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Racism storm rocks elite Durban girls' school

A petition called 'Hold DGC accountable for racism' has been started on an online platform with more than 5,000 signatures.
A petition called 'Hold DGC accountable for racism' has been started on an online platform with more than 5,000 signatures.

A social media storm has erupted with allegations of racism at Durban’s oldest and most elite girls' private school, Durban Girls College.

Almost 5,000 people have so far signed an online petition started by old girl Thabisa Mangisa entitled “Hold DGC accountable for racism”.

And several have shared their own alleged personal experiences of racism on a video, posted on Instagram.

The outrage was apparently sparked by an e-mail sent out by the head of student affairs  regarding social media messaging about the death of George Floyd, through police brutality, in the US.

It states that while the school “abhors physical violence”, it cautions that “your commitment to DGC and integrity must ensure that you use good judgment in your use of social media as you represent the school”. The school stressed that pressure must not be put on others to post opinions.

This prompted a Facebook posting by Melissa Ngcobo, a 2016 matriculant, who alleged she had experienced many racist incidents while at the school.

“DGC is a racist establishment and has been for far too long,” she said.

“This e-mail was callous. You worry only about (white students) being pressured into speaking out against racism, violence and discrimination. Instead of encouraging white students to examine their privilege. And now you condemn the black girls who are now doing your job.

“By writing that e-mail you have formally taken the side of the oppressor.”

In the personal interviews, many former pupils allege they were bullied and harassed by “white teachers” because of their hair.

“The hats were not designed for us. We raised this but nothing was ever done. There was talk of diversity but it was only in theory. We never felt seen or heard,” said one.

Another said a teacher had threatened to “take scissors” and cut and dye her hair.

Another said while in grade 8, a teacher had complimented her on her “relaxed” hair.

“She then said, ‘I wish the rest of them could wear their hair like this’.”

One recalled how she had been forced to cut off her red string and “throw it in the bin” to make sure she could never wear it again.

A “black is beautiful” group was prevented from holding meetings, unless in the presence of a senior teacher.

When one reported the racist behaviour of a fellow white pupil, she was asked for “the proof”.

They lamented the lack of a racism policy at the school and said the code of conduct “did not accommodate people of colour”.

The board of governors of the school, in an e-mailed statement to the school community on Wednesday said the school had recently been “challenged by a number of old girls on social media with allegations of racist behaviour”.

“The school has zero tolerance for racist behaviour. The board takes these claims extremely seriously and they will be investigated thoroughly.”

The board said it had set up a team to investigate the allegations, and a series of “conversation circles” would be used to discuss the issues further.

Executive head Marianne Bailey told TimesLIVE that in a letter to parents the school board said they have set up a team to investigate the allegations and engage with parents, pupils, teachers, and past pupils; would set up a series of conversation circles to stimulate discussion, which would be facilitated by the school's existing diversity and inclusivity committee.

“In addition, we have a forum [on Friday] for our grade 12 pupils and one on Monday for our grade 11s when they return to school.

“We are committed to moving forward together as a community to endeavour to do better than we have done in the past,” said Bailey.