Forcing two black netball players to drink a cocktail of baby food mixed with saliva in a bizarre school initiation ritual had not been racially motivated, an investigation by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education has found.
But the light punishment given to the culprits – two white pupils at Ferrum High School in Newcastle who had spat into a bottle of Purity – is not going down well with the department’s superintendent-general, Nkosinathi Sishi, who expressed disappointment last night that the school’s management had not shown their disapproval of the incident.
“The school has not condemned the actions of the pupils to the extent that I would like to see,” Sishi said.
The department launched its investigation in March after an outcry over the two new black team-mates being duped into drinking the mixture
The two culprits – a star netball player and her classmate – declined to participate in the investigation, but department officials obtained CCTV footage of the incident from video cameras installed in classrooms.
The pair, however, acknowledged their role in the incident, but denied it was racist. One said it was an act of “tom-foolery” and both said they were remorseful.
According to the department’s report, the incident was not racially motivated because the spitting was done openly in class and was witnessed by pupils of all racial groups.
Moreover, the concoction was also meant to have been consumed by a white pupil, but the intended third victim was absent on the day.
The report revealed that the punishment given was lenient, and favoured them over the victims.
The school’s governing body had suspended the star player from school for seven days, placing her on notice of further suspension from school sports for the rest of the year if she was again involved in violating other pupils’ human rights.
Her classmate was given 700 demerits and a three-day suspension.
As part of their initiation, new netball team-mates put their hair in ponytails and wear a baby bib to show the rest of the school they are in the first team. They wear the bibs during school and during practice, although it was pointed out in the report that no-one was forced to participate
There were variations in the school’s other sporting codes – to join the rugby team, initiates have to have their hair shaved, while hockey players get their faces coloured with felt tipped pens.
The report recommended that all forms of initiation at the school be banned and that all members of the netball first team – together with the coach and teacher in charge of the sport – take part in a team building exercise to restore mutual trust and respect
The school management team and governing body should also receive coaching on the management of disciplinary procedures, the report recommended, adding that further investigation needed to be conducted into areas of “social cohesion” at the school, as there was no evidence of “symbols of national cohesion”.
Sishi said that he accepted the report, the details of which would be examined internally to look into the school’s handling of the matter.
He said a simple statement from the school management to condemn the incident would have gone a long way.
“It would have shown that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable,” he said.
“In these kinds of incidents, principals... must demonstrate by example that they are intolerant of any kind of act that could seem like discrimination.”
Approached for comment on Tuesday night, Ferrum High’s governing body chairman, Andrew Smith, said the school had not experienced any racial tension. He described the incident as an initiation prank that was unacceptable.
He said the governing body supported the decision to stop all initiation practices.
“If children cannot behave in an acceptable manner, it has to be stopped.”
According to Smith, the star netball player had made a public apology to the victims.
A case of crimen injuria had also been opened against the player and had been investigated by Newcastle police, who forwarded the docket to the director of public prosecutions for a decision.
Newcastle police spokesman, Captain Shoes Magudulela, said the accused was ordered to attend a rehabilitation programme.
Susan Theunissen, the area manager for the programme in the KZN Midlands, said the programme ran between eight and 16 weeks and included life skills, a compulsory component on restorative justice and a parents’ workshop.
Khosi Mbuli, the mother of one of the victims – and a teacher at the school – said she had hoped for something harsher than having to attend a programme. - Daily News