Cape Town - A disturbing incident where a black pupil was forced to bow on his knees several times before a fellow white pupil at Milnerton High has rattled the school community.
Furious parents have expressed concern that the incident has not been handled properly by the school which is seen to be “trying to sweep it under the carpet”.
According to sources, two male pupils had a “silly fight” over a bench during the school break this week.
The white pupil went to report the matter to a teacher and the following day the head of the school’s disciplinary committee made the black pupil get on his knees and bow to the white pupil several times.
“He was made to raise his hands up and down while he was on his knees – it looked like he was worshipping him. This took place in front of some learners,” said the source, adding that the incident had angered pupils and some teachers at the school.
On Thursday, pupils of all races staged a peaceful anti-racism protest on the sports field, where they took the knee, a gesture which is a show of silent solidarity and taking a stance against racism. The pupils also demanded that the school address the issue.
“The whole school community is agitated and frustrated. The pupils wanted the principal and the teacher involved to publicly apologise to everyone at an assembly. They failed to do so. Now, it’s so tense at school,” said the source.
Instead, a member of the school governing body allegedly told the pupils that “all parties had apologised to each other, directly and indirectly”.
However, the black pupil shared his anguish with pupils at the assembly on Thursday.
The victim allegedly expressed gratitude for the support he had received.
“I want to thank you for being there through my downfall and for helping me rise up again,” he told the assembly.
“He spoke about the humiliation he’s suffered and how the incident has stripped him of his dignity. We share his pain. Pupils do not see each other in terms of skin colour. They have never experienced apartheid. But it’s concerning that those in authority seem to be stuck in old mindsets,” a source said.
According to the source, the school principal was scheduled to address the pupils and teachers ► on Monday ◄ tomorrow.
“We demand answers and tangible solutions. They are trying to wish the matter away. It’s not just going to disappear on its own. Everyone is in distress,” another source said.
None of the pupils wanted to speak about the incident as they had been “told not to do so”.
School principal Paul Besener said the incident had taken place but denied that the incident was racist as the teacher, who is of Indian descent, was also black.
“There was a fight and an altercation and the children protested. They thought that the way the matter was handled was inappropriate,” he said.
Besener said the school embraced diversity and expressed the hope that the matter would be “solved correctly”.
He said the matter was also reported to the Western Cape Department of Education and the school was also working closely with the Representative Council of Learners.
“We’re proud of our value system. We will leave no stone unturned,” said Besener.
He also said no action had been taken against the deputy principal as the Department of Education was still investigating the matter.
But a parent with children at the school said the incident reeked of racism and he likened it to “apartheid practices”.
“It’s disturbing that 30 years into our democracy, children are made to relive apartheid where blacks were regarded as being inferior and submissive to other races,” he said.
Western Cape Department of Education spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the department was aware of the incident.
“The matter was reported to Labour Relations and an investigation is under way. The school dealt with the matter according to WCED policy and protocols,” said Hammond.
But parents said they had yet to be informed by the school as to how it would be resolved internally.
“There cannot be secrecy around this matter. I am still shocked. We cannot have teachers who rip children’s dignity apart and enforce racist behaviour,” he said.
He also expressed concern that the teacher implicated was the second in command at the school and might take over the position of principal in future.
In 2020, the Brackenfell High School was accused of racism after a group of parents organised a farewell event for white pupils only.
The provincial department said its investigation found no evidence of racism and there were no grounds to take action against teachers who attended the event.