Guest Column

Maritzburg College: Pupils should be free to speak their minds

2017-10-18 06:38
Maritzburg College’s last day ‘rush’ snowballed when matrics allegedly began assaulting younger pupils.

Maritzburg College’s last day ‘rush’ snowballed when matrics allegedly began assaulting younger pupils. (File)

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Gielie Hoffmann

A photo taken at Maritzburg College in Pietermaritzburg recently surfaced on social media.  In it three pupils appear, holding school shirts branded with pro-EFF jargon.

Not too much is known about the photo: when it was taken, in which context or how old the boys are. But it created quite a stir. The School Governing Board announced that the boys will be disciplined. Even the provincial department of education got involved.

It did raise a few questions though:

Should school pupils be politically active? Must they be allowed to voice party political views?

The response I got after I posted my opinion on Facebook was significant. 

Understandably, many white folks, especially those who farm, were uncomfortable with the tone of their protest.

"EFF – Our last hope of getting our land back," one of the shirts read.

In the context of severe droughts, farm attacks and the constant threat of land grabs by the EFF, their response was understandable. They feel attacked regardless of their economic power.

I did however hope they would engage with the real issue here.

My more liberal friends applauded the boys – not necessarily for what they said, but more for having a political conscience and the will to make their voices heard.

Many however felt that the school ground should be free from the harsh reality of politics.

As a former teacher and somebody who now does leadership development with secondary school pupils as well as tertiary students, I felt comfortable with the boys claiming their space and standing for something.

It is in no way realistic or fair to keep teenagers out of the political discourse, especially not in our country. Seeing that these boys could possibly vote in the national election in 2019, we should be thankful for their awareness and enthusiasm.

A school ground is a political space without us making it one; pupils are confronted with differences in class, gender, orientation, culture, religion and ideology on a daily basis.

It does make you think: Are our children taught the basics of politics in a sufficient manner at school? Is this done without prejudice and bias? Are teachers equipped to handle possible volatile conservations?

The old Afrikaans saying, that "children should be seen and not heard", came up in the comments. My own grandfather believed that one should never argue about politics, religion and yes, rugby.

Do we really want a disengaged youth? Isn't this creating fertile breeding ground for dangerous political views?

It also begs the question: Are we as white South Africans OK with being uncomfortable when confronted with ideas that are different than our own? 

Economic transformation, no matter how it was spun and what is was called by Bell Pottinger, will remain a critical part of every major political party's election campaign. 

We should listen and consider and talk about it.

A tweet by South African-born English cricketer, Kevin Pietersen, added fuel to fire, but perfectly demonstrated the loss of power whites feel and our subsequent inability to engage with the real issues:


Schools should be more pro-active in preparing our pupils for these necessary conversations. Not discipline them when they do it.

School grounds shouldn't be in a constant state of anarchy – but provide pupils with the necessary platforms to talk about things that are of concern to them. 

We underestimate them if we believe they only want to talk about the matric farewell theme and the cost of Coke at the tuck-shop.

I sincerely hope the School Governing Board reconsiders their treatment of the boys. More so, I hope that over time this leads to a more politically aware youth.  

- Gielie Hoffmann is a mental conditioning coach and former teacher. Visit his website.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    maritzburg college  |  schools  |  racism  |  pupils  |  eff  |  sa politics
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