North West – Do anything with your hair this week

2016-09-04 10:01
The uniform of High School for Girls Potchefstroom which includes a “basher” or hat.

The uniform of High School for Girls Potchefstroom which includes a “basher” or hat.

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 Potchefstroom - The High School for Girls Potchefstroom in North West is trying something new this week.

“As an experiment, the girls may do anything with their hair this week – as long as it is out of their faces and does not distract other learners in the learning environment,” said the school’s marketing officer, Madelaine Daly.

A study commissioned by City Press from Plus 94 Research found that in North West, 24% of young respondents of all races aged between 18 and 24 had been racially discriminated against. Of those, 72% reported being discriminated against by white people.

Last month, a group of six former pupils complained of racism at the school after seeing pictures on its Facebook page, which showed an all-white group of pupils at an open day held for children from Afrikaans schools.

Past pupil Palesa Lebeko’s comment that there were no black girls in the pictures sparked a conversation about racial discrimination, along with the school’s rules on hair and its ban on speaking home languages.

The comments were deleted from the school’s page, and Lebeko said when the institution asked the group to discuss the issue with it in private, they agreed.

“We then started a group on WhatsApp to talk about the issues and discuss a way forward. We proposed meeting with the school on August 27. They said they would get back to us,” she said.

The planned meeting never took place because the group received an email on August 16 from principal Eliza Meyer and the school governing body, informing them that they had decided instead to speak to parents, current pupils and teachers about revisions to the school’s code of conduct.

They also decided against speaking to the former pupils after receiving a screenshot of their WhatsApp conversation, and said their allegations were defamatory. “Either stop, apologise or we will be forced to take action,” the email from the school read.

Lebeko said:“We did not use social media after they said we should not. We had private WhatsApp conversations in a group.”

Daly said a separate open day was held for Afrikaans-medium schools because the dates clashed with other Afrikaans high schools. She said Afrikaans parents were increasingly opting for English schools because of language policy changes at universities. “We held this school visit for girls of all races attending these Afrikaans schools, after receiving a number of requests.”

Bomikazi Bukali, who has a daughter at the school, said the hair policy – according to which Afros, braids and dreadlocks are permitted but need to be neat and tied back – was being revised. The school, she added, was making a concerted effort to talk to parents, teachers and pupils about different policies.

She said pupils were warned about speaking to the media. “They were threatened, in fact. [The school] said if the girls post anything on social media, legal action will be taken against them.”

Daly denied this, saying that on the advice of a “social media expert, we have educated our girls in their rights and responsibilities regarding social media to protect them”.

“The girls were warned of the risks, not warned against speaking out.”

Bukali said it was common for the girls to be told that if they went against the school’s traditions, they would be punished. “Most of this stuff is called culture; it is not in the school code of conduct. The prefects are given so much power and none of the stuff is in the rules,” she said, adding that it was possible that teachers did not know all of what was going on.

Bukali said that in the school hostels, the girls had to eat everything with a knife and fork, which she said was ridiculous. “There is no reason my daughter needs to eat a banana with a fork and knife,” she added.

Daly said fruit was “often peeled or cut into segments using a knife and fork, but eaten by hand”.

“Basic table manners and etiquette is a tradition we uphold. This takes place around the table and is not required when not seated at a table,” she said.

Regarding past pupils’ complaints, Daly said the school viewed all allegations in a serious light and undertook to address them “in a meaningful way”.

“We will continue to show respect at all times for ourselves, others, human rights and the environment. Girls High’s strength has been as a result of its diversity and we will continue to strive for values that unite us,” she said.

But home languages spoken at school were not encouraged: “The language of learning and teaching at Girls High is English and in order to facilitate proficiency, we speak English at school,” said Daly.

“Mother tongue on school premises may be spoken when they are speaking to their parents.”

Buhle Mayatula, who matriculated in 2013, said it was “hurtful” that “as a black child you are forced to speak a language that is not yours, even when you are among your friends, out of fear that you will get punished”.

Read more on:    potchefstroom  |  hair  |  racism

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