‘I was humiliated’ - Outrage after principal shows education student the door for hairstyle

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William Sezoe. (Photo: Facebook)
William Sezoe. (Photo: Facebook)
  • William Sezoe was allegedly shown the door at Vredenburg Primary where he was to conduct his school observation.
  • The student claims he was told he didn’t set a good example because of his hairstyle – dark hair with blond tips.
  • The provincial education department says the incident has been handed over to Labour Relations.

What was supposed to be his first experience in the classroom as an aspiring teacher left William Sezoe in tears after suffering humiliation allegedly at the hands of the principal – because of his hair.

The second-year University of Stellenbosch student on Monday said he would only feel better once the principal of Vredenburg Primary, Andre Muller, had apologised to him after giving him his marching orders, claiming that his hairstyle did not make him a role model for his pupils.

READ | Anger over 'racist' hair rules for black pupils at Mpumalanga school

Sezoe, who sports dark hair with blonde tips, shared his experience on social media after he reported for his two-week compulsory classroom observation last Monday.

According to his account, school principal Andre Muller - who Sezoe did not name in the post - had asked him what he was doing there and when he stated his purpose, he was told: 

"Wat? Hier? Met daai hare, nog nooit nie meneer. Jy's nie welkom hier nie. Gaan, daar's die deur. Gaan maak daai hare reg dan praat ons weer. Jy stel nie n voorbeeld nie. Totsiens. [What? Here? With that hair, never, sir. You're not welcome here. Go, there's the door. Go fix that hair then we'll talk again. You do not set an example. Goodbye]".

He wrote that when the teacher he was to observe arrived and told him they could go to class, Muller screamed from the corridor: "[Juffrou], los daai man. Hy moet by daai deur uit. Ek't gesê hy's nie welkom hier nie. Gaan maar na jou klas toe en ek't mos klaar met jou gepraat, daar's die deur - gaan nou! [Teacher, leave that man. He must go out through that door. I said he isn’t welcome here. Go to your class. And I have already spoken to you; there’s the door – go now!]."

"I was in shock – I couldn’t really respond," Sezoe told News24.

"The first time my only response was ‘OK, sir’. The second time, I looked at him and walked out the door. I tried to keep my head up high and not cry, but I played it over and over in my mind. It knocked me mentally."

He had been excited about his first day in the classroom, he said, but the incident took that joy from him.

"I was humiliated. He yelled and screamed at me in front of learners and parents," he recalled.

"[When I got home] I went to the toilet and started crying. After a few minutes I looked in [the] mirror and told myself I won’t allow his words to break me down or discourage me of reaching my dream of teaching.

"I feel that your hair is part of who you are, how you present yourself, your identity. It knocked me. I didn’t expect that."

Die Burger had initially approached Muller for comment. He responded to the publication that his school was "not the Boswell Wilkie circus" and that Sezoe with his hair was "not a good role model" for his pupils.

Political parties react

The EFF in the Western Cape has called for Muller’s immediate suspension.

"His reference to the Boswell circus when referring to the black child is extremely racist and deplorable to say the least. [The] Boswell circus was an entertainment show that paraded animals for amusement and it is extremely dehumanizing that Muller reduces this African child to an animal amusement at a Boswell circus," the party said.

READ | Short back and sides, no afros please: SA schools still cling to traditional rules

"No black or coloured child should suffer such humiliation in the manner that Muller has humiliated him and as such [the] EFF Western Cape calls for the immediate suspension of Muller for denying the student access on the basis of his hair and for the racist remarks he made.

"This racism is a cancer that must be exposed, confronted and uprooted in our society. If this is the culture of the Vredenburg Primary school to discriminate against students on the basis of their hair, then as the EFF WC we call for a full investigation into the climate and culture of the school."

It was, "... extremely shocking that an entire [sic] principal of a school would psychologically and emotionally bully a young student", the EFF charged.

GOOD’s Sammy Claassen said the allegation, "... smacks of racial discrimination, abuse of power and a complete violation of government policies and regulations".

"The alleged actions of Mr Muller has just opened up old wounds and pains that people of colour have had to endured during the dark days of Apartheid, where coloured and African people's hair and noses were subjected to this kind of humiliation, discrimination, racist practices and insults," he said.

"We believe that the actions of the school principal violated the dignity and human rights of Mr William Sezoe. It therefore cannot be tolerated or ignored by the department and the public. We believe that Mr Muller should have treated Mr Sezoe with dignity and respect but instead opted to insult, humiliate and discriminate against this young man. He acted extremely harshly, unprofessionally and his actions brought the Western Cape Education into disrepute."

He called on the department to, "... act swiftly, fairly and speedily against Mr Andre Muller".

Stellenbosch University spokesperson Martin Viljoen on Monday said the institution and specially the Faculty of Education, "... places a high premium on ensuring a positive relationship between schools and the student teachers during their school placements.

"The faculty was thus troubled to hear about the incident that a second-year student… indicated [his] experience as traumatic. The faculty has expressed its concerns about this matter to the principal and appealed for an urgent need to resolve the problem in a forward-looking manner," he said.

"A further meeting with the school will be held in the coming week."

Viljoen said Sezoe was offered counselling, but indicated he didn’t require this at the moment.

Western Cape Education Department spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said following enquiries and based on the information received, intervention from Labour Relations has been requested.

“Labour Relations requested certain documents this past week from the district and school which has been handed over. Therefore, I can confirm that the case has been handed over to Labour Relations at Head Office and is getting the necessary serious treatment,” she said.

News24 contacted the school, but Muller was said to not immediately be available.

Sezoe is currently teaching at a school in Saldanha. And the principal likes his hairstyle, he added.

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