of work still needed to be done to root out racism that prevailed at the school. “A report with findings and recommenda­tions will only just scratch the surface.”

“The racism is deep-seated and it will take more than just recommenda­tions; people need to change their attitudes for racism to end,” she said, adding that white educators needed to learn how to deal with black pupils.

The report was well received across various sectors of society and the political sphere. The DA praised Lesufi and the school governing body for the manner in which it had dealt with the issue.

Party spokesman for education Khume Ramulifho said the DA welcomed the release of the report. “Lesufi must be congratula­ted for his even-handed handling of this issue. The school governing body must also be congratula­ted for agreeing to abide by the recommenda­tions as set out by the report.

“Racism has no place in society, especially not in places of learning. It is important that all of us work together to help build a truly united, non-racial South Africa,” the DA said.

James Tubb, a member of the school governing body, said they acknowledg­ed the issues raised in the report and took them seriously.

“To the pupils who have been treated unfairly in a manner unbecoming of our school, and society in general which has been harmed by these events, we offer our sincere apology – unconditio­nally so. We will ensure that intoleranc­e and racism, where found to still exist, are eradicated,” he said.

Tubb added they would study the report further and implement the recommenda­tions that had been made.

THERE are lessons for society in general and schools in particular from the outcome of the probe into Pretoria High School for Girls following the widely-publicised hair protests of August.

The report of the Gauteng Department of Education released on Friday by Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi found that there were incidents at the school in which girls were treated in an insensitiv­e, demeaning and racist way, and that the school had been unresponsi­ve to their complaints.

Staff fingered for racist actions and victimisat­ion of black girls will face disciplina­ry action, but the lesson for all in authority is that such complaints – especially when they involve children – must be heard, and acted upon.

As Lesufi indicated, however, the fact that the school failed to act does not mean there is no hope. Rather, he acknowledg­es that Girls High is a leading school and one whose reputation should be protected.

As with a Curro school where racism was reported, he plans to use the opportunit­y and the publicity to turn a negative into a positive, and through interventi­ons which rebuild trust and respect to make Girls High an example that other schools can emulate.

Lesufi stepped in swiftly to take charge of the situation before it got out of control, and the school has shown a willingnes­s to show remorse and apologise to those who were harmed, and to co-operate with the education authoritie­s for change.

Girls High was founded in 1902, according to its first headmistre­ss “in the earnest hope that here girls of different races and different denominati­ons might meet in that commonweal­th of letters which gave Erasmus and Shakespear­e to the world”.

While for many years it was a whites-only school, today it needs to live according to its founding principle and it, and every other school in the city, should be proactive in ensuring that intoleranc­e and racism are eradicated.

Yes, there must be discipline at schools, but it needs to be enforced in a dignified way. Yes, teachers have difficult subject matter to cover in class, but they must teach in a sensitive way. Let’s treat one another with humanity; don’t allow prejudice to determine how we behave.

 ?? PICTURE: PHILL MAGAKOE ?? Pretoria High School for Girls pupils tell Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi about cases of racism and victimisat­ion during a meeting at the school in August.
PICTURE: PHILL MAGAKOE Pretoria High School for Girls pupils tell Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi about cases of racism and victimisat­ion during a meeting at the school in August.
 ?? PICTURE: OUPA MOKOENA ?? Panyaza Lesufi, Gauteng MEC for Education, briefs the media on the investigat­ion into allegation­s of racism at Pretoria High School for Girls.
PICTURE: OUPA MOKOENA Panyaza Lesufi, Gauteng MEC for Education, briefs the media on the investigat­ion into allegation­s of racism at Pretoria High School for Girls.

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