Maritzburg College: ‘Pupils were out of line’, says experts

2017-10-16 13:45
College has to apply rule on political statements.

College has to apply rule on political statements. (File)

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Pietermaritzburg - The furore continued on Sunday over a tweet showing three Maritzburg College pupils in uniform supporting the EFF and calling for land to be returned.

Political analysts on Sunday told The Witness that in their opinion the pupils were indeed out of line, despite calls by the EFF and its supporters for disciplinary charges against the boys to be dropped immediately.

Two political analysts told The Witness that in their view the pupils should be disciplined because they had stepped out of line by making a public political statement while in school uniform.

However, the case also importantly highlighted racial tensions at upper-echelon schools, they said. 

The tweet went viral last Friday after English cricketer Kevin Pietersen, an alumni of the school, tweeted that the pupils had shown “disrespect” for the school.

T-shirts held by the pupils read: “EFF: Our last hope of getting our land back”, referring to the party’s commitment to land redistribution to favour black people.

According to a charge sheet which circulated on social media, they face six charges and will sit for a disciplinary hearing later this month.

The charges include contravening the South African Schools Act of 1996, as well as engaging in acts that are deemed serious misconduct for pupils of public schools, and breaching Maritzburg College’s code of conduct and social media policies.

On the back of the social media storm, the provincial Department of Education announced an investigation into allegations of racism at Maritzburg College, which may have led to the pupils “retaliating” in this manner.

The EFF has rallied behind pupils, and said the school must drop the charges against them with immediate effect.

The school’s legal representative, Jaco van der Merwe, on Sunday said the school was “obligated, in terms of the Schools Act, to convene a disciplinary tribunal where possible misconduct has been committed.”

Political analyst, Xolani Dube, said that if the pupils were found to be in violation of the school’s rules, they should face action.

“Institutions have rules, and once you enter into an agreement you must respect those rights. Those pupils were wearing uniforms and they made a political statement.

“The question must be: what are the rules when it comes to how they conduct themselves when wearing the uniform?”

He said: “The only judge is the rules of the school, and those that transgress must be punished.”

Dube added that the tweet had encouraged a strong reaction from the public because South Africa was “still very fragile when it comes to race issues”.

Education analyst, Professor Kobus Maree, agreed that the pupils should be punished, but said the public had blown the incident out of proportion.

“They are youngsters and they are growing and learning. They obviously see [the EFF] as role models and this was a way of expressing themselves. But when they are wearing uniforms there’s a certain process they need to follow.”

Both Dube and Maree said this incident can serve, however, to highlight race issues at upper-echelon schools.

“In a way, this is telling us that in private and semi-private schools, the issue of race is repressed,” said Dube. “So we can view this in a positive light and see that the so-called elites must start engaging on race issues.”

He said there was a perception that racial tensions did not exist in upper-class circles because of financial parity between races.

“Even if it is the child of [mining magnate Patrice] Motsepe or [deputy president Cyril] Ramaphosa, there is still an issue of race.”

Maree said: “The school should try and understand why the pupils were doing that. They can use this as a learning process and that would be very useful for society. This mistake can be an opportunity for growth.”

Read more on:    maritzburg college  |  pietermaritzburg  |  racism  |  education

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