OPINION

Ahmed Kathrada Foundation commends PGHS students for stance against racism

Neeshan Balton pleased that MEC Panyaza Lesufi has intervened and schools code of conduct will be reviewed

Pupils commended for standing up against racism

30 August 2016

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation welcomes the intervention by the Gauteng Department of Education at Pretoria High School for Girls.

This follows protest by pupils over the school’s code of conduct and its implementation, which African learners have indicated, discriminates racially against them.

“We are pleased that MEC Panyaza Lesufi has intervened, and that the school’s code of conduct will be reviewed, along with that of other schools in the province as well,” director of the Foundation, Neeshan Balton, said.

“We also welcome the investigation into the allegations of racism, as well as the planned visit by the province’s Group of Eminent Persons dealing with issues of social cohesion,” he stated. “Earlier this year, the Foundation under the umbrella of the Anti-Racism Network South Africa proposed a draft anti-racism school policy that could be implemented nationally to tackle racism in primary and secondary schools. We hope that the Department of Basic Education will seriously consider adopting the policy in all schools. It’s about time that racism in the education sector is tackled head on.”

While changing policy is important, Balton noted that it was the actions of the protesting pupils themselves, together with supporting University of Pretoria students and parents and caregivers, that was most inspiring.

The Foundation visited the school yesterday and spoke to former and current pupils and several relatives waiting outside the gates, as university students picketed.

“We were both shocked and outraged at the incidents of racism at that we were told took place at the school,” said the Foundation’s youth coordinator, Busisiwe Nkosi. “We were told of a play that involved blackface that was called off at the last minute, of a fellow pupil using the k-word to describe an African song, and as has been reported in the media, of African girls being “harassed” for their natural hair.

If anything, this indicates that we’re not a fully transformed society, and that we must be stepping up efforts to tackle institutionalised racism. It was inspiring to see though, the manner in which the pupils fearlessly took on the system that discriminated against them. It was similarly encouraging to see university students across race and gender lines, protesting in support of the school girls.”

Nkosi likened the situation faced by the pupils to that of women in France, who up until the law’s recent overturning, could not wear covered clothing, or the ‘Burkini’, to the beach. “What this has in common with the highly discriminatory French law, is that it enforces assimilation based on values that are often Eurocentric or white, deeming all other values or cultures as less worthy. When a woman’s basic right to wear their hair in an African hairstyle, don a ‘doek’, or cover their bodies is taken away, then can we really claim to be truly democratic or free?”  Nkosi questioned.

“What the protesting pupils of Pretoria High School for Girls have proved, is that standing up to institutionalised and deep seated racism is not only possible, but can have impact beyond the borders of their own school. The image of young African women, standing with the hands crossed in the face of discrimination should inspire us to continue the fight against racism wherever it manifests itself,” Nkosi said.

Balton added, “Schools have the most wonderful opportunity of getting children of all races to fully understand the past and appreciate their diversity, while contributing to a more unifying national culture and identity. It is hoped that lessons can be drawn from this incident, so that all schools, as we stated before, can become laboratories of non-racialism.”

Statement issued by Zaakirah Vadi, Communications Officer Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, 30 August 2016