Schools no place to teach racism

A white teacher at Pinnacle Collage, a private school in Kyalami, Johannesburg, has found herself in hot water for threatening to punish learners in the manner that George Floyd was killed. The incident unleashed the wave of anti-racism in schools across the country that, the writer says, must seek to identify and reject prejudice.
A white teacher at Pinnacle Collage, a private school in Kyalami, Johannesburg, has found herself in hot water for threatening to punish learners in the manner that George Floyd was killed. The incident unleashed the wave of anti-racism in schools across the country that, the writer says, must seek to identify and reject prejudice.
Image: Thulani Mbele

Last week, we reported on a white teacher at Pinnacle College in Kyalami, north of Johannesburg, Sonya de Vynck who had threatened to kneel on the necks of pupils who did not do their work.

The statement was in an apparent reference to the killing of African-American George Floyd in the same manner by Minneapolis police last month.

De Vynck has since apologised for the remarks and has been suspended by the school.

Since then, more allegations of systemic racism at elite South African schools have surfaced as pupils, current and former, tell of their lived experiences of discrimination.

More than 40 current and past pupils at the St Anne's Diocesan College in KwaZulu-Natal have detailed in a 6,000-word document what they said was entrenched racism at the school dating back to 2014.

They tell how they were called derogatory terms such as the n-word or the k-word, how their hair and looks had been degraded and some other white pupils would refer to them as slaves.

Meanwhile in Western Cape, pupils at Bishops Diocesan College have handed over a list of demands to address structural racism at the institution.

They said their frustration stemmed from years of intolerance and ignorance.

They demanded, among other things, that opportunities given to children of teachers be equally afforded to those of grounds and cleaning staff.

They demanded a decolonised education which no longer taught apartheid and colonisation in a historically neutral framework that exempts its perpetrators from liability.

These complaints and experiences of black pupils in elite educational institutions are not new.

They are as old as the democratic transition where discrimination was normalised in social rules and then legislated in institutional policies.

This must stop.

The current wave of anti-racism in schools across the country must seek to identify and reject prejudice, even in its most subtle form, and compel these institutions to deliberately create spaces where all our children feel and know that they belong, irrespective of colour, creed and class.

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