RACISM IN SCHOOLS
Diversity intervention suspended at Fish Hoek High after parents complain about traumatised learners
An intervention to try to defuse racial division at a Cape Town school was suspended after parents complained that it fuelled racial tension and seemingly left students traumatised. Several political parties including the FF Plus and DA have weighed in and criticised the intervention.
A racial storm has erupted at Fish Hoek High School over an intervention intended to defuse racial division at the school.
The intervention followed an earlier incident in May, when an educator allegedly used racist terms during a lesson at Fish Hoek High School. At the time, the students said they were offended and hurt by the statement, and reported it to the school management. The teacher apologised, but the students said they felt the apology was not sincere and they subsequently started a protest under the title “Enough is Enough”. Students spoke out online about being on the receiving end of racism, homophobia and Islamophobia at the school. Daily Maverick has reliably learnt that the teacher involved was serving notice and left before a disciplinary hearing could take place.
Following that incident, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) organised a diversity training programme for staff and learners at the school. The department roped in diversity expert and social justice educator Asanda Ngoasheng to facilitate the interaction to reduce prejudice and racism at the school.
On Monday, 31 October, addressing the assembly of learners from grades 8 to 11, with facilitators and a psycho-social team from the WCED present, Ngoasheng said that “reverse racism and farm genocide in the country do not exist”. Ngoasheng also said that “black people cannot be racist”.
The assembly was meant to be followed with four-hour sessions with the various grades to unpack the learnings from the assembly that same week. But that was stopped because of parents’ concerns after students shared recordings of parts of the talk with them.
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Daily Maverick received partial transcripts of these recordings, which records Ngoasheng as saying:
“…do not fully actually understand what racism looks like in apartheid. Most of you read it in a book or were taught it in history. And so, when we talk about racism, your understanding of racism is this much, compared to the realities of what racism was and continues to be.
“So, I must say, in a country like South Africa, if we were truly to live in a space where there was reverse racism… that would be that there would be no white people in this room here. Every single one of the white people in this room would be in a completely different school, in a township school somewhere.
“If we truly had reverse racism, white people in this country would not be allowed to open a bank account.
“If we really had reverse racism, everyone in this school would be speaking an African language and not be allowed to speak their own language.
“If we had reverse racism, everyone who lives in a suburb would be black, or a person of colour. Where are those people that were sitting here?”
Ngoasheng also read a poem by Koleka Putuma, titled Water. Putuma, in an interview with Pen South Africa, said she wrote the poem “as a response to conversations I was having with friends about student movements, the meaning of water for black people and what it means to be black in South Africa as a general life thing”. It also explores patriarchy in Christianity, black people being made fun of because “they cannot swim” and racism. It was written around the time of #RhodesMustFall and #LUISTER.
During the assembly, the poem was used as a way to engage students on the topics they had raised in protests and online messages.
Now, white parents at the school have started a WhatsApp group with more than 150 multi-racial participants, including Speaker of the City of Cape Town council Felicity Purchase, to raise their concerns about the intervention.
In the group, some parents said they were not consulted or asked to consent to the training.
Purchase commented in the group that the diversity training should have been canned “since the teacher was found innocent”.
Some parents called for calm until the school could explain what had happened, while others said pressure must be put on the principal to take action.
Explaining her presence in the group, Purchase said: “I attended the school in my youth and sit on the Bursary Trust, so I try to assist the school as much as possible.”
Saddened but not surprised
Ngoasheng said they were saddened but not surprised at the emotional response to the diversity session because discussions of race and racism in the country are still tinged with the memories of a painful past.
“We do this work precisely because we want to develop a culture of dialogue and debate on these issues without sowing further division and discord,” she said.
“The racial, gender, class and diversity issues within the Fish Hoek High School educational community have been in full protest and riot long before our intervention. This can be witnessed in the historic protests, and online messages of violence, racism and sexual harassment of minors.”
Ngoasheng added that over the allocated time and program experience in other schools, their intervention has been proven to work, leaving the community in better relations, compared to prior to this engagement.
“Being made aware of past and present injustices is often painful and can feel like trauma, but always needs to be seen in the context of the pain and hurt inflicted daily that is so normalised and invisibilised. The work aims at building resilience in all, to be able to have more equitable conversations,” said Ngoasheng.
Politics weighs in
Commenting on the incident, Dr Wynand Boshoff, FF Plus MP and chief spokesperson on basic education, said the event was reminiscent of what happened in Schweizer-Reneke in 2019.
“The DA government follows the same failed, racially motivated ideology as the ANC, which creates racial polarisation and jeopardises a better future with equal opportunities for all.”
Boshoff said that 800 learners were compelled to attend the session and had to listen for a full two-and-a-half hours to, among other things, how white people were the only ones who could be racists, while Christianity was also fiercely attacked.
He said the FF Plus will lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) against the Western Cape Department of Education.
DA national spokesperson and MP Cilliers Brink said what happened was racialised bullying, allegedly directed at learners.
“The demonising of people, particularly of children, on the basis of race has absolutely no place in our constitutional democracy. It is also completely unacceptable that teachers were barred from the compulsory ‘diversity course’ where learners were allegedly abused, and that learners were prohibited from leaving the room or raising objections.
“Genuine and constructive conversations about diversity will never succeed if they are conducted in an environment of bullying.”
He said they will urgently engage the political leadership of the province with an eye towards holding individuals responsible accountable and “abolishing courses used to bully and racially indoctrinate learners”.
ANC member of Western Cape provincial parliament Muhammad Khalid Sayed differed with both the FF Plus and DA. He said that racism is alive at many former model C schools and that the move by the WCED was necessary and correct.
“In fact, we called for it in the legislature, following the Fish Hoek issue. The ANC wants such sessions to be taken to all white-dominated and whites-only schools, to assist the learners to unlearn racism.
“The reaction from some parents, teachers and the FF Plus only confirms that racism is a learned culture and that many parents in such communities are still nurturing their kids to be racists. Such is also confirmed by the several incidents of white students urinating in rooms of black students at Stellenbosch University.”
WCED Minister of Education David Maynier said the intervention at Fish Hoek High School had been suspended. “Many parents have voiced concerns over the content of the intervention, and the manner in which it was communicated and managed.
“I understand their concerns, frustrations and anger, and can assure them that we are taking this matter very seriously. What happened…. should never have happened, and I apologise for the hurt that it has caused our learners.”
The incident at Fish Hoek High School is among several instances of racism and discrimination that have been reported at schools and higher education institutions across the country in recent weeks.
In May, News24 reported that the annual derby day between Michaelhouse in KwaZulu-Natal and St John’s College in Johannesburg – two of South Africa’s most expensive private boys schools – had been cancelled after an alleged racist slur was uttered during a hockey match.
Matric learners at Good Hope Seminary High School in Gardens, Cape Town, protested over racism allegations earlier this year, and Hillcrest High School in KwaZulu-Natal was also lambasted after racial slur incidents surfaced in the media in August.
Read in Daily Maverick: Racism allegations surface at private schools
Stellenbosch University has been plagued by racist incidents this year, with three racist urination incidents occurring at the institution since the beginning of the year – the most recent happening in October.
Daily Maverick reached out to Fish Hoek High School school governing body for comment and were told to direct queries to the WCED. When the school principal was approached for comment, his secretary responded that the school had been “instructed that the WCED will deal with all media houses”. DM
This article was updated post-publication to remove a facebook post that was used without the permission of the poster.