School racism probe mooted

Human rights body reacts to growing number of cases

AN investigation into racism at schools is being considered by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in the wake of cases reported across the country.

In an incident reported to The Times at the weekend, a teacher at a school in Witbank, Mpumalanga, allegedly swore at a parent over the phone.

For nearly a year, the woman’s daughter had complained of physical, verbal and emotional abuse at her new high school.

But a call to the school on Thursday turned sour for the concerned mother when the Grade 9 head allegedly lost his temper and insulted her.

In a recording sent to The Times, a man is heard shouting at the 39-year-old mother: “I said f **k you. Don’t you understand? F,– ,– , K. F**k you.”

The man goes on to tell her that she is stupid for wasting her airtime, before calling her a baboon.

The woman’s 17-year-old daughter, a Grade 11 pupil, started attending Reyno-park High at the beginning of last year after the family moved from Cape Town.

She said her daughter had started complaining of mistreatment at the hands of teachers a few months into her Grade 10 academic year. But it seems the girl is not the only victim of alleged abuse at Reynopark, which is estimated to have more than 90% black pupils.

The girl said she had witnessed incidents of corporal punishment and verbal abuse against fellow schoolmates.

“Some of the teachers call us names such as k****r, bitch, slut and baboon – it is somewhat of a norm, and that is wrong,” the teenager alleged.

“The principal’s wife has told me that I’m useless and worthless, and said that I will never amount to anything in life.”

She said the principal allegedly throttled a male classmate in front of the class during their final exams last year because he was wearing a different colour jacket.

Parents and pupils of Reynopark High will protest outside the school today, calling for the removal of the principal, his wife and the Grade 9 head.

Complaints of alleged misconduct against staff members include:

  • Teachers drinking at school or coming to work drunk;
  • A teacher smoking dagga during school hours; and
  • Corporal punishment and the harassment of pupils.

A case of assault was opened against the principal, Wolla Ras, last year after he allegedly beat a male pupil in the corridor.

Witbank police confirmed that Ras had appeared in court following his arrest last year. They are still investigating.

SAHRC spokesman Isaac Mangena said the commission was considering conducting a national investigation into racism at both public and private schools.

He said the commission was worried by the complaints it had received of racist incidents at schools – especially when teachers were the alleged perpetrators.

“Complaints have been made in Mpumalanga, the Western Cape and the Free State. We could possibly get more complaints as the weeks go by,” Mangena said.

“It is unacceptable that teachers, who are put in charge of children in the absence of parents, would behave in such a manner.”

He further suggested the Basic Education Department look into incidents of racism at both public and private schools.

SA Council of Educators spokesman Thembinkosi Ndhlovu said it was time racism at schools was tackled head-on.

He appealed to pupils and parents affected by racist incidents to report them.

“These teachers are members of the profession and their behaviour is bringing the profession into disrepute,” Ndhlovu said.

Sergeant David Ratau from the Witbank police station said the school was a headache for the police.

Ratau and a colleague took the school under their wing a few years ago as part of the Adopt-a-Cop campaign.

He, however, said the school management started using police to threaten children into submission.

“It is like the children have given up on life and believe what they are told by teachers – no matter how hard we try to encourage them and tell them otherwise.”

The mother of the teenage girl accused the circuit manager of concealing the abuse faced by pupils, after the Education Department official failed to address her grievances last year.

Mpumalanga education spokesman Jasper Zwane said the department would investigate the allegations.

-Poppy Louw

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