The great pretenders: White South Africans have mastered the art of racism

2011-03-12 11:10

The issue of racism has once again made its way into our headlines, thanks to Kuli Roberts and Jimmy Manyi.

The thing is, we will never completely get rid of racism until we stop being in denial. We pretend that we get along, but in truth, we only tolerate each other.

And I dare say that white South Africans have mastered the art of racism and have found strategic ways to prevent blacks from living in harmony with them.

Try getting your child into a private school in Johannesburg and you will see what I mean.

For three years, I tried to get my son enrolled in one of the private schools in Midrand.

I was not successful.After he was put on a “waiting list”, I demanded to see the principal to find out why a child who lives five minutes away from the school had been on the waiting list for so long.

Even though I was granted the opportunity to question the principal, I never saw the list because “school policy” prevents the school from showing it to me.

Then there is the R20 000 “acceptance offer fee”.

White people who sit on school boards know that an upwardly mobile black South African can afford the R5 000 monthly school fees, but the chances of R20 000 lying in a bank account waiting for the child to be accepted are minimal.

Then there is the requirement that fees are paid upfront for the term.I ended up telling the principal that he was deliberately keeping black children out of the school.

He defended himself by saying that black children were given first preference.

I opened his school’s prospectus and asked him to count the black faces in each grade.

We counted less than 10 black pupils.After that frank and angry discussion, my son was offered a place immediately.

Apparently, it was no longer a prerequisite to have less than 25 pupils in the class.

This year, my son was finally enrolled at the school but the struggle continues.

One of the pull factors for the school was that Afrikaans and isiZulu were given the same status.But my delight was short-lived when I began noticing that he came home with more Afrikaans homework.

I scrutinised his timetable and found that the devil was in the detail.

Pupils are offered 30 minutes a week of isiZulu but are taught Afrikaans every day.

I took this up with the principal and demanded that this be corrected. His response was: “In grades 4, 5 and 6, each language is given five lessons with a specialist teacher.

“In grade 7, children choose their preference and then have eight lessons with a specialist. This gives our children a wonderful advantage when they enter high school. Our current grade 3 status is a temporary logistical status.”

I, in turn, demanded that the principal commit to a time to correct the “temporary logistical status” because it only affected isiZulu.

The issue in these schools is not about the waiting list or deposits or logistical status.

White parents simply do not want too many black pupils and have devised policies to keep numbers of black learners low.

I was disgusted to learn that teaching staff can enrol their children for free but that administration staff cannot.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out who makes up the administration staff.

The road towards a non-racial South Africa is a long one.

I just hope that we don’t poison our children – black, white, coloured or Indian – by refusing to give them the opportunity to interact.

» Oliphant is a former City Press journalist and writes this in her personal capacity 

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