Pupils use social media to expose rampant racism at top Cape schools
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Cape Town - In the wake of the global #BlackLivesMatter movement, pupils from more than 20 elite Cape high schools have exposed what they deem blatant racism experienced at the hands of staff and fellow pupils at private and former Model C schools.
Youth are now speaking out about traumatic treatment at school, including Muslim pupils being called terrorists and black and coloured pupils being told they would grow up to be criminals.
Pupils said they were called derogatory names including the K-word and N-word and were excluded or singled out due to race or religion, bullied based on accent or appearance and treated differently in terms of disciplinary measures.
Much of the protest action has been focused on two of the schools: Bishops Diocesan College and Herschel Girls School.
However, an Instagram account named @yousilenceweamplify has created a platform where current and former pupils have claimed alleged experiences.
The pupils include some from Rondebosch Boys’ High, Westerford High, Springfield Convent Senior, Rustenberg Girls’ High, various Waldorf schools, St Cyprian’s, SACS, Wynberg Girls’ High, Pinelands High, The Settlers High, Edgemead High, Cedar House, Rhenish Girls’ High and Reddam House.
The matric class at Bishops Diocesan School in Rondebosch staged a protest on the school grounds on Friday, demanding an end to what they said was racism and homophobia at the school. They hoisted a rainbow Pride flag alongside a #BlackLivesMatter flag.
The class collectively wrote a memorandum of 20 demands for transformation at the school, followed by 15 pages of personal testimonies from present and past pupils about allegedly racist and homophobic experiences at the hands of staff as well as fellow pupils.
“Once inside our gates, discrimination runs rampant,” the memorandum read. “It is perpetrated by the boys, staff and parents, with the whispers of inequity echoing through the corridors and classrooms. While many choose to remain blissfully ignorant of this reality, the damage it has wreaked on the psyches of those subject to its wrath, is inexplicable. It is a stain.”
“The number of subtly racist occurrences that took place eventually just became commonplace, until only really the overtly racist stuff stuck in my memory,” one anonymous entry read.
“Some of these include: being told I’d grow up to become a thief by my peers; being told I was the quota player in the water polo team; being told that I should kiss a girl because she’s brown like me.”
Guy Pearson, outgoing principal of Bishops, said his executive team had received the memorandum.
“This will be an ideal opportunity to continue the engagement with all members of our community regarding these issues in our school,” Pearson said.
“We are committed to making Bishops a welcoming environment for all who learn and work here, irrespective of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.”
Herschel Girls School is dealing with similar online accusations after posting on Instagram in support of awareness for the #BlackLivesMatter campaign on Tuesday. The post has since amassed more than 700 comments criticising the school for racism allegedly experienced by pupils of colour. In addition, a petition to “end institutionalised racism at Herschel” has garnered nearly 4 000 signatures.
@allblackally said: “I went to this school for three years and left after having some of the worst moments of my life there. The racism, both explicit and more subtle micro aggressions, have scarred me.”
“The sad thing about it is that when you arrive, you are so grateful to be there as a POC (person of colour) and your parents remind you of that,” @domdryding said. “Everything thereafter is survival so by the time you leave, you are left with trying to make sense of and work through the micro aggressions and trauma which characterised five years of your life.”
Herschel posted a statement inviting former pupils to communicate with it on a strategy for change. “We express sadness that this is the way the students of 2019 and before have felt at the school. We know that you have shown courage in expressing your pain, anger and hurt...We have a clear and unequivocal strategy to work toward a school where a sense of belonging is real.”
Shaun Simpson, headmaster of Rondebosch Boys’ High School, invited a dialogue to change “a culture that has led to a number of its students of colour feeling alienated and angry”.
“I want all boys who attend Rondebosch to remember their time at the school with affection and pride and it saddens me to see that this is not the case,” he said.
Western Cape Education Department spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said it was not aware of any protests.