Opinionista Lwando Xaso 5 June 2021

Institutional racism: The real price of admission to ‘white schools’ too high for black kids

When black children are left in the hands of uncaring institutions, what is the impact not only on their psyches but on that of their families, communities and generations to come?

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

This Youth Month has begun with yet another report of deeply entrenched racism at an elite South African school. Singo Ravele, a pupil at Cornwall Hill College in Pretoria, a school previously described as prestigious but which is in fact dubious and regressive, stood at the school’s own podium and emotionally relayed the racism she has suffered at the school from the time she was in Grade 4.

In front of the Gauteng education MEC, Ravele shared a testimony that no child should have to share, on the real price of admission to Cornwall Hill College. We attend these schools hoping they will take us as far as they have taken white people. We hope these schools will not only change our lives but the lives of our children’s children and their children thereafter. The pursuit of quality education promises a quality life and esteem in society.

I have no doubt that if I walked around the Cornwall Hill College campus I would find all the silent ways (never mind the overt racism spewed by careless teachers) in which black children are alienated and demeaned. Spaces which testify to the alienation of its black students. The silent racism of a school’s physical design, its uniforms, its school song, its art, and its food is just as suffocating as the overt racism. It is truly tragic that the path to a supposedly better life is the same path that first has to dominate you, break you down and disappear you until you are as close to white as possible.

When black children are left in the hands of uncaring institutions, what is the impact not only on their psyches but that of their families, communities and generations to come? What is the price of admission? Our esteem, our health, our wholeness, our confidence, our ambition? Ravele and many like her should be stressing over maths homework, an overwhelming but compelling extracurricular programme, and frivolous high school gossip. Instead they are navigating the treacherous obstacle course that is institutional racism. She and her peers deserve so much better than that. My deep sense of sadness evoked by these realities is that of having to helplessly witness a loss of childhood. Instead of speaking up from that podium, what else could Ravele be pursuing that her white counterparts have the luxury of pursuing and securing? What has Cornwall Hill College robbed Ravele of? It can never be quantified.

Ravele’s story is not an isolated incident, as shown by the 15 black parents who held a silent protest at the Pretoria Country Club over the lack of transformation at the private school. I doubt that I will ever stop being appalled by schools that fail to protect children and which also fail to realise that they are located in a majority-black country whose history demands of them reformation. At this point any school accused and guilty of what Cornwall Hill College is guilty of cannot claim ignorance. The School’s transformation and diversity committee was only established in 2020, coincidentally the year of reckoning for elitist schools. Was the committee only established in reaction to the global Black Lives Matter movement triggered by the murder of George Floyd? In the light of all the desperate testimonies we have heard from black pupils across the country throughout the last 25 years of our constitutional democracy, we can ask: What took so long? And why is it still taking so long?

Our historical and social context has everything to do with the current state of these elite white South African schools. I believe change is possible, but I believe you have to want to change because it is the right thing to do, not out of fear of retribution. Every day I try not to grow more doubtful that these institutions really are capable of changing beyond merely exploiting the presence of black pupils as evidence of their supposed transformation while simultaneously punishing them for their blackness. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.


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All Comments 15

  • So why don’t we start our own schools. With black symbols, black food, it’s art, it’s design (problematic ideas anyway, but I digress)? There are plenty of unemployed graduates to teach? There are plenty of wealthy people out there who would try and fund something like that?

    Curro, Advtech, Spark schools have all have white founders, and probably white funders.

    The truth is that the ‘black community’ (for a lack of a better term) don’t, or won’t do that, or to my knowledge, haven’t started schools.

    Why not?

    Instead there seems to be more focus on schools being changed from the inside – which is fine as long as parents, teachers and students actually know what they want. But I don’t think they do – and in my experience they certainly can’t articulate it.

    • Dear Fanie, I think that you are asking the right questions. Obviously each child is an individual and has a unique experience, but I’d love to see a researched article into different types of school and an analysis of what one can expect in general from such a school. I suspect that there is a gap in the market for an upmarket ‘Black’ school. The Oprah Winfrey school model could be a good place to start?

  • “The silent racism of a school’s physical design …” How can there be racism in this? Only in the eyes of the beholder! No doubt there can be racism in many forms, but how is physical design? Lwando Xaso please explain.

    • DM editorial quality just took a whack! ” The silent racism of a school’s physical design, its uniforms, its school song, its art, and its food is just as suffocating as the overt racism.” This is rubbish unless it is backed up by FACTS.

  • At some point one does need to ask if it is the right of an institution to preserve its own culture without bring called racist for doing so.

  • False news has as its source and content allegations. Allegations can have no meaning or substance unless backed by facts and hard evidence. Opinion is neither factual nor evidential. This is a well written article that conveys nothing except the writers need to try and stir up trouble. From one attorney to another let me say that Lwando Xaso should be able to do better.

    • Danie makes a great point -Stop trying to change what is essentially another culture that is not yours. Create your own private schools and allow whites to enroll there if they want to.
      Meantime I also look forward to seeing the first university of Malema funded by the EFF. But, alas,I must be dreaming.
      Chris Bean

  • I wish as much time was spent talking about the dysfunctional black schools that drive the parents to enrol their children in formerly white schools. Or how many girls in black schools are pregnant, especially those pregnant from their teachers. On racism, why not expend more time on xenophobia, the most deadly form of racism in South Africa: we have this constant barrage of vitriol against whites being racist. Whites do not run this country, black people do, and they’re doing it badly.

    • Well said, I am sick to my back teeth of black people in South Africa laying the blame for everything that is wrong with the country at the foot of white people. There has been a black government in charge for over 25 years, yet all we have to show for it is crumbling infrastructure, a poor education system and corruption at every level of government. Maybe focus your anger there and watch the rest fall into place.

  • This is South Africa – the rainbow nation. We would all do well to stop, breathe, and recognise that everyone brings something to the table. The ONLY way to move forward is for all to work together – blame is easy, but it solves nothing.

    • The children of today know nothing of apartheid. Adults ram historic thinking down children’s throats, effectively perpetuating all the destructive aspects of history and destroying their collective futures. The war cry of every parent should be: I am going invest all my energy in teaching my children to be honest, industrious and kind to all. This is the real recipe for success – and it is not exclusive to any culture or race.

  • Focus on preparing kids to live productive lives and not to see racism at every turn.
    This article by its very sweeping anti white statements is racist.
    Let’s focus on Team South Africa and on growing our economy by educating our children and teaching them the value of hard work innovation and patience.


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