Racism row: Gauteng education dept meets with Pretoria High School for Girls after fresh protests

Protesting pupils at the Pretoria High School for Girls say nothing has changed since the education department intervened to address concerns over racism at the school in 2016.
Protesting pupils at the Pretoria High School for Girls say nothing has changed since the education department intervened to address concerns over racism at the school in 2016.
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  • The Gauteng education department is meeting with Pretoria High School for Girls to address grievances raised by pupils.
  • Some pupils say their grievances have not been addressed since the department intervened in 2016.
  • Pupils claim that racism at the school is rampant and that no one is being held accountable.

The Gauteng Department of Education says it is meeting the Pretoria High School for Girls to address grievances raised by pupils during protest action at the school on Thursday.

Earlier on Friday, department spokesperson Steve Mabona said the protest action was a distraction, stating pupils should be focusing on their studies.

Speaking to Talk Radio 702 host Bongani Bingwa on Friday, Mabona said it was "quite sad that you would have such a distraction" as schools had recently resumed learning for some grades amid the coronavirus lockdown.

Nevertheless, Mabona told News24 on Friday morning department officials were at the school to address the issues raised during Thursday's protests.

"We are at the school right now," Mabona said.

In 2016, the department found that black pupils at the school were victims of racism following protests about the school's hair policy, among other problems, News24 reported.

In August of that year, pupils protested against the school's code of conduct, saying it imposed unfair restrictions on how they could wear their hair. The girls said school rules prohibited African hairstyles such as afros, knots, dreadlocks and braids.

There were also cases where black children were called monkeys.

At the time, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, following an investigation and report into the grievances, apologised to those affected by the traumatic and humiliating experience of racial abuse.

'Nothing has changed'

The department intended working with the school to rebuild a culture of trust and mutual respect among teachers, parents and pupils, he said.

The report's recommendations included that action be taken against the teachers responsible and that the school's code of conduct be reviewed. The school should implement diversity training and cultural awareness programmes.

READ | Pupils at Pretoria High School for Girls were victims of racism - MEC

But, four years later, pupils are again up in arms, staging a protest against racism at the school on Thursday.

According to TimesLIVE, pupils at the school say nothing has changed.

Amukelani Mbokane, a matriculant who is taking part in the protest, told TimesLIVE their complaints stem from an incident last week.

"There were videos of racial slurs in the school posted last week. They were ultimately taken down but we are not satisfied with how the school is evasive and doesn't address us on it. The school is not committed to change," she reportedly said.

Protesting pupils were reportedly threatened that the police would be called to remove them.

The Citizen reported pupils demanded transformation in the school staff and management, a complete eradication of the hair policy and for pupils to be educated on marginalised communities. They also demand that racist teachers be held accountable.

Holding up placards saying "No Justice No Peace", the pupils reportedly listed their demands through the palisade fencing as the media were barred from entering the school premises.

'Victimisation continued'

Zulaikha Patel, a matric pupil, told 702 since 2016 racial victimisation continued, and teachers who were found guilty of racial offences were not held accountable. "They continued to torment and victimise pupils throughout the four years."

Another pupil, Chante Pietersen, told TimesLIVE the school "shielded people who were discriminatory".

"They call us the K, N and H words. Especially the teachers, they perpetuate racism a lot and nothing gets done about it. We were expecting to hear what the decision will be on disciplinary and nothing was said. If people have posted videos being racist, surely something must be done," Pietersen reportedly said.

When confronted by the allegations, Mabona told Bingwa the department had attended to the grievances.

"There was a team deployed to the school [in 2016] to... craft a code of conduct... to address the issues that were raised then."

Mabona said, given the department's interventions, he could not understand that the same issues were being raised now.

While he acknowledged some of the grievances were new, Mabona said the department had addressed all the other problems sufficiently.

'Timing is bad'

Asked what he meant by describing the current protests as a "distraction", Mabona said pupils need to be "focusing on what's happening in the classroom. They can't be protesting now. We can't be risking our lives... and not adhere to Covid-19 protocols. Learners must come back and be in the classroom."

Mabona said he was not being dismissive of pupils' concerns, but insisted the department had already assisted in resolving those problems, and that the parent body was satisfied with the outcome.

Mabona told TimesLIVE that about 200 pupils were in the classroom busy with their catch-up programme, while about 17 pupils protested about the issues raised in 2016.

"According to information at our disposal, those concerns were attended to," Mabona reportedly said. "We must also indicate that the timing is really bad. Our focal point should be recovery on our curriculum time lost. Learners must bear in mind that in no time they will be expected to write their trial examinations."

Pietersen, however, disagreed that the pupils' grievances had been addressed.

"I think that the system hasn't changed one bit, looking at the code of conduct, only the hair policy has changed but everything else has remained the same," she told 702.

Mabona told News24 department officials would be addressing the new issues and would provide feedback at a later stage.

 - Compiled by Riaan Grobler

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