Rustenburg girls alumni in open letter: 'We were forced to become more white'

2018-11-06 21:12

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A group of former Rustenburg Girls' school pupils have written an scathing open letter to the governing body over the treatment of Nozipho Mthembu – the school's first black full-time teacher who resigned after feeling undermined and unsupported.

The 60 signatories, some of whom attended both the Rustenburg Girls' junior and high schools, maintain that the school was "not a shining light of inclusiveness", that "being a black student meant being 'other'". They also lamented the "slow pace of transformation" at the school since the dawn of democracy.

"The black women signed to this letter learnt early on that becoming more 'white' in Rustenburg – by adapting how we spoke, what we shared of our home lives, what our parents could afford and how we presented ourselves – was an important tool in fitting in, getting ahead, and in securing recognition for our abilities," the letter read.

Read the full open letter below:


For the attention of the Rustenburg Girls' Junior School governing body

We are former pupils of Rustenburg – many of us attended both the junior and high school.

Rustenburg Girls' Junior School played an integral role in shaping who we are, first as girls of different "races" from diverse religious, cultural and economic backgrounds starting school at the same time that our country transitioned into democracy, and then later on, as black girls increasingly started to take senior positions within the school. We left feeling we were part of a community of which we were proud.  

However, Rustenburg was not a shining light of inclusiveness. The dominant culture and ethos of the school turned on white Eurocentric values, with little done to acknowledge the diversity within our student body. The black women signed to this letter learnt early on that becoming more "white" in Rustenburg – by adapting how we spoke, what we shared of our home lives, what our parents could afford and how we presented ourselves – was an important tool in fitting in, getting ahead, and in securing recognition for our abilities. At a fundamental level, being a black student meant being "other".

We are astounded by the fact that it took the governing body of Rustenburg Girls' Junior School (RGJS) 24 years since the end of apartheid to appoint its first black African teacher. We are deeply concerned that an environment at Rustenburg Junior School exists where a child can openly pose the question: "Are black teachers real teachers?" It is extraordinary that this was the first time for many being taught by a black teacher, outside of isiXhosa classes.

The slow pace of transformation is too often lamented without acknowledging the invisible barriers to progression and unconscious bias that black people disproportionately face when compared with white counterparts. Without concerted action to create an inclusive, equal culture, in which people from all backgrounds feel supported to perform at their best, real transformation will remain elusive.

While we acknowledge the apology provided by the SGB, this does not go far enough. We urge RGJS and RGHS to publicly answer for the limited transformation achieved to date, to critically assess its working practices and culture, and to put in place measures to fix what is broken.

Independently of Ms Nozipho Mthembu's merits as a teacher, there are disturbing racial undertones to this incident. We applaud the work of the Parents for Change group, and those within the Rustenburg community who challenged the covert and overt racism that remains entrenched in so much of South African society. We applaud those who have stood up for Ms Mthembu despite alleged attempts to undermine her position of authority as a teacher.

Most importantly, we stand by Ms Mthembu, and hope that no future students, teachers or members of the wider Rustenburg community will have to face a similar ordeal.

Sincerely,

A concerned group of Rustenburg Old Girls


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