Rustenburg girls alumni to meet headmistress after resignation of only black teacher

2018-11-09 23:02

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A group of alumni from Rustenburg Girls' Junior School have been invited by the headmistress to a meeting to discuss their concerns about transformation following the controversial departure of the school's first black full-time teacher. 

This comes after a letter was sent to the school where the group of alumni said they were "astounded" that it had taken the school until 2018 to appoint its first black teacher, Nozipho Mthembu, who controversially left in September.

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

They were also horrified that a child could ask if a black teacher is a "real teacher", as reported by the Mail & Guardian which covered Mthembu's departure.

Mthembu said she was forced to resign after a fraught period in which her abilities were questioned, as reported by the Mail & Guardian at the time.

"It is extraordinary that this was the first time for many being taught by a black teacher, outside of isiXhosa classes", the group said in the letter.

They told News24 the school headmistress, Di Berry, has written back and invited the alumni to visit the school at any time to discuss their concerns. 

Comment from Berry was not immediately available on Friday, but in the letter, Berry also offered to set up a formal meeting with people in the group. 

"I am happy to arrange a formal meeting with the group if you would prefer. Please let me know if you are open to this and I will set up a date," she wrote. 

One of the past pupils, Professor Nuraan Davids, told News24 the school governing body (SGB) turned down its request for its dissolution.

"It is clear from the statement that both the leadership and SGB have yet to realise the criticality of safe and inclusive schooling spaces, and they have yet to acknowledge that without trust, it will be hard to shift this school out of its current stalemate," said Davids.

The parents would in the meantime meet to plan clear strategies for the way forward.

"We are encouraged by the tremendous support we have received by a number of other schools, as well as civil society groups. We are also encouraged by the position adopted by the principal of Rustenburg Girls' High – where instead of denying and resisting change, he is prepared to listen and act.

"Finally, we once again appeal to the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to fulfil its mandate – which is that public schools in South Africa provide just and equitable spaces to all [pupils] and teachers."

READ: ANC Western Cape lambasts education dept over racism allegations against top school

However, the education department said earlier this week that parents were misrepresenting the situation regarding transformation, and said it had been dealing with it since it was raised November 2017.

WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said that because the year was nearing end, an undertaking was given that in 2018 there would be meetings to hear "all sides of the story" and seek a conciliatory approach. 

"At no stage issues of racism were raised. The concerns related to this group's perception that the school was making slow progress with transformation and embracing diversity," said Hammond.

Since then, the SGB elections were held in all schools in March and new governors were democratically elected for all schools in Western Cape, she said.

"At a meeting with all parties present, the concerned parents outlined the steps they had taken to try to speed up transformation at the school. 

"Similarly, the SGB had also indicated the various interventions that they had done in creating diversity awareness and their assurance of their commitment to transformation."

Hammond said at the last meeting in September 2018, an agreement was reached by all parties for co-operation and that the group of concerned parents would form part of the SGB's diversity subcommittee. 

The matter of the teacher's resignation was not under discussion.

The department is also going to recommend external mediation. 

Meanwhile, the department said it employed teachers in line with employment equity laws. 

Asked for a demographic of the teachers, she said the department was unable to comply because the SGB did not have a duty to inform the department who they appointed because they were an independent entity elected by the body of parents. 

It has however rolled out teaching of isiXhosa to an additional 260 schools, including 725 Grade 1 classes, reaching 26 350 pupils in the province.  

The WCED currently offers isiXhosa at more than 25% of its schools, but English and Afrikaans are the predominant languages in schools.  

It plans to strengthen the teaching of African languages through the Incremental Introduction of African Languages (IIAL) in all public schools from Grades 1 to 12.

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Read more on:    rustenburg girls junior school  |  cape town  |  racism  |  education
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