Sans Souci pupils call for principal to step down over racism claims

2016-09-03 10:39

Cape Town – More than 100 pupils from various high schools in Cape Town protested at Sans Souci Girls' High School again on Friday after first joining countrywide protests against discriminatory school policies on Thursday.

In a memo read out by one of the student leaders they called for Charmaine Murray, principal of the school since 1999, to stand down.

Sans Souci students
Sans Souci students say the school has racist policies and the principal has treated them poorly. (Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp)

At about noon, the pupils marched from Newlands Swimming Pool to the main entrance of the school. They were joined by pupils from other high schools including Livingstone, Westerford, Groote Schuur, Claremont and Gardens Commercial. Only pupils of the school and their parents were allowed to enter the school property.

According to parent Shafeka Waggie who attended a meeting between the students and the principal this afternoon, the meeting achieved nothing and Murray left early. A student told GroundUp that Murray was escorted off the school grounds by police. Several girls were seen crying after the meeting, presumably disappointed by its outcome.

A memo read out by the students stated: "Institutional violence and systemic racism enacted upon us by the school is not new. We have hidden our experiences in the kinks of our hair and swallowed the languages of our mothers into our throats. Mrs Murray we ask you to step aside.

"We have been berated by you and marginalised by you. You have enforced upon us the kind of structural violence that requires healing of the soul. You have characterised us as reminding you of the Ugandan gorillas you saw on safari and mocked our afros. You have been the gatekeeper of the school's oppression."

Principal accused of manhandling pupil

Siphokuhle Njikelana, a 17-year-old Grade 11 pupil, said she wants isiXhosa to be taught in the school "because we have Afrikaans which we fail every term".

"We want to have afros, we want to have braids because our hair is hard to maintain," she said.

She alleged that when she was in Grade 9 she had to go to Murray's office where the principal manhandled her.

"Ms Murray has a tendency of manhandling students and this has been kept secret for years," she claimed. Her mother, Nomakhwezi, was at the protest supporting Siphokuhle.

Billy-Jean Deamas, who was a student at the school in the 2000s, joined the protesters.

"In terms of the education I received, I did very well. However, in terms of environment and leadership from school management it was a very coercive and negative environment to be within.

"Our parents would lay complaints with the principal [and] with the department but nothing was ever done. There was never any feedback."

Rigid policies

She said on one occasion the school wouldn't release her early for an orthodontist's appointment. On another she went to Murray's office to report an incident of bullying, but the principal refused to speak to her until she removed her braids.

Deamas said the principal told her, "Girls like you don't wear braids," which Deamas believed implied that coloured girls don't wear braids.

Sarah Evans, a part-time music teacher at the school since 2012, also came to support the students. "I think that it's important that they speak out and say how they feel," she said. "The policies are very rigid, especially with regard to language policy."

(Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp)

She said the policy is defended on the basis that it is in the best interests of children to learn English.

"But I feel that there's a definite line between encouraging one language and banning the use of mother tongue languages."

Asked by a reporter if she was scared of repercussions of speaking to the media, she said that the issue was important and that if the school didn't change its policies she wouldn't feel comfortable working there.

"I don't want to be at odds with the school's code of conduct," Evans said. "I love this school. I enjoy this school and its children."

Feelings of teenagers not invalid

She said there were fantastic teachers too.

Evans said that she emailed Murray yesterday to offer her support and say that she wanted to continue working at the school. "But this is 2016 and anywhere this would be unacceptable. Change needs to be made."

Evans said she thought the call for Murray to step down was "drastic". But she said some of the stories coming out were "terrifying". She said a lot more students and teachers supported the protesters.

"Too many people dismiss the feelings of teenagers as invalid and this is so much more than that."

GroundUp called Murray's office to get a response to these allegations. But her assistant said she would not be making any comment. She referred GroundUp to the Western Cape department of education's head of communications Paddy Attwell.

Attwell told GroundUp that a high-level delegation had been sent to the school in the morning. He said the students' complaints would be investigated with urgency.

Addressing reporters at Sans Souci, the provincial department's chief director Clinton Florick said the pupils had been asked to present a memorandum with their complaints but that it had not been received.

Pupils told GroundUp they would continue protesting until the school's policies changed.

Read more on:    cape town  |  racism  |  protests

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