Past, present pupils pen open letter calling on Cornwall Hill College to act against racism

  • Cornwall Hill College in Pretoria is one of many schools in the country that has received racism backlash. 
  • Present and past pupils are calling on the school to implement a discrimination policy, among other things.
  • The school maintains, however, that it is committed to being caring, egalitarian, non-racial and inclusive.

Past and present pupils of a Pretoria private school have penned a three-page open letter to the institution in which they have asked it to publicly acknowledge its history of racial prejudice and discrimination - and change its policies.

Matriculants who attended Cornwall Hill College between 2004 and 2020 apparently contributed to the letter, which News24 has seen.

In it, the writers also called on the school to implement detailed disciplinary action for racism, religious prejudice, queerphobia and other forms of discrimination.

MUST READ | Racism furore engulfs KZN's top private schools

"We are writing this letter as, and on behalf of, the black pupils that have been racially victimised, disregarded and shamed by the school and its staff members," the letter read. 

It stated that the death of US citizen George Floyd, which led to Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year, caused them to question the alleged mismanagement of a derogatory post which a pupil at the college shared on social media.

"The alumni and current students of Cornwall Hill College were gaslighted when Cornwall Hill College publicly stated they had a 'zero-tolerance policy on racism' in response to an alleged racist Instagram post.


"The post in question, having been a video of a white student using a racial slur (the n word), must be viewed in consideration of the 2018 video of a Cornwall student saying the same racial slur and numerous testimonies of students stating that there are non-black staff members using this derogatory word casually.

"The brief anecdotes described by pupils, coupled with a lack of disciplinary action in those instances give a minor indication of the racial insensitivity that Cornwall Hill inflicts on a recurring basis," the letter continued.

READ | Danville Park Girls' High: KZN education department to probe racism allegations

They also alleged that black pupils have for years, raised concerns about racial discrimination which were somewhat swept under the carpet.

"The internalised, interpersonal, institutional and structural racism at Cornwall Hill College has been conserved and curated as there are matriculants ranging from, but not limited to, 2004 to 2020 coming forward about having experienced racism at the college. Their testimonies chronicle degradation through hair politics, false accusations of theft, insinuations of gangsterism, racial slurs and countless microaggressions."


Speaking to News24 after forwarding the letter, one of the alumni from the boarding school, Kwazi Masombuka*, who attended from Grade 4 to 12, said he had experienced a lot of incidents of discrimination while at the school.  

From being allegedly wrongly accused of theft to being made to feel undeserving of an awarded white blazer, Masombuka said the events were too many to think of. He said his classmates also used certain derogatory terms to refer to him and added that no action was ever taken. 

"I was one of two black prefects out of a group of 36 prefects and I was called a house nigger, a slave regime and on prefect camps, I was separated from the rest of the group - not by the teachers, by the fact that everybody else is white and the two black prefects have to go to a separate house from the rest of the prefects on the camp.

"I was also awarded the Renaissance blazer which is the highest award at the school and I was often told by the executive head to keep my blazer clean. At the end of the year, some of the people I matriculated with told me that my blazer should be black because I have aspirations to be a white person," Masombuka said.

He maintained that the college had never taken serious action towards bullies who were racist and believes that the institution still doesn't, judging from current pupils' grievances.

He added that he and other alumni and current pupils were therefore calling for the school to be held publicly accountable for their action and that a discrimination policy, which includes race and minorities when it comes to religion, should be implemented.

READ | 'Leaders must act on racism to show that black lives matter'

Masombuka added that when pupils spoke out, they were threatened with investigations, which also seemed to be something the school was still doing. He added that black pupils at the school did not have a voice and were venting their frustrations on social media instead. 

"When it comes back to the school, they are often faced with disciplinary action when white students don't face the same action."

Pupils wrote that the suppression and disenfranchisement of the voices of Cornwall's black students was prevalent in the school's intentional protection in the policy guidelines, as there was no specified course of action toward aggressors of racism.

They also called for a transformation portfolio for prefect inductions that would be headed by external authorities.

cornwall hill college
Screenshot of open letter by present and past pupils at Cornwall Hill College in Pretoria.

School takes allegations of discrimination seriously

News24 forwarded the letter to Cornwall Hill College along with a list of questions.

In a response, executive principal Leon Kunneke said they had decided to reply by means of a statement, instead of answering each question. 

Kunneke said the school was "one of many" that had been "'called out'" by past and present pupils for alleged incidents of racism and prejudice.

However, he said the institution has and continues to aspire to be a caring, egalitarian, non-racial and inclusive education facility. 

The principal added that the school had first become aware of the letter when News24 sent it.  

READ | News24 journalists reflect on Black Lives Matter

"While there are no specific allegations for us to investigate in this 'open letter', it is regrettable that some would seek to undermine our journey to embodying our values and aspirations in this defamatory manner.  

"Cornwall Hill College takes all allegations of discrimination seriously and is fully committed to addressing these, eradicating all forms of discrimination, including but not limited to, racial prejudice.

"We do not regard 'open letters' and allegations of discrimination via social media as an appropriate means to report and address discrimination," the principal said in the reply.

The school has called anyone, whether a former or present pupil, to contact it directly should they wish to constructively contribute to its educational responsibility.  

"Our college leadership and board of directors continue to prioritise the education, well-being and safety of every pupil."

*Not their real name

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