South Africa

Open Letter to Pietermaritzburg schools: Investigate claims of racism

By Siseko H. Kumalo 11 June 2017

Allegedly, in recent events, two senior students at Maritzburg College and Pietermaritzburg Girls High School, respectively, used the “K” word to refer to their peers. I urge every Head of Philosophy in South Africa to petition the MEC of Education in KwaZulu-Natal to investigate these allegations. By SISEKO H KUMALO.

Dear Philosophers,

I write to you all out of a place of concern, a concern arising from recent events at two schools in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. As an alumnus of one of these schools, I am aware of how institutional culture functions veiled under the guise of tradition, school values and ethos. Institutional culture [which] serves to suffocate, silence and repeatedly muffle the lived realities of Blackness in Historically White Institutions.

Having attended what is termed one of the best schools in the country, I am ashamed of this institutional culture, which militates against Blackness and negates its existence – in spaces previously reserved for whiteness. These school – fundamentally the bastions of coloniality – arguably create of Blackness, the Native of Nowhere.

I recall, at times, how I loathed going to school because a white teacher tormented me daily, to the extent that I contemplated taking his life. At the age of 16, instead of concerning myself with the next test, or outstanding homework, I constantly worried about what I might be called out of assembly for, what might be used against me as a petty offence to berate me in the view of my peers and reduce me to a sense of trepidation, worthlessness and self-hate. Daily, I stood at 4th Form (Grade 10) assembly in fear, heart racing and palms sweating, because I knew something was coming, some act, some misdeed would be used against me, all in the name of institutional culture. A practice which continued all the way through to my 5th Form (Grade 11) days, even as I had nothing to do with the said teacher – I was neither his student, nor was he my HoD.

In hindsight, and as a member who serves on the Working Group for Transformation within the PSSA, I am of the view that pupils should never have to go through what I, and many others, endured, all in the name of a good education.

Allegedly, in recent events, two senior students at Maritzburg College and Pietermaritzburg Girls High School respectively used the “K” word to refer to their peers: I urge every Head of Philosophy in South Africa to petition the MEC of Education in KZN to investigate these allegations.

I further call for all philosophers committed to ending the scourge of race/racism and racial discrimination to support an investigation by the South African Human Rights Commission into the allegations against both schools.

As a student of philosophy, who considers justice to be a principal tenet which governs the ethics of pedagogical praxis, I cannot be silent while so many young black bodies endure a system of institutionalised oppression and ontological negation. As a community of philosophers committed to ending racism(s) and racial discrimination within our discipline, I urge you all to showcase this commitment through condemning, unequivocally, racism and racial discrimination in our schools. DM

Siseko H Kumalo is a Bachelor of Social Science (Rhodes University) and Mandela Rhodes Scholar (2017)

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