NATHANIEL LEE | Leadership in schools, political parties can't go against demographics reality

Refusal to accept reality of race can also be witnessed in school governing bodies

DA delegates at the 2023 DA Federal Congress at the Gallagher Conference Centre in Midrand Johannesburg.
DA delegates at the 2023 DA Federal Congress at the Gallagher Conference Centre in Midrand Johannesburg.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

The election of a predominantly white leadership at the DA federal congress recently represents a missed opportunity for the party to make meaningful inroads towards dislodging the ANC from power in 2024.

What the optics of the leadership elections communicates is that the DA has not yet understood how racial demographics influence voting patterns in SA. The DA is seemingly not ready or comfortable with black leadership but will gladly campaign for black membership and support so essential for its electoral prospects.

The results give the lie to the DA’s contention as the most racially diverse political party in SA. The current reality feeds into the narrative that the DA is a white party concerned only with protecting white privilege. Others will opportunistically brand it a racist party. Such a narrative will be exploited by the ANC and the EFF to portray the DA as a party that is indifferent to the cause of black people.

What needs to be understood is that race is a reality in SA and to ignore this is the height of naivety. The continuing exodus of black leaders from the DA will also not help its cause of going beyond the 30% threshold to topple the ANC as a leader of a solid coalition and ensure the commencement of a genuine road to a better life for all.

This would be sad because the DA has the potential to change the South African socio-political landscape and implement sound economic policies. The trivialisation of racial demographics is, however, not only confined to the political space. In education ignoring this democratic tenet can be witnessed in the composition of school governing bodies (SGBs) and school management teams at formerly white schools.

As many black children gravitate towards these schools they gradually constitute the majority at these schools. Sadly this is often not reflected within SGBs and management teas, which remain exclusively white in some instances. The simple principle of rule by majority seems to be a source of tension and can also be witnessed in formerly Coloured or Indian areas.

Here one can remember the 2017 furore triggered by the appointment of a black principal at Klipspruit West Secondary in a dominantly coloured area although the majority of pupils at this school are African.

Such a reality raised a few questions that those who spearheaded the protests were motivated by other considerations. First, according to the South African Schools Act, the appointment of principals, teachers and other auxiliary staff in a school, is the domain of the SGB, subject to the approval and ratification by the head of department of the provincial education department.

The SGB in turn, is constituted of parent representative, the teachers and pupils in the case of secondary schools...

It goes without saying, therefore, that in a school where the majority of the pupils are black, then black parents are bound to dominate the structure. What becomes clear is that the issue of the appointment of a black principal was a red-herring for deep-seated racial divisions in our country. It is a further indictment on the ANC for having failed to even scratch the surface on the volcanic issue of race for almost three decades.

Such racially inspired incidents are a threat to our integration and social cohesion as a society. It is important to revisit and act on the recommendations of the  South African Human Rights Commission 1999 report, which dealt with the issue of racism in education. Among other recommendations was the plugging of gaps in policy vacuum in the area of racial awareness and sensitivity in schools.

There was also a need to address factors that might prevent black parents from participating in SGBs, such as the lack of transport, the holding of parents’ meetings on times which are not suitable, the language used at the meetings, etc.

The report ends by sounding an ominous warning that “if racism cannot be satisfactorily addressed in South African schools, our country will pay the price.

We can ignore this warning at our collective peril. For the DA, scoring such a political own-goal at this crucial juncture will certainly dent its prospects of promotion to ascendancy.

Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.