The resilient Pretoria girls have made reform possible at my school

Pretoria High School for Girls. Picture: Shandukani Mulaudzi/City Press
Pretoria High School for Girls. Picture: Shandukani Mulaudzi/City Press

» Watchdog Media Monitoring Africa approached pupils in a former Model C school in Johannesburg grappling with issues of racism. The anonymity of the children involved has been maintained to avoid any negative reprisals. The Children’s News Agency is an initiative by the agency that aims to enhance the participation and voices of children in South African media. The project gives children the skills to contribute to national discourse through journalism. 

The recent protest by pupils at Pretoria High School for Girls against their school exposed experiences of racism and policing by the school’s code of conduct and was a catalyst to me and a number of my fellow pupils to openly express our dissatisfaction with our own school. 

When your school’s code of conduct infringes on your constitutional right to express yourself freely, there is definitely a crisis at hand. For instance, I and fellow pupils at my school, recently brought to light the lack consideration of race relations at former Model C schools in Johannesburg. 

We explored issues of how schools are generally much stricter on black students compared with their white counterparts regarding their hairstyles and how some teachers tended to dismiss the black pupils’ cultural practices. To my surprise, we were essentially bullied, spoken down to and asked if this was “an act of defiance”. I was in tears and my head was pounding. We were told to apologise for our “accusations”. 

The manner in which staff reacted confirmed to me that there are definitely subtle forms of racism at my school and that they are more concerned with upholding the school’s reputation at the expense of its non-white pupils. A more recent incident at my school was the speedy amendment of their code of conduct shortly after the situation at the Pretoria Girls High School was covered in the media. 

In my opinion, this was not a moral victory for black pupils at my school. These rules were not changed because the school realised that its rules single out black pupils but because the school was afraid that the protest at Pretoria Girls might incite protest action within our own school. 

I also do not appreciate the fact that rules are being made about us without our input. All that is required by us is to sign the code of conduct. 

I truly believe that a school’s code of conduct should not be written by a white principal in his or her office and authorised by her staff. 

I anticipate reform at my school because it has been made possible by the resilient Pretoria girls. 

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