Cape Town – The under-fire Parklands College in Milnerton has had to redraft its apology for a “racist assignment” it asked its Grade 7 class to complete after an irate school community labelled them insensitive.
The independent school has been under fire since Monday, when parents shared the assignment labelled “a fun activity” on Facebook.
The assignment required pupils to create an advertisement for a slave trade auction in 30 minutes.
The “winner” of the best advert would receive a slab of chocolate when they returned to school. “Advertisements were placed in the newspapers to advertise the slave auction that would be taking place. You will create an advertisement regarding a slave trade auction that will be taking place on Friday, April 24, 1835.
“You will have 30 minutes to create the advert and have it posted in the assignment link shared on Google class today. The person with the best advertisement will get a Cadbury slab of chocolate when you get back to school.
"This is a fun activity and will not count for marks. Be creative and have some fun,” the task read.
In another assignment slide, pupils were given an example of a slave trade advertisement with pictures of black men standing to be auctioned, written: “Land and Negros For Sale!” “To be sold, a cargo of 94 prime healthy Negros, 39 men, 15 boys, 24 women and 16 girls. Just arrived.”
In the initial apology, the school’s secondary faculty principal, Sylvia Steyn, said that the slide had been removed and the teacher had also apologised for not “thinking it through”.
“The activity was intended to establish awareness of the slave trade and the manner in which the slaves were treated, as well as to teach the pupils about using resources. However, we note that the activity should have been worded differently,” said Steyn.
But parents took to social media to reject the statement, saying it was not an apology.
The educator has since been required to undergo re-education to qualify for equality, diversity and inclusion before returning to a classroom, Steyn added.
Sindisiwe Lulamila, one of the first parents to share the assignment on Facebook, said as parents they wanted their children to be protected and honoured.
“When I called my son’s principal over the racist assignment, she told me the slave trade was part of the school curriculum.
“The problem with us is we believed Western education was superior. That stopped us, for hundreds of years, from focusing on the treasures we have of African education in all aspects of life.
"We laugh today to even think Africa was the cradle of human civilisation. We laugh when African professors dig back hundreds of years to collect what we lost. Then we expect other races to take us seriously? Let’s unlearn and relearn who we really are,” said Lulamila.
Another parent said: “Children were encouraged to do something that was racist and dehumanising. We don’t want such teachers in our schools. It is enough that we have to fight racial profiling in Western Cape admission policies, now slavery.”
Dr Nadia Kamies, a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Pretoria’s department of Historical and Heritage Studies, said the assignment gave licence to use derogatory, racist language.
“In light of what has been happening in the Western Cape’s schools over the last few days, this still happens.
"It’s just so inherently racist that you would give an assignment like this to a group of 13-year-olds, to encourage them to think basically the way a slave trader would think.
“Why is the assignment not about trying to understand what it was like to be enslaved; to be violently taken from your home, your family, to be stripped of your identity?
"I don’t understand the motivation behind asking a young child to do an activity like this. This comes in light of the whole Black Lives Matter movement, and slavery has been fundamental to the way black bodies have been viewed in the US and in South Africa,” said Kamies.
Steyn issued another apology yesterday and said the school was willing to listen and they have committed to re-evaluating the curriculum and intensifying training staff in equity and diversity.
"She said they admit there was a serious error in judgement and that the assignment was totally unacceptable.
The school further said there was a need to investigate the curriculum in order to prevent a recurrence of the matter.
“We acknowledge that the response and outcry regarding the activity of slavery is justified. We further acknowledge the sentiments expressed by the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Steyn.