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Dated culture, practices breed racism at Cape Town schools

2018-11-05 11:10

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Keiran Peacock

It is not a surprise to me that schools like Rustenburg Girls' High School and the many other schools in the southern suburbs of Cape Town still institutionalise racism and white privilege. 

For far too long these schools have used feeder systems that undermine transformation and reinforce white privilege, keeping former Model C institutions predominantly white. 

It amazes me that schools still use a feeder system that is aligned to the spatial legacy of apartheid. Kids automatically are at a disadvantage if they come from suburbs further away. School governing bodies have never thought to do away with this recruitment policy or sought to identify alternate models of selecting their intake. They instead contest any involvement by the department of education citing outdated legislation. 

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If one looks at the majority of schools in the southern suburbs of Cape Town they have never gone beyond the 50% threshold for people of colour. One must ask why? They have never reflected on the population makeup of the province because they serve their direct community which is predominantly white. 

Management will never admit it, but they are resisting becoming predominantly coloured because their current student population may leave, or their staff do not support it. There is no dialogue about why these perceptions still exist and how people can engage and embrace transformation instead of resisting it. People of colour then struggle at these public institutions. There have been many stories detailing how people of colour have to assimilate to whiteness to be accepted. 

I teach at a school in Cape Town that has a black, predominantly coloured student population and often one senses that the kids are painted with a certain brush from members of the community. These communities are resisting true transformation. 

The majority of southern suburb schools' management teams are exclusively white. The culture within the school then struggles to deal with diversity and prioritise transformation because management does not truly understand the cultural symbols that reinforce the current status quo and make the environment culturally exclusive. They also have a vested interest in retaining the status quo because they, either consciously or unconsciously, identify with the social norms that exist within the school environment. 

Schools need concrete transformation goals at all levels of their staff contingent and amongst their learner cohort. Government must push for these targets to be set at all former Model C institutions. School governing bodies at these schools must reflect diversity so that one racial group does not dominate the governance of the school. 

An Equality Summit must be planned to promote dialogue amongst all southern suburb learning institutions that are struggling with transformation. SACS High School, the oldest public high school in South Africa, for example has a massive hostel that stands pretty much empty and can be used to achieve a transformed learner cohort. 

We cannot let Nozipho Mthembu's story repeat itself. We cannot let schools in Cape Town silence these racial issues and window dress transformation. 

Former Model C schools need to become accountable to transformation, embrace diversity within all sectors of the school, and actively seek ways to decolonise their current eurocentric environments that make inclusivity so difficult. 

- Keiran Peacock is an educator at a Cape Town school. He writes in his personal capacity.

* In response to the article published SACS High School indicated that their hostel was currently at capacity but could not give information on the junior school hostel as it was stated to be a different institution. 

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Read more on:    school governing body  |  western cape  |  cape town  |  schools  |  racism at schools


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