Top Cape school that fired first black teacher gets its first black principal

Belinda Petersen will be the first black principal of the 125-year-old Rustenburg Girls' Junior School in Cape Town.
Belinda Petersen will be the first black principal of the 125-year-old Rustenburg Girls' Junior School in Cape Town.
Image: LinkedIn

Rustenburg Girls' Junior School in Cape Town, which was embroiled in a race row for firing its only black teacher, is getting a black principal.

Belinda Petersen, principal of Ottery Road Methodist Primary School, will take over in July.

A notice sent to Rustenburg parents this week said Petersen was selected for her "well-rounded experience in education and leadership development capabilities".

The selection process saw a panel of teachers, school governors, trade unions and a Western Cape education department representative "working tirelessly into the night and over weekends", said the notice.

Petersen's vision was to "encourage and create a connected culture where building relationships, understanding others and giving everyone a voice is key", it added.

"She believes in creating space for partnerships that encourage a spirit of purpose, positivity and possibility."

The appointment comes four months after the school was embroiled in a race row when it forced its first black teacher, Nozipho Mthembu, to resign.

Mthembu, who was employed by the school governing body, went to the commission for conciliation, mediation and arbitration (CCMA), demanding compensation following what she called consistent unpleasant treatment.

The 26-year-old, who won the CCMA case, said the school singled her out for a mentorship programme that left her more traumatised than supported.

The then governing body chair Gavin Downward and the now-retired principal Di Berry gave her an ultimatum to resign, thereby constructively dismissing her, she said.

Parents for Change, a group which has campaigned for transformation at Rustenburg, said Petersen's appointment marked a "momentous turn in the school's 125-year history".

It also commended the acting principal, Karen Dallas, for her service during the first half of 2019.

"As an organisation of parents we are aware of the difficulties and challenges, which beset the school during the latter part of 2018," the group said in a statement.

We remain hopeful that Rustenburg Girls' Junior School can indeed be a school which is representative of and responsive to the diversity and difference of the broader community
Parents for Change

"We recognise that while it was a painful time for many, it was also a time for much-needed reflection and accountability for the pace of transformation at the school."

Parents for Change said there had been other positive steps, including the appointment of Emuthini Consulting to help the school with transformation. In addition, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation facilitated discussions between Parents for Change and the school governors.

"We remain hopeful that Rustenburg Girls' Junior School can indeed be a school that is representative of and responsive to the diversity and difference of the broader community, and where all learners should be afforded equal opportunities to belong, to be recognised, and to achieve," the parents said.

Petersen, who holds a master's degree in mathematics education from Cape Peninsula University of Technology, has 16 years' experience in education.

She is the former head of Plumstead Preparatory School, and for nine years worked as a foundation-phase teacher and a grade head at St Anthony's Roman Catholic Primary School in Heathfield.

She has also been involved in counselling as well as character and leadership development among diverse, multicultural groups of young people. 


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