Use our classrooms to teach and practise humanity, respect and tolerance

By Opinion Time of article published Nov 20, 2020

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By Faiez Jacobs

Tolerance, acknowledgement, empathy, honesty, acceptance.

These are a few words I believe children should be taught. A string of words that could help to eradicate racism in the Western Cape.

I specifically mention the Western Cape after racist anger boiled over, resulting in white people beating black EFF supporters outside Brackenfell High School.

We know this province is beset with racism, on the Cape Flats coloured people are disparaging of black people, and hold white people in high regard. This, of course, is seen in voting patterns.

But, there is something special on the Cape Flats, and this is how tolerant Christians and Muslims are toward each other.

Christians marry into Muslim families, Muslims marry into Christian families.

Children play together, go to school together, visit each other’s homes, eat together, the list goes on and on.

I asked myself why this is. Why the two religions live in harmony, unlike in other countries, where religious-based wars decimate communities.

There is some acknowledgement that people from both religions are somewhat disparaging of each other, but the comments are dealt with behind closed doors so as not to cause hurt to the other. I am not saying whispers should be allowed. What I am saying is that tolerance holds this community together.

If different religions can live side by side, why can’t people of different races be tolerant and learn from each other?

We acknowledge that children more often than not, mimic their parent’s utterances and actions. Some people say that parents are too old to change their behaviour, but parents can also learn from their children.

Of course, the only place children can learn to unlearn racism is at school. Therefore it is gut-wrenching to see how schools, most of them in the leafy suburbs in the Western Cape, continue to operate as if it’s pre-94, that the Western Cape Department of Education and MEC Debbie Schafer has churned out racist young people, who will continue believing white is right and be assured of their superiority. These attitudes will be passed on to their children.

Schafer, her head of department, Brian Schreuder (described by some as a white dinosaur), Brackenfell High’s principal, Jannie Muller, and its Governing Body chairman, Guillaume Smit, should hang their heads in shame.

The time has come for the Premier of the Western Cape, Alan Winde, to fire Schafer for her unwillingness to deal with racism in schools.

Now, 26 years after apartheid was abolished, schools in the Western Cape are cauldrons of racism and hate.

Last week, the scenes outside Brackenfell High School were reminiscent of apartheid, armed white men attacking black people.

A group of EFF supporters were exercising their right to protest peacefully outside Brackenfell High when they were attacked by an armed mob. A young black woman was beaten with a stick by a white man.

The protest was in response to a matric farewell where only white children and white teachers were present.

While the issue was being debated, Schafer, her department and the school thought it would blow over. And we are thankful that it did not blow over.

Subsequent events revealed how, over many years, the school refused to deal with racism; and when they did respond, it was a token, to appease. When former and present learners started speaking out about their treatment at the school there were attempts to shut them up. Why? Why should a former learner’s life be threatened? Why would a former learner have to open a case of intimidation? Why is one of the parents who spoke out being intimidated and threatened? Because of the silent and not so silent racist bullies.

It is surely only a bully who can taunt a nation with this tweet: “So if you have a private party and invite one race only that is racial discrimination?” Cemented in white privilege, it goes right over her head. And that is dangerous. She is ultimately responsible for our children for a large part of the day, and more importantly, she is responsible for what schools release into society after Grade 12.

Each post on social media, each clip on TV, is an indictment on Schafer, and her cavalier attitude toward racism in schools.

In a turn of events, parents and former learners who spoke out, are seeking protection from the police, because they have been intimated and threatened. All of this for what? That the school can maintain the status quo? To go after “kleva blacks and coloureds” who dared to speak out?

These actions are truly abhorrent.

The experience black and coloured children endure at the school is frightening, to say the least, and at most they fear for their safety and mental health. There are reports of hair being pulled, and white teens being bold enough to say to girls that their mothers are their maids. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being house help. In this case, however, it is derogatory, very much in the apartheid vein, where it was a given that our mothers were nothing more than maids. In fact, they were called ‘die meid’ an insulting, derogatory and hurtful word. White children are not shameful of what they say. I (want to) believe that these learnt attitudes and behaviour can be changed.

It is a further indictment that some learners adapted and accepted the racist epithets thrown at them. Believing that they are nothing more than maids and gardeners. That their skin colour and ‘kroes’ hair identify them as lesser.

It is not black and coloured children who should be accepting of this dehumanising treatment. It is the white children who should be taught the history behind racism, for them to understand the pain of apartheid, and be in awe of how black and coloured children have worked their way out of entrenched slavery.

A former learner succinctly said on social media that the racist attitudes at the schools were responsible for sending white children out into the world believing they are superior and it is their right to attack black people.

Their appeal for justice seemingly falling on deaf ears.

How is it that a learner can spew so much hate by calling a peer a k***** and get suspended for two days? On his return to school, the racist utterances continued. Nothing further was done.

Schafer, Schreuder, Jannie Muller and Smit should ask themselves why.

Are black and coloured people not human, clever, and wealthy enough to lead?

But it is obvious they need to continue building their enclave against the non-existent ’’swart gevaar’’.

I remind Schafer, Schreuder, Muller and Smit it is hate speech and a crime to call someone the k-word. It is also abhorrent to treat people like second-class citizens. It is a violation of their human rights. It is up to the adults to deal with the matters in a legal manner

I am sure that South Africa Human Rights Commission commissioner Andre Gaum will do a thorough investigation. We do not need to be reminded that Gaum is an advocate, was MEC for education in the Western Cape and a member of Parliament. And Gaum is a white Afrikaner. I mention this because he must have overcome obstacles as he fought his way out of racism.

As far back as 2016, a judgment handed down by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said the use of the k-word had great historical significance in South Africa‚ used previously to delegitimise and dehumanise black people.

"The use of this term captures the heartland of racism‚ it's contemptuous disregard and calculated dignity-nullifying effects on others."

The duplicitous utterances of the School Governing Body (SGB) have to be investigated. The make up of the SGB needs to be addressed, but more importantly, the apartheid thinking needs to be addressed. There are only two coloured teachers. It goes without saying that the overwhelming majority are white.

It seems that the school and its community is happily stuck in apartheid’s zenith.

Answering a question in parliament, President Cyril Ramaphosa says while racism-fuelled incidents, which were deeply disturbing, do not represent the broader reality of South Africa, there is a need to confront racist attitudes and to continuously condemn any form of racism.

Without doubt the MEC for Education and her department needs to be taken to task.

When a MEC ponders on Twitter, “So if you have a private party and invite one race only that is racial discrimination?” it makes one realise why racism is the norm in previously Model C schools.

It also gives her department the right to put out a laughable statement that Brackenfell High is “Addressing discrimination in a courageous and mature manner”. This after they sent out a statement denying racism at the school. It was laughable to see how they had to backtrack and attempt a second statement grudgingly acknowledging that racism was an issue. It was ridiculous. And this is how subtle racism thrives. Deny, deny, assuming, from their superior positions that they would be believed. Not for a minute considering that the bent and bowed coloured and black children had found their voices and stood up.

The refrain was how odd it was that there could be a farewell for whites only, it did not matter that it wasn’t an official school event.

The broader issue at stake is that parents and the children did not find it strange or awkward that not a single black or coloured child was invited.

Again, this stems from the school community’s superior attitude. They clearly grudgingly allowed black and coloured children into their school. Their actions over the years clearly show they would have preferred to remain a white enclave.

I am thankful that the South African Human Rights Commission is investigating this entire matter. I am sure their investigation and findings will be truthful and unbiased. I urge others who have had to confront racism to speak out, and to seek help. Victims must know that we are here to help. That they are safe in telling their stories.

I call on Winde to fire Schafer, that the principal goes through a disciplinary process, and that the current members of the SGB should immediately resign. There is no room for such bigots in South Africa. We are still healing from our past, and trying to step forward into tomorrow.

As various political parties plan to march too and protest at the school over the next few days, let us move beyond grandstanding, instead, let's openly and honestly engage about the blatant and subtle racism which still exists. Let’s confront #Baaskap, #WhitePriviledge, Institutionalised Racism. Let’s start embracing our diversity by first seeing each other, hearing each other, seeking to understand and find win-win consensus. I appeal you to more out of your laager. Move away from THEM and US. Let’s acknowledge that fear, hatred, bigotry, patriarchy exist and let us move as a nation to Humanity, Menswaardigheid and Ubuntu.

An eye for an eye will leave us all blind. Let all of us find lasting and practical solutions to bring about much-needed change. Let’s use our classrooms to teach and practice humanity, respect and tolerance. Let us be the change.

* Jacobs is a Member of Parliament for Greater Athlone and the parliamentary Whip for Small Business.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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