Bishop about events at Pretoria Girls High


We note with deep concern how children, the most vulnerable of our society, have been placed in a most disturbing space earlier this week at one of the top Government schools in our country.

We want firstly to assure our learners, their teachers, parents and others who work in education, that we stand by them as they seek to find solutions to a problem that is not of their own doing. Simply put – we have failed our children, one of our most prized assets as a country.

We have always believed that an education system that ignores our racial context fails to adequately prepare our young people for life in the new South Africa. Deep divisions have been fostered during colonialism and apartheid. We cannot just put the children of former victims and aggressors in the same space and expect them to get on with the task of education. All our learners come from cultures which have been deeply affected by the past. Barney Pityana in a speech on racism at the National Conference on Racism in 2000 puts it aptly: “We have come from a system that we as (adult) South Africans know so well – the system of racial hierarchy which dictated that racial characteristics – visible or not so visible – bestowed value. These essentials determined what you were capable of, what kind of person you were, what your station in life was”.

The incident at Pretoria Girls High School suggests that the model where we have expected children, who take up places in former Model C schools, to be assimilated into the dominant culture, is wholly inadequate. We need to create spaces for honest dialogue about our past. Teachers need assistance to come alongside children from cultures that are different from their own. Learners and their parents also need to be sensitized to the baggage that is brought into the melting pot of races and cultures in our mixed schools. We expect proactive leadership from our educators and Government.

Failing this leadership our children will continue to be subjected to outdated notions that purportedly seek to establish discipline on school grounds, but in the process demean traits and characteristics which are unique to the essential worth of young individuals. Language and hair caused the flare-up at Pretoria Girls High School. These are manifestations of specific cultures and race. The flare-up revealed unhappiness with the status quo.

We believe that the incident at Pretoria Girls High School is systemic. It lays bare the challenge to work for healing and reconciliation. We choose the terms healing and reconciliation as opposed to the term social cohesion. It is significant to note the small focus given to social cohesion relative to other themes in our National Development Plan. The NDP mentions themes that are critical to achieving transformation. Social Cohesion is mentioned almost as an afterthought.

Underlying this, must be a feeling that the application of rules and the interactions of authority with black pupils still carry elements of injustice and racism which educators, governing bodies and administrators have failed to detect. Therein lies the problem, and it is that which needs to be addressed. Something built into the current school context in racially mixed schools, undetected, is bubbling up, and we need to handle it speedily before it causes serious distraction. As Church leaders we offer to come alongside educators, parents and learners in a bid to find creative solutions. We want you to know that you are not alone.

We appeal to Government to provide more to undo the damage that we have all suffered under apartheid, than is presently the case. Apartheid was a carefully engineered social construct. It needs to be dismantled with equal care. If not, we shall continue to have incidents of racism wherever the diverse people of our land congregate. It seems to us that at the heart of the problem is that amongst our many educators and managers of schools, there is no understanding, wisdom or skill in managing a society of diverse cultures. It is proposed that educators undergo racism-sensitivity training in order to equip themselves better to teach in a race-sensitive environment.

We have all been made in the image and likeness of God our Creator. Let us affirm and celebrate the wonderful diversity with which we have been blessed, instead of expecting each other to conform to an outmoded stereotype.

(Issued at a Media Briefing organized by the Pretoria Press Club at the CSIR 1 September 2016)