Why we don’t belong here

2016-09-04 14:45
Pupils from Pretoria Boys High School are standing in solidarity with their ‘sisters’ across the road

Pupils from Pretoria Boys High School are standing in solidarity with their ‘sisters’ across the road

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Pretoria - At Pretoria Boys High School, shaved heads or brush cuts are not allowed, and to test whether hair is long enough, the “pinch test” is applied.

If there’s not enough hair to pinch, a schoolboy may not wear his school uniform or participate in sports until his hair grows back.

Those were stories told by a group of boys who gathered outside the Pretoria High School for Girls on Monday afternoon, protesting in solidarity.

“The teachers pinch our hair to check if it’s too short,” said one matric boy, who asked not to be named.

Research by Plus 94, commissioned by City Press, found that 27% of respondents countrywide personally experienced racial discrimination in the past year. Of those, 28% were young people aged between 18 and 24, and the discrimination was experienced among the very poor and the middle classes.

The worst province was Gauteng, where 34% of respondents of all races reported they were discriminated against because of their race. In Gauteng, 73% of young respondents said they had been discriminated against by white people.

Pretoria High School for Boys school governing body chair Marius van Staden said a ban on shaved heads applied to boys of all races and a full-hair policy was created through a consultative process.

“The matter has been discussed with every year’s prefect and the representative council of pupils group to try to come up with wording that would satisfy all types of hair,” he said.

“‘Conservative’ was the best word we could come up with, without having to go the route of ‘white’ or ‘black’ hair – whatever that may mean.”

He said the school was not aware of teachers “pinching” hair at the school, which is made up of 65% white pupils and 35% black.

That is where the problem lies, the schoolboys say. The representative council of pupils is predominantly white and doesn’t adequately represent them. Like black girls at their sister school, they feel the school’s traditions and culture means black children do not belong.

The boys told City Press that on Monday morning they decided to stand in solidarity with their “sisters” by not standing to sing the hymn in assembly. But when the time came, only one boy stuck to the script.

The matric pupil, who City Press has decided not to name, said: “I just thought that it was important to show the school that, like our sisters, we are also not happy in this school.”

But he didn’t expect he’d be called evil by a female teacher, who accused him of being disrespectful of her religion. And he didn’t expect a white pupil to pull him by his shirt, causing the buttons to pop off. Then two teachers tried to pull him out of his seat and out of the hall.

At the end of the assembly, the school principal asked matrics to remain for a discussion about their grievances.

The matric boy said a male teacher who had threatened him asked him why he hadn’t stood up.

“I told him that the original Africans were not Christians and, in fact, this is why the colonialists referred to us as k*****s,” he said.

The teacher then apologised.

Van Staden said the school was investigating the matter and, as a result, declined to comment on specifics. The school, he said, “does not tolerate racism in any form or manner. It believes in an inclusive society and respect for all races, as well as cultural and religious beliefs.

Read more on:    pretoria  |  racism

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