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Cornwall Hill College leadership promises transformation and diversity

Yoliswa Sobuwa Journalist
Cornwall Hill College pupils said they only wanted to be taught about racism and not experience it.
Cornwall Hill College pupils said they only wanted to be taught about racism and not experience it.
Image: Supplied

A group of parents braved the morning chilly weather conditions to hand over a memorandum against racism and lack of transformation at the prestigious Cornwall Hill college in Irene, Pretoria, on Monday.

Lesetja Kganyago, governor of the SA Reserve Bank, was also among the group of disgruntled parents carrying a placard that read “We stand by our children. No to racism.”

They were joined by pupils who were carrying placards and standing outside the school premises. Some placards, which were carried by white pupils,  read: “I am not defined by my skin, It’s a privilege to learn about racism instead of experiencing it.”

The affected pupils were also given a platform to raise their concerns.

Singo Ravele, a grade 11 pupil, said she experienced racism when she was in grade 4. “One of the teachers looked me in the eye and said, ‘your hair is unpresentable’  and I would look better if I chemically straightened it. For a long time I was uncomfortable wearing my natural hair. Today I am angry that I was stripped from African identity, that did not end there... I was barred from speaking my home language,” she said.

Another pupil said she was told on numerous occasion that 'my hair is like steel wool', 'you [are] so smart for a black person'.

Speaking on behalf of parents, Zibusiso Kganyago said as parents, they pledge to work tirelessly to eradicate racism in the classroom.

“We are going to ensure that this becomes a school where you belong. We are ready to take this baton, today we pledge to act and be involved in the affairs of the school to ensure that your hurt, your anger are dealt with. We have heard your cries to learn about racism and not experience it. We have had your cries of wanting your names not to be mispronounced,” she said to the learners.

In the memorandum handed over to the school, the parents said they were raising their voices to push the college leadership to act swiftly to bring about an end to these experiences and to take concrete steps to change the culture to one which is truly inclusive and supportive of different races and cultures.

Governer of the SA Reserve Bank Lesetja Kganyago at the protest.
Governer of the SA Reserve Bank Lesetja Kganyago at the protest.
Image: Supplied

“We have been frustrated with the slow pace of change and thus feel compelled to take a step further to organise and act. Set out and implement a transparent, inclusive, participative process for school transformation which allows meaningful participation by all members of the college community, including learners themselves, in the change process.

“Expand co-curricular programme to include and recognise a wider variety of cultural and sporting activities such as soccer, dance to accommodate all learner interests,” these are some of the demands by the parents.

Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi visited the school to intervene in a standoff between parents and the college.

“I met with the leadership of the school and they have assured me that there is no need to bring the legislative arm because together with the parents they are capable of resolving the problems," he said.

"I can can commit on behalf of this school that no one will be mistreated, we will have teachers who represent us. All the policies will be reviewed to accommodate all of us."  

On behalf of the Cornwall Hill College executive principal Leon Kunneke, preparatory school principal Maurice Dicks accepted the memorandum and reaffirmed that the school’s leadership would “renew our commitment to moving with speed, focus and absolute determination in ensuring diversity and representation throughout all levels of the College.”

Dicks apologised on behalf of the school for the slow pace of progress at Cornwall Hill College, endeavoring to place transformation and diversity at the top of the agenda.

“Concerning the lack of transformation at the school, the college has established the diversity and transformation committee as a subcommittee of the board of directors. The school recognises that delivering on its vision to empower pupils to be values-driven, locally relevant, and globally competitive depends on it building a supportive and inclusive community that prepares pupils to act as the future leaders of the country.

“The board of directors, the executive team, every staff member in this school and myself as the executive principal of Cornwall Hill College, are all unequivocally committed to the principles of equality and respect for others,” he said.

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