Cape Town - An investigation into an alleged racist incident at Milnerton High School has opened old wounds about other incidents that had not been properly dealt with.
Former pupils and parents say the school has a history of allegations of racism, insensitivity to gender-based violence and inappropriate behaviour.
Last weekend Weekend Argus reported on parents’ concerns about an incident where the deputy principal and the head of the school’s disciplinary committee allegedly made a black pupil kneel before and bow repeatedly to a white pupil after the two fought.
A source said the incident “shocked and angered” pupils who held an anti-racism protest on the sports field where they took the knee.
The principal, Paul Besener, denied that the incident was racist as the teacher involved was also black and of Indian descent.
The Western Cape Department of Education said officials visited the school this week to interview staff and pupils.
The department’s spokesperson, Millicent Merton, said: “There has been a number of discussions between the parties and apologies have been made. The parents of the two learners have also been informed of the processes that have been followed.”
She said a report was being finalised. The teacher involved had not been suspended, pending the investigation.
The matter sparked debate and opened old wounds for former parents and pupils who spoke about their experiences at the school, with some taking to social media platforms.
One parent alleged that she had been told by her child that racist references were made to identify pupils.
“Apparently our children were referred to as ‘hey, you, black girl, black boy or Chinese boy’. When the teacher was asked by a learner if he did not find this odd, he merely told them to embrace their race,” the parent said.
She said although she welcomed a letter sent to parents this week, she was disturbed by media reports that indicated that the school authorities seemed to “jump to a conclusion” about the incident even though an investigation was still underway.
“If you want to allow a fair hearing and justice, one cannot jump into defence by dismissing the matter. I found that disturbing,” said the parent.
Another parent said her son would only be admitted to the school if he shaved his dreadlocks.
“I explained that he kept his dreadlocks tied. This is what he did at his previous school. But I was told that if the school were to allow him to do that, then it would have to allow white boys to tie their hair in a ponytail or wear skirts. I was also told if I did not like the rules I could take my son to a black school.
“I lodged complaints with the department and the Human Rights Commission (HRC) but nothing came of it,” the parent said.
On social media, former pupils shared experiences of being “touched in an inappropriate manner” and concerns of reported incidents not being dealt with.
One former pupil wrote on Instagram: “I reported to the school a gender-based violence case which took place off the school grounds. The learner continued to harass me at school. But I was told that there was nothing the school could do. It could not offer support because the learner involved was related to a member of the school governing body.”
She also claimed that she was threatened with legal action should she talk about the incident.
“There was a tendency of leaving dirty laundry in its basket,” the former pupil said.
Besener declined to comment, saying he had been instructed by the department not to speak.
The provincial department said the new allegations should be referred to the school.
Calls have been made for an independent investigation.
A parent said: “There has to be accountability. Institutions, in general, cannot be allowed to carry out racist agendas with impunity. Schools must be equipped to deal with diversity and transformation issues and create safe spaces for learners.”
The Human Rights Commission said it was looking into the matter.
Commissioner for Basic Education advocate André Hurtley Gaum said he was scheduled to meet with national Department of Basic Education officials to discuss the possibility of developing a model human rights-compliant School Code of Conduct. “We also want a Human Rights Commission-sanctioned social cohesion, sensitivity and diversity training programme that can be rolled out at all schools.”