SA schools react as pupils detail experiences of racism

  • Pupils from schools across the country have called out their schools on social media for experiences of racism.
  • Some schools have since responded.
  • The accusations follow global Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd was murdered in the US. 

Dozens of schools across South Africa have recently faced allegations of racist incidents from former and current pupils amid global Black Lives Matter protests.

Allegations of racism - spanning a number of years - have been posted on social media platforms over the past few days, including an Instagram account dedicated to giving accusers a voice.

Students from former Model C schools in Gauteng, the Western and Eastern Cape as well as KwaZulu-Natal and others have posted their experiences of alleged racism at their schools by teachers and fellow students alike.

These allegations include racist name-calling as well as inappropriate and tone-deaf behaviour.

Some students allege teachers in private schools would ask black pupils why they did not attend "township schools", threaten to lock them up and ostracise those who did not "conform to white behaviour", in some of the alleged incidents.

Some schools involved in these allegations include Trinityhouse Randpark Ridge in Gauteng, Wynberg Girls' High, Bishops Diocesan College, Herschel Girls' School all in the Western Cape and Clarendon High School for Girls in the Eastern Cape.

Pupils at Bishops Diocesan College staged a protest in this regard, compiling a list of demands for the school and calling on it to condemn racism, News24 reported.

It called on the school's hair policy to be done away with, for the expansion of isiXhosa and the syllabus to be decolonised.

Other schools have also since responded to the allegations.

In responding to the accusations, Wynberg Girls' School said there had been heightened awareness of issues around race in light of protests in the US following the death of George Floyd.

"We are deeply saddened, and sorry, to hear stories of pain and heartache, especially amongst members of our own community."

The school added it encouraged debate around this, saying: "In this period of heightened emotion, we must remember that publicly 'naming and shaming' teachers or learners on social media platforms does not support our ethos."

It called on pupils to contact the school directly to take matters forward.

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Anonymous - H*rsch*l G*rls Sch**l

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In KwaZulu-Natal, former pupils of Durban Girls' College also took to social media, IOL reported.

One past pupil relayed an experience where a teacher threatened to take a pupil to the barber and have her dreadlocks shaved off as the teacher found them offensive, the report said.

The executive head of the school, Marianne Bailey, said she understood emotions were running high, and it would be engaging in Conversation Circles to provide a platform for current pupils to raise these issues, the report added.

Trinityhouse Randpark Ridge headmaster Farone Eckstein apologised for the way the issues of race had been handled, and acknowledged some of the experiences go back years.

Eckstein said the school would share in the next two weeks how it would take the matter forward as the school management team 

Herschel Girls High said it was saddened "this is the way the students of 2019 and before have felt at the school".

"We know that you have shown courage in expressing your pain, anger and hurt… We have a clear and unequivocal strategy to work toward a school where a sense of belonging is real," it added.

The school governing body for Clarendon High School for Girls in the Eastern Cape said it accepted difficult truths must be heard, adding it would institute a committee to create a platform to raise issues of racism.

In a letter posted on Facebook, Rondebosch Boys' High School headmaster Shaun Simpson said it was time for a dialogue to change "a culture that has led to a number of its students of colour feeling alienated and angry".

He added he wanted all boys, who attend Rondebosch, "to remember their time at the school with affection and pride" and it saddened him to see that this was not the case.

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