Sans Souci schoolgirls protest against alleged racist school policies

They claim they are not allowed to speak isiXhosa during break

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Photo of schoolgirls protesting
Girls wore their school ties as bandanas during their protest. Photo: Bernard Chiguvare

Dozens of learners at Sans Souci High School in Cape Town’s southern suburbs protested in the school grounds today against what a student described as the racist tendencies of the school authorities.

“Four years ago we had a similar protest and the principal promised to speak to the school governing board to change the girls’ hairstyle policy but to our surprise there has been no change,” said Mbaliyethu Gqubela, a 15-year-old grade 9 learner from Langa.

According to learners, at about 7:30 am ten or 11 students were locked outside their classroom for speaking to the media. They were later joined by other students in solidarity.

Gqubela said learners were not allowed to wear braids, afros and dreadlocks, and not allowed to speak in isiXhosa, their home language, during break. The girls told GroundUp that Afrikaans-speaking learners were free to converse in their home language during break.

The girls showed GroundUp a school policy document which forbade “exotic” hairstyles.

One grade 11 student learner said the treatment she received at school reminded her of apartheid that she had been told about by her parents. A grade 9 student said school felt like prison because of its policies.

Many of the protesting students tied their hair with their red school ties. While most of the protesting learners were black, they were supported by some white learners.

Support from neighbours and another school

A learner said that neighbours around the school had given them food, tea, and coffee. At about lunch time learners from Claremont High School joined the protesting girls but they were not allowed onto the school premises.

“We are in a democratic South Africa. The authorities at this school are racist. At our school as long one keeps hair neat the school does not give us any problems,” said a learner from Claremont High.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) in a statement said any allegations of racism and discrimination would be taken very seriously. It is investigating the allegations.

A few parents, mostly women, could be seen waiting at the fence of the school.

“The school authorities have to listen to the children and incorporate diversity into the code of conduct at school,” said one parent speaking on condition of anonymity.

Parents were not allowed to go into the school premises. All gates were closed. They asked the security guard to allow them to speak to the principal but this was refused. Another parent urged the learners to continue protesting peacefully. “Please, your concerns are very valid. Continue doing it peacefully because this is still your school,” she said, speaking to the learners through the fence.

Debbie Schafer, the province’s MEC for Education, said she had discussed the matter with the chair of the School Governing Body (SGB). The SGB had told her her that none of the issues had been raised by the learner representatives with the SGB, and that there was an open door policy where any matter of concern could be discussed.

Over the past few days girls at Pretoria Girls High School have been protesting about similar issues.

Video: Diana Mellow

TOPICS:  Education Racism

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

They should be concentrating on their studies and not getting involved in politics. When I was a young boy we had short back and sides and did not worry about matters non-educational. Millions on the planet seek education. It is necessary. So those creating problems should rather leave and go to exclusive black schools.

Dear Editor

It's a case of any old excuse rather than knuckling down and getting on with their studies. These recalcitrant students need their parents (not the school authorities), to give them a shake-up. Unlike their parents, these lucky kids have a great educational opportunity to move forward out of poverty; what they are doing is sabotaging that opportunity, wasting time and energy, and helping to catapult South Africa's education system into an abyss.

Dear Editor

Peter Francis: The fact that you think this is a "non-educational" matter shows how ignorant you are. Please tell, what is the right age to stand up for yourself? Is our country a better place, because you didn't stand for yourself as a "young boy". If you don't like what is happening you should go find yourself a white exclusive country.

Dear Editor

I get so excited and exhilarated when I read about these things.
To me it feels like Black consciousness is happening here in a big way.
I support today's youth 100% for being so independent and brave.
They are our country's future. We don't want cowards as future leaders.
All they want is to be treated equally, nothing more.
What's wrong with that, Helen Mudge?

Would you rather have a bunch of cowards like the current crop that are running the country?
This is a beautiful moment in our history, the bud of a flower that is opening.
I love this country, its vibrant, creative and headstrong.
The future looks good!

Dear Editor

I've been in the teaching profession for twenty odd years at various primary schools and for some reason this whole issue gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.

I have seen too many teachers who shouldn't have been in the teaching profession ever. Vindictive, small minded, underexposed individuals that made me shudder at the thought that people with that kind of mentality and capacity for cruelty were in charge of young people's lives for a big chunk of every day. And I sincerely hope all of those ones will now be exposed, named and shamed.

If you feel so insecure about what pupils are talking about in their mother tongue, then learn their language so you can understand what they say. It should be policy that when 50% of the students at your school are black, that the teachers be able to speak a black language on a conversational level at least. And use your senior black pupils to become the tutors and teachers. I know ... time, time is always an issue. Then MAKE time.

I've always maintained that we should agree on shared values pertaining to hair, nails and personal appearance, namely clean and neat and stop the nit-picking and hair-splitting. Get on with the teaching job and make the years they spend in your class and school unforgettable.

Dear Editor

Why does it matter how we look like? We're there to learn and as long as we're learning teachers and people in senior positions should not care about how we look like. And yes we are speaking in our own language but that doesn't mean we're being mean to you or discriminating against you. It's like us telling white people to stop speaking English. They wouldn't want to because they think they have a right to speak their language and they do. So do we. We're all equals in this country. Racism is something from the past and South Africans should just forget about it: it's the 21st century. Why can't we just turn over a new leaf and start over as one? We're united and we need to show it. It doesn't matter what colour, hair, language, disabled or not.
People just don't want to get over apartheid. We're all equals.

Dear Editor

If people knew the way Mrs Murray treated us then they would not be so quick to judge our actions. We were made to feel ashamed of being black! We wanted to preserve our identity and not be institutionalised and changed by her and the system she implemented upon us to ensure that we are "lady like". I will not be made to feel ashamed of being a black child.

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