Is SA okay with the k-word?

A top private school in Mpumalanga says it will keep teaching a Herman Charles Bosman story that uses theword “k****r” 21 times.

Last year the story, Unto Dust, sparked a furious row between a 16-year-old Grade 9 pupil and his teachers at Uplands College in White River – which ultimately, he and his mother claim, led to his expulsion.

The SA Human Rights Commission is investigating. Its spokesperson, Isaac Mangena, told City Press the teaching of “such material” in either public or private schools “should be condemned and discouraged, especially considering the offensive history our country comes from”.

But Uplands College’s executive head, Austin Clarke, said Unto Dust was “an exceptional piece of writing by an exceptional South African writer” and would be part of the Grade 10 syllabus this year.

The 16-year-old, Sipho*, said he had complained about the story and its repeated use of thewordk****r in class. At the time last year, he was in trouble for allegedly being disruptive in class, not submitting his homework and not cooperating with teachers. His mother, who asked not to be identified, said her son suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and that Uplands simply couldn’t deal with his condition.

The teenager, who has enrolled at a different school this year, said: “The story has a lot of k-words. When the teacher was reading it, she would emphasise theword, and all the white kids would look at us [the black children] and laugh.

“I told her the story was inappropriate,” he said. “I think I was targeted for the fact that I was the only child who raised it.”

Clarke said he didn’t remember the matter being brought to his attention. Uplands has a new head of its English department. Clarke preferred not to comment on Sipho’s disciplinary issues.

“The story does use theword ‘k****r’ repeatedly – in the context of how the characters in the story would have realistically spoken at that time,”

Clarke said.

“Before reading the story, we discussed theword and why it was in the story and our class discussion revealed, in no uncertain terms, that they were well aware that misuse of this word would not be tolerated.”

He said Bosman used irony “fantastically” to deride racists.

“The English department expressly chooses literature that encourages pupils to confront difficult issues in the classroom. These include racism, sexism, freedom of speech, sexuality, religious fundamentalism, exploitation of the vulnerable and so on. These issues are pertinent to our society and are intentionally raised in literature selected by Uplands.”

Uplands College is registered withthe Independent Examination Board, whose chief executive, Anne Oberholzer, told City Press its schools were encouraged to “confront difficult issues in the teaching programme”.

“These issues are pertinent to our society and are often raised in literature selected for study in schools. What is key is the teacher and how the literature is managed in the learning context,” Oberholzer said.

Sipho said that after discussions with a psychologist and his mother, he’d decided to in future rather raise issues that upset him at home.

*Not his real name

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