WATCH | Cornwall Hill College: Racism is not about a black child rising, but white parents also standing up - parent

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  • There are mixed reactions from parents and pupils from Cornwall Hill College in Irene, Pretoria, after the school was handed a memorandum of demands alleging racism and discrimination.
  • A demonstration by pupils and parents was held at the school on Monday morning. 
  • The school committed to transformation and being inclusive of all races and cultures. 

Racism and discrimination at schools is not only about black people standing up for themselves, but also about their white counterparts standing up against racism and discrimination, a Cornwall Hill College parent says. 

Sarah Mthintso, is a member of the college's transformation and diversity committee and joined scores of pupils along with other parents at the prestigious school to demonstrate against alleged racism at the private school. 

Parents and pupils braved the cold weather early on Monday morning to hand over a memorandum of demands to the school. Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi was also in attendance. 

The memorandum handed to the school by parents called on, among other things, the college to take concrete steps to change its culture and make it inclusive and supportive of different races and cultures.

Parents called on the school to expedite its processes of transformation and ensure all races and cultures were fairly recognised. 

Parents and pupils held a peaceful protest at Cornwall Hill College in Irene.
Parents and pupils held a peaceful protest at Cornwall Hill College in Irene.
Parents and pupils held a peaceful protest at Corn
Parents and pupils held a peaceful protest at Cornwall Hill College in Irene.

Past and present pupils have alleged there is racism, microaggression, and discrimination at the school. 

They have also shared concerns of teachers mispronouncing their names and being called out for their hairstyles.

Other allegations were over a lack of diversity with very few staff members being people of colour. 

Saddened

Although the event warmed the hearts of pupils and parents, giving them hope that change would be implemented, Mthintso said she was concerned that few white parents attended the demonstration.

"I am partly happy that we had the event here but I am also saddened because it looks like it is a black child event. There aren't white parents.

"And this thing of racism is not about black children rising [up], it is about white parents also standing up and saying; 'in the school where we send our children and preparing them for the future, they need to feel that both black and white is [sic] no different.'

"So it's a mixed feeling for me partly because I am glad that we amplified our voices, but sad that white people still think this is not a problem. They are not agitated enough," Mthintso said.

White pupils also formed part of the peaceful protest at the school, with some holding placards written: "I am not defined by my skin".

READ |  Gauteng teacher suspended for allegedly using 'k-word'

The fine line

Speaking after the memorandum was handed over and signed by the Junior School Head, Morris Dicks on behalf of the executive principal, Leon Kunneke, pupils said the demonstration was long overdue.

Grade 12 pupil Leungo Kgosi said:  

I am actually quite disappointed in the school that they have had to come to this level for our cries to be heard.

Kgosi said he was concerned about the lack of representation in terms of black staff members at the school. He said this made it difficult for them to have people to express themselves to regarding their concerns.

Another Grade 12 pupil, Retang Matsena, said she was also happy and excited that the demonstration had happened, adding that it had never been held at the premises before.

Matsena said: 

I think teachers and everyone in general [need] to understand the fine line between comments and microaggressions that are discriminatory. Because I think that is where it starts - not being able to understand the fine-line between that.

Parents have also called on the school to set out and implement transparent, inclusive, and participative processes for transformation that would allow meaningful participation by all school community members, including pupils. 

The parents added that the slow pace of change at the school was frustrating.

In 2020, current and present pupils wrote testimonials of their experiences in the form of an addendum and forwarded it to the private school.

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

Mthintso said parents felt the need to rise up against the issues raised and speak up against the school for not tolerating its diverse pupils. The demonstration on Monday was not the first, she added.

Last week parents held a picket at the school's fundraiser golf day event.

Mthintso said the vision behind Monday's demonstration allowed pupils to be involved in the action. 

Obsession

She also said some teachers, who had appeared multiple times in several complaints raised with the school, had had no action taken against them. 

"So, I can safely say yes, there are people who are quite consistent in terms of being mentioned, but at the same time, I don't want to say those are the only ones. 

"I think for as long as the school does not do anything about those micro-aggressors, we are going to see a number of them emerging from this situation," Mthintso added. 

Addressing the meeting after parents handed a memorandum, Lesufi said he emphasised to management to stop its "obsession" over pupils' hair. 

"I can commit on behalf of this school that no one will be mistreated from now on. I can commit on behalf of this school that we will have teachers that will represent all of us at this school," Lesufi said.  

He assured and promised parents and pupils that the college would review its policies and make them inclusive of everyone.

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