Collegiate Girls’ High School is the latest to be rocked by allegations of racism after 150 angry parents and pupils protested outside its buildings yesterday, calling for immediate changes to its code of conduct and transformation policies.
Parents, dressed in black and holding up placards, handed a list of grievances to school principal Melita Bagshaw, saying they would give the school seven days to address their demands.
According to the parents, the friction stems from an incident in which a Grade 11 pupil, 17, was overheard saying she wished “we were still living in apartheid times”.
The girl is not being named as she is a minor and her family have not consented to her name being published.
Despite disciplinary measures being taken, many parents and pupils are still angry, accusing the school of racism and pointing out aspects where the school is lagging on transformation.
This includes the alleged lack of black academic teachers and lack of enough black pupils. It could not be established yesterday the exact ratio of black pupils.
This is the third former Model C school in Port Elizabeth to be hit by claims of racism this year.
Last month, Lawson Brown High pupils clashed with school management over hair rules and, earlier this month, disgruntled parents at Settlers Park Primary protested, calling for the immediate removal of the principal and four teachers.
Yesterday, the angry parents arrived at Collegiate shortly before 7am and sang freedom songs.
Some held placards saying “Black Identity”, “Don’t call our children BEEs”, “Black and Proud” and “We love our boshare”.
Polisa Nojoko, who represented the parents, said the protest was sparked by the alleged racist remark.
Nojoko said that according to pupils, some girls had been singing Xhosa songs at the assembly on July 29.
“It would appear that this [the singing] had exasperated the white pupil, who remarked [to a friend]: ‘I wish we were still living in apartheid times’,” Nojoko said.
A friend who overheard the comment then related it to another girl, who sent it to her sister, an ex-Collegiate pupil, who posted it on Facebook and Twitter – and it went viral.
The girl’s lawyer, Craig Jessop, said she understood her statement “was ill-considered and evinces a lack of understanding of the ills of apartheid”.
He said she had rendered an unconditional and public apology which was delivered both at school and on social media.
Jessop said in addition to the apology, the following sanctions would be applied:
- A written warning;
- She will not attend the matric dinner for 2016 [where Grade 11s participate as servers]; and
- She will participate in a community outreach programme for five hours.
He said the incident had caused the girl sleepless nights and because of her “unacceptable statement . . . she now has a better understanding of the ills of apartheid and is committed to the application of progressive discipline”.
However, Nojoko, 42, said the protest had been held to rectify the injustices at the school and was not focused on the girl.
“There is no transformation whatsoever because the rules are the same as those in the 1980s,” she said.
“Our children are being ridiculed and mocked. They are being called baboons and are told to relax their ‘boshare’ [bushy hair].”
She claimed black pupils were also being excluded from sports.
“If you look at our first teams, there is not one black child in a team. “In the netball first team, there is one black child who was benched for the whole season,” Nojoko said.
Bagshaw said the Eastern Cape Department of Education had barred her from making any comment.
Department spokesman Malibongwe Mtima – confirming Bagshaw had been instructed not to comment – said it was awaiting a report compiled by the school and the Port Elizabeth district office to resolve the matter.
“However, we are happy these issues are being discussed,”Mtima said.
“This means our attempts to encourage parents to play a more active role in their children’s education is working. “For years, issues like this have been downplayed or simply swept under the carpet.”
Advocate Mohamed Ameermia, a commissioner at the SA Human Rights Commission, said the remark was unfortunate, anti-transformational and anti-constitutional.
“We do not have legislation around what amounts to hate speech and perhaps there should be more pressure on parliament to pass legislation and criminalise it,” he said.
“School curriculums should also introduce programmes about cultural diversity and social cohesion.”
Port Elizabeth lawyer Kuban Chetty, who is not involved in the matter, said he believed it would be difficult to establish whether the remark constituted a criminal offence.
“The girl was merely expressing an ignorant opinion relating to a time she wished she lived in,” he said.
“Although [it] may contain a derogatory connotation, one would struggle to establish a case of crimen injuria should it go to court.”
Another lawyer, who did not want to be named, said he did not think it infringed on hate speech.