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Brackenfell: a matric dance not to remember


Prof Michael le Cordeur is Vice-Dean Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Education at the University of Stellenbosch. He is deputy chair of the Stigting vir die bemagtiging deur Afrikaans.

The events at Brackenfell High School have once again emphasised that fundamental transformation is needed in South Africa, and this includes the education system.

There are lessons to be learnt by all of us from the situation regarding the “matric farewell” of Brackenfell High School. It reminds me of my own matric dance long ago. Like 2020’s matrics, we had had a difficult year. It was the year of youth protests. We were privileged to have a matric farewell at all. Even though it was held in the hostel hall, without any pomp and ceremony, expensive cars or extravagant clothes, it was an evening to remember.

Due to Covid-19, Brackenfell High did not have an official matric dance. Parents arranged a function for them. Whether black pupils were actually invited or just stayed away is not clear. What we do know is that only white pupils were present. It was the spark to the EFF’s powder keg. It is anyone’s democratic right to object to racism. However, it is HOW the EFF did it that is upsetting. To demonstrate in protest while matrics are writing their final examinations testifies to disrespect of matrics who had experienced a difficult year.

It turns out that the pupils had previously brought incidents of apparent racism to the attention of the school management. According to the school it investigated the matter and was about to launch a diversity committee, but Covid-19 thwarted these plans.

The school governing body, as well as the Western Cape Department of Education, were quick to wash their hands of the matter by pointing out that the party took place without their knowledge. This may be true. But I am reminded of what Arnold Glasgow said: “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognise a problem before it becomes a crisis.” The school had the opportunity to do something when it was informed by the pupils. Ignoring the problem has led to the crisis confronting us today.

The Department of Education is also not completely innocent. According to reports there are many schools with similar problems. And I am referring to ALL schools. Principals must ask themselves: how many women serve on the senior staff? Is the staff representative of all South Africans? Does the school have interaction (e.g. sport) with schools of different cultural backgrounds? Are other sports (e.g. soccer) ignored even if there are black pupils in the school? Authorities should show leadership instead of distancing themselves from the problem.

The events have once again emphasised that fundamental transformation is needed in South Africa, and this includes the education system. As I have pointed out before, transformation is not a single act or a few individuals of colour making the right noises. Transformation is a lifestyle which must be continuously adapted to fit the South African context. Each school requires a committee to serve as watchdog to keep the school management team on its toes.

One thing is certain: the future will (and must) be different from what we see today. Change will not occur by waiting for others, or by postponing it. Change starts with us. DM

Prof le Cordeur is head of the SU department of Curriculum Studies in the Faculty of Education


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Martin Neethling says:

    Prof Le Cordeur takes the easy path through the Brakenfell mess. This private function of about 20% of the matric class is casually dismissed as ‘racism’ without any reflection at all. Presumably any event, private, public or in-between that only has whites present is automatically deemed racist (obviously!). And the only words of criticism towards the EFF was how they protested, presumably because they ignored the permit they got, actively went looking for a fight, and didn’t give a fig about the matric kids writing. No mention of their increasingly threatening, aggressive hate speech towards minorities and authorities. And then the hoary ‘transformation’ catch all without any substantive argument about what this means.
    Public ‘debate’ has become lazy, intolerant and limited. We will not make progress at all unless we give up these binary right/wrong views and quick judgements and take the time to reflect on what is actually happening. Brackenfell is not simply the untransformed relic it is portrayed as. Nor is it’s surrounding suburb full of only bitter poor whites as young Markowitz suggests. And there is considerably more wrong with the EFF’s protest that merely the ‘how’. Prof Le Cordeur needs to make more effort.

  • Luke TRUTER says:

    Well, let’s turn it around quickly. How many white people have been invited to Malema’s Christmas party this year? We aren’t exactly represented at their rallies; why are their policies excluding us? For that matter, why don’t whites form part of their party leadership? I think their might be one white EFF MP’s — perhaps? I don’t know, I haven’t seen him in a while. It’s kind of hard to have any kind of credibility when calling out racism when you’re responsible for a large portion of racist attacks in this country. I’m talking about the EFF attacking whites here because, let’s be honest, there’s far more of that going on than the other way around.

    They’re able to do this the media, for the most part, won’t call them out on it. This whole spiel is nothing more than an attempt to grab more political power and ostracise a minority group. Yes, white Afrikaaners are insular and slightly racist — this isn’t exactly breaking news. Hells, half the cultural communities in South Africa are pretty insular and slightly racist.

    I commend you, Michael, on calling the EFF out on their violent and mis-timed protest. It wasn’t the strongest rebuke I’ve heard lately but at least you pointed it out. You’re also right to point out that the education department dropped the ball with this school. It’s a public school and should cater to kids of all races equally (in Afrikaans in this case). I’d appreciate it if you would acknowledge that what the EFF has been doing the last year or so essentially equates to white shaming. They’re looking for any small thing that they can use to, as you so eloquently put it, “spark to the EFF’s powder keg”. That’s a very intentional powder keg; constructed in the name of political expediency. If the media doesn’t start using harder language with the EFF, and they’re able to continue with this form of political campaigning, then it may very well end up being a very bloody powder keg.

  • Pet Bug says:

    It wasn’t a matrix dance. It was a sommer net a party advertised via a flier to a venue, with food and non-alcoholic drinks. In the end just white kids, parents and two teachers paid the R500 and no kids of colour.
    There was no racist intention. More interesting is the question why no blacks kids went.

  • C Moola says:

    Hundred percent. fundamental transformation is needed across all sectors of society, and schools are particularly important since they are the nexus of multiple social processes – and you unpacked transformation well enough.
    What you needed to unpack was the claim that this was a “private function” – but perhaps black people don’t need to be the ones explaining racism to whites. Nonetheless, what is it about an event being “private” that makes it not racist, as if “private racism” is okay in the minds of the apologists, or perhaps if racism is kept “private” then we should not criticise it. It is a very weak justification in any event. To you it looks like it’s just private but to me I can’t breathe.

  • Christine Cameron-Dow says:

    This is the third school in so many years to suffer the disgusting practice of violent protest and expressions of racist hate speech, directed at the parents, their children and the school authorities. Last year, albeit at the beginning of the year, it was the little ones of Schweitzer Reneke who were terrorized by the red-shirted horrors. Prior to that it was Overvaal. We can debate the rights and wrongs of arranging private parties, which might be outside the price range of certain of the parents. We can certainly call for proper investigation into the alleged racial discrimination taking place at the school itself, and the uttering of racist slurs. But, when such investigation has already been instituted by both provincial and central government, and the SAHRC has itself stepped in, why is it even considered appropriate to allow the EFF or the PAC to conduct further protests? Protection of the right to protest should not trump the right to protection of innocent people from the actions of thugs, who have hitherto been allowed to commit any excess in their “protest actions”. It is time all of us recognized that the very integration that we hoped for has been hampered by the actions of political opportunists such as Malema, along with numerous others in the ANC, who have used racism, race-baiting and “white-shaming” with complete impunity. These are actions which are leading to reactions, and if the violence of groups like the EFF is not curbed, there will only be more confrontations such as we saw in Brackenfell.

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