Pretoria High School for Girls will be investigated by Gauteng Department of Education authorities following allegations of racism against the institution.
“You have my support, I will protect you,” said Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi to emotional pupils during his address at the school on Monday morning. Lesufi, together with officials from the national and provincial education department and Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga, visited the school after allegations of racism surfaced against the institution and pupils wrote a petition to the MEC’s office requesting intervention over racist victimisation, racist incidents, and the school code of conduct in relation to hairstyles.
— The Daily VOX (@thedailyvox) August 29, 2016
Girls from the school protested on August 26 and 27 and took to social media using the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh to highlight the prejudice they’ve experienced from the school and staff. The hashtag quickly went viral, with many tweets adding their voice in support of the protest and highlighting racism in other schools too.
Parents and supporters of the girls, including former pupils and students from the University of Pretoria gathered outside the school on Monday morning to show solidarity with the students. They were met with closed gates, armed police and security personnel, while staff at the school were instructed not to do anything and carry on as normal.
“My sister has gone through a lot of bullying, she’s had to change school three times because of her hair. Other children would laugh at her and say, ‘Oh my god, your hair looks like a cabbage’. It broke my heart. She’d cry everyday when I picked her up from school. She’d get home and cry because of how she was treated because of her hair, and say that the school said her hair is a distraction and called it exotic,” said Amira Patel, the older sister of 13-year-old Zulaikha Patel.
Speaking to the SABC on behalf of the education department, acting spokesperson Oupa Bodibe said Lesufi met with the girls to hear their testimonies before meeting with the school’s staff. He then met with some of the girls’ parents who were at the school and will later meet with the school’s governing body on Monday evening.
“This is disturbing because the girls are very traumatised. They’ve proposed that all the teachers that are implicated to be investigated and some kind of disciplinary hearing taken against them,” said Bodibe.
The girls also suggested that the school policy and code of conduct be changed.
Some of the allegations raised by the girls include being called a “dirty kaffir”, being compared to a cartoon character and dividing pupils into ethnic groups in class and justifying it as a geography exercise. According to one pupil, the teacher didn’t face disciplinary action but was referred to attend a course which was supposed to remedy the situation.
“There’s a lot of issues that have been building up to this. One issue is regarding a Grade 8 [pupil] with big hair. She got reprimanded for her hair and everybody was just like, ‘we’re tired of everything, we’re tired of not being heard. We started a hashtag to try getting external attention. Because they [school management] are just going to give us more disciplinary hearings, nothing is going to change or be resolved,” grade 12 pupil Amanda Kwele told The Daily Vox.
This Grade 8 pupil also received a disciplinary hearing for writing in her English creative writing essay that black women always receive the short end of the stick compared to white women and that white women are at more of an advantage than black women. According to pupils, the disciplinary hearing sparked anger and was the final straw for the students.
“Teachers who know that they are in a position of authority use that to discriminate against us and say derogatory things against black girls and expect us not to say anything or raise our voices because they know they are in a place of authority. With that being said, they always tell us that we’re overreacting to the things that they’re saying. It’s a painful experience because as a learner, you think that you are equal to other learners around you but you’re treated very differently,” said Kwele.
— Mishka (@ANicheOfLight) August 29, 2016
She added that black teachers at the school are concerned about keeping their jobs, therefore pupils understand why they won’t really be vocal about what’s happening – “They have children and they need to keep their jobs”.
The school could not be reached for comment.