Bloemfontein school: From racist to hero in one year

2015-06-04 21:16
SAHRC (Picture: Sapa)

SAHRC (Picture: Sapa)

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Bloemfontein - It’s easy to be branded as racist, but to turn your approach around and become a symbol of diversity recognition, understanding and tolerance in less than a year is a remarkable achievement.

This is exactly what Dr Viljoen High School in Bloemfontein has achieved.

In the third quarter of 2014, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) issued a report finding that staff at the school were racist after interviews with learners.

It made recommendations that the school put an anti-racism policy in place and that staff and learners complete anti-racism training.

The school submitted their anti-racism plan to the SAHRC on Wednesday, and the commission was delighted to see what had happened the school.

“We are extremely impressed with the changes. The anti-racism plan is exactly what we required,” said acting provincial manager, Buang Jones.

'They turned things around completely'

SAHRC spokesperson Isaac Mangena told News24 that he believed the school did extremely well and must be commended.

“They turned things around completely,” he said.

Deputy principal Ferdi Bergh said the entire debacle started when a group of ten matric pupils drank alcohol at school last year. As their punishment, they were suspended for seven days and some of their privileges, including going to the matric farewell, were revoked.

They retaliated by approaching a local newspaper and the SAHRC and the body investigated, leading to the finding of racism against the school.

This triggered a chain of unhappy events, including protest action by the prefects.

“It was an extremely trying time. Up to this day, the principal, Francois Schoon, suffers from stress-related health problems.”

'The first policy of this kind'

But they tackled the challenges with gusto. They could not find any examples of related anti-racism policies, and had to have one compiled by legal experts from Unisa.

“As far as we know, this is the first policy of this kind for any school. The process cost us R28 000,” Bergh told News24.

Five training courses for staff and pupils, all presented by different people and institutions, were presented.

Bergh said that everyone was happy with the outcome, but even teachers could learn an important lesson from the process: “There is such a fine line between educational action and something that can be interpreted as racism.”

He said that the turnaround process was a steep learning curve for the school. Dr Viljoen is traditionally a white school with a white staff. In the last year, things have changed drastically – today the school has only one white learner.

“I believe we did our part. I was tentative when we went to the HRC’s offices to present our plan, but I was extremely impressed with the reception we received from the commission.”

Read more on:    sahrc  |  bloemfontein  |  education  |  racism

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