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Diversity intervention suspended at Fish Hoek High after parents complain about traumatised learners

Diversity intervention suspended at Fish Hoek High after parents complain about traumatised learners
Fish Hoek High School.Photo:Supplied

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. 

Addressing assembly

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.

Read in Daily Maverick: The kids are not okay – their innocence is being stolen by the continuation of racism

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.”

Intervention suspended

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.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kb1066 . says:

    This so called activist and expert is confusing Apartheid with racism, all his examples where of apartheid. Racism his when when is treated differently based on the colour of their skin and it happens all over the world

  • Jeremy Stephenson says:

    It is the policy of the ANC to keep racism alive at all costs. In this context it makes perfect sense to brainwash children into feeling resentful, on the one hand, and guilty, on the other in relation to events that happened decades before they were born.

    But you can understand this behaviour from the ANC, whose position of power is entirely without merit: colour is the only thing it has.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    I wonder what the response might have been had the same workshop been conducted by a white facilitator. Sadly each one of her comments has a ring of truth. Decades ago I was privileged to attend a workshop on this same theme, run by Margaret Legum. Having entered believing that racism is a two way thing, I left with a deep understanding that black racism is indeed impossible. As a white old woman, I can only apologise for what was done in the name of my whiteness. I would urge the Fish Hoek parents to read each one of those statement and acknowledge the truth in them. I am not able to comment on the facilitators style, but the content is real and valid.

    • Hello There says:

      Explain, please, what is ‘black racism’?
      Is there ‘black prejudice’ and ‘white prejudice’ or only ‘prejudice’?
      Can (Kan)Ye be antisemitic?

      • Matsobane Monama says:

        If i understand you clearly Kanye West has BIPOLAR MOOD DISORDER( it’s a Serious permanent mental disease, sometimes not responding to treatment). Look it up with an OPEN mind.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    If schools can’t handle diversity, we’ll not win against innate racist behaviour. School ought to be the place where an appreciation of diversity is taught. This ought to be happening in life orientation, but many of educators have not been trained to handle debate, dissension and disagreement creatively. The DOE should have started engaging nationally in 1994 but hasn’t because of the monochrome way in which ANC, specifically, but also the DA and EFF, view human political and social interaction. This limits the opportunity for the holistic formation of young people in a diverse society in the 21st century. Our

  • Tim Watkins says:

    Please correct your article where it is implied that the whatssap group has only white parents as members. This is patently false. You also fail to mention that the teacher involved in the original ‘racist’ incident was actually found not guilty by an external legal review of her conduct. I would expect a more balanced approach to this topic from DM.

  • Johan Buys says:

    rubbish like this achieves exactly the opposite of what was intended. Or maybe not : this was intended to harm and inflame?

  • Nic SA says:

    Much of what she says is true. There was research just last year showing that white students are still massively over-represented at former white only schools.

    If SA had been serious about righting the wrongs of apartheid it would integrate all schools fully, assign teachers to schools, ban public schools from raising funds for parents for unnecessary facilities etc. but SA does not because the white population is terrified of this and exerted its overwhelming pressure on the govt to allow whites to maintain their segregated lifestyle – where other races can only join their neighbourhoods and schools once they are rich enough to do so. Thus in 2022 SA most whites still attend white majority schools and live in white majority suburbs.

    • Karsten Döpke says:

      I dont think the problem is terrified white parents wanting the best for their white children. I think it has much more to do with a collapsing economy and a dysfunctional education department, and the people who keep voting to keep it that way, to the detriment of all our children’s futures.

  • Thomas Cleghorn says:

    I have heard the incident arose from a book reading where the term Hottentots was used instead of the original racist term (even literature is being sanitised). Someone in the class asked asked about it and the teacher explained it was like using the “N’ word, whereapon a child said, “Whats the N word?” & thus it was explained. Suddenly it became a massive issue and the (very expensive) diversity training was brought in. I believe (but could be wrong) its about 800k and involves lots of facilitators? standing doing nothing while 1 person goes on… Maybe look at the Diversity training company, their costs and track record. They seem to be riding a great cash cow?

    • Steven Burnett says:

      Sounds like Adam Habib saying the actual n-word, in the context of the word itself having implications. He got suspended for his efforts, and it cost the SOAS University of London to launch a probe costing GBP100k to work out it is possible to say the word without having racial intent.

  • Clare Yeowell says:

    How this can be called diversity training is beyond belief – it was divisive, insulting not only to white students but to those of colour as well. Interesting that there was no mention of the fact that the quality of education has not improved for Black South Africans one iota since the ANC came to power, neither has it attempted, as the government to eradicate so-called white racism – instead she played the blame game as usual. There are much better and more positive ways of dealing with cross cultural issues, where each can learn from the other. This was done very successfully in both Girls High School and Meisies’ Hoerskool in Pretoria in the 1980’s, where students of different races and at that time different schools (ie township vs government schools) sat down together with a moderator and talked about their personal life experiences so that all could empathise and understand where the other was coming from. This created a safe place to share their feelings and all of those girls came out better for the experience.
    The so-called training session at Fish Hoek sounded more like a political rant than a diversity training course.

    • Atish Kara says:

      How was what was said insulting?

      • Karl Sittlinger says:

        For starters that only a certain skin color can be racist. I have had the privilege of traveling alot, and there is no question that any human being of any race can be a racist. Redefining a word does not make it automatically true, and calling people racists if they are not is definitely insulting.

  • When will people wake up to the fact that “blacks cannot be racist” is itself a racist idea? It should be obvious.

  • André Pelser says:

    We need this kind of “social justice educator” like a hole in the head!

  • Donald Moore says:

    It may be helpful if a full transcript of what was said by the presenter to the school leaners is made available for any who are interested. It could then be carefully analyzed to see if it was good sense and helpful in the circumstances or whether it was (is) simply political propaganda.

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