School hair protests an opportunity to foster diversity - SAHRC

2016-09-07 15:56
Pretoria High School for Girls. (News24)

Pretoria High School for Girls. (News24)

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WATCH: Teachers call our hairstyles 'drumsticks', 'pancakes' - learner

2016-09-07 12:15

Learners from Joe Slovo Secondary school in Khayelitsha protested outside the Western Cape Education Department on Wednesday over unhappiness around school facilities and hair policies. Watch. WATCH

Pretoria - The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) says the recent protests at schools over black pupils' hair should be used as an opportunity to foster diversity.

"The recent allegations of discrimination provide an opportunity for the schools concerned and for other schools to review their Codes of Conduct to ensure that they protect the basic rights of learners, deepen understanding, and increase tolerance, respect, and protection for all in the school community," spokesperson Alucia Sekgathume said.

"Ideally, in a democratic and open society, School Codes of Conduct should enable the exercise of diversity to the greatest possible extent. School Codes of Conduct should preferably include provisions that recognise our diverse religious and cultural beliefs and allow for the exercise of all religions and cultures."

The SAHRC’s comments come against the backdrop of the School Codes of Conduct coming under the spotlight after pupils complained about racism and discrimination over their hair.

Learners from Pretoria High School for Girls started a chain reaction when they opened up about the abuse they allegedly receive from their teachers over their natural hair and use of their mother tongue.

That resulted in Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi intervening and saying Codes of Conduct would be reviewed in the province.

Culture of respect

Sekgathume said Codes of Conduct were important mechanisms through which schools could create a learning environment consonant with constitutional values, and should cater for reasonable accommodations of deviations on religious or cultural grounds. 

"The Commission notes allegations of differential treatment as regards language and hairstyles, and allegations of the use of derogatory and racist language against black learners by both educators and fellow pupils.

"The Commission is of the view that schools are the primary institutions for the realisation of the right to education for most learners. They provide a place of learning, social development and social encounter for children from various ethnicities, religions and backgrounds. 

"Simultaneously, schools are also places where the exercise of authority may render certain groups vulnerable," Sekgathume said.

Sekgathume added that schools have an obligation to adopt reasonable measures to avoid painful psychological and, sometimes, traumatic impact on minor learners. 

"In an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom, special pains must be taken by all actors in the education sector to ensure these values and rights are protected.

"The Commission is of the view that it is incumbent on principals, educators, School Governing Bodies, and parents to provide leadership in developing a culture of respect for basic rights and values at schools," she said.

No parallel investigation

Sekgathume said the recent allegations against Pretoria High School for Girls and other schools could not be viewed in isolation. She said, globally, religious and cultural intolerance resulted in widespread violations of basic rights, manifesting in conflict and loss of life. 

"Unfortunately, children are too often the victims of such conflict. The Commission considers it most urgent and necessary that tolerance for diversity be actively promoted and encouraged in children from a very young age.  This can only be achieved if those who guide children throughout the developmental phase of childhood are themselves committed to such a culture of respect to be in a position to create a healthy basis for this growth through example," she added.

Sekgathume said the commission would not be launching its own investigation into the matter as the provincial department of education had already started work.  

"The Commission pledges its support to the process and looks forward to participating in the process as a key stakeholder tasked with upholding rights in the Bill of Rights.

"Given that the MEC’s intervention is at an advanced stage, and given that an independent investigative team has been constituted, the SAHRC does not intend to run a parallel investigation. However, the Commission pledges its full support and commitment to the Department’s probe, in line with our mandate," she said. 

Read more on:    sahrc  |  pretoria high school for girls  |  pretoria  |  education

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