Free State school staff guilty of hate speech

Staff at a Free State school were found guilty of using hate speech for calling pupils 'baboons'. (Gallo)

Staff at a Free State school were found guilty of using hate speech for calling pupils 'baboons'. (Gallo)

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has found a Bloemfontein school’s staff guilty of hate speech towards black and coloured pupils. 

“The commission found against the principal and staff at Dr Viljoen Combined School in a racism case,” SAHRC spokesperson Isaac Mangena said on Wednesday. 

The SAHRC investigated allegations that pupils at the school were exposed to dehumanising and racist treatment by staff, including the principal, in May 2013. Children at the school alleged staff called them racist, derogatory and belittling names, such as “kaffirs, baboons, monkeys, and little black bitches”. 

Mangena said the commission found the remarks clearly constituted hate speech as defined by the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act. 

“These acts of hate speech constitute a clear violation of both the right to equality and human dignity of the learners,” he said. 

Poor learning environment
The school failed to create a learning environment free from harmful elements, such as racist utterances and demeaning remarks. This further violated both the right to education and children’s rights. 

The commission made various recommendations for the school and the Free State education department. 

Free State education department spokesperson Howard Ndaba said the department welcomed the SAHRC report. 

“We will make sure we implement the recommendations of the report.” 

No one willing to give evidence
He said no one had approached the department to complain of racism at the school, and when it tried to probe the matter the department could not find anyone who was willing to give evidence. 

“We will now launch an internal investigation, but we can’t proceed if no one is willing to give information.” 

Ndaba said the department could not take action against the staff based on the SAHRC report because it did not contain allegations against particular staff members. 

The SAHRC found that the school staff’s racist remarks constituted a clear incident of hate speech, and by extension violated pupils’ rights to equality and human dignity. 

Initiatives to counter racism
Recommendations included that the department develop system-wide procedures for monitoring and reporting on initiatives to counter racism in public schools within 18 months. 

“The Free State provincial department of education should provide training programmes to the school staff in valuing diversity, cross-cultural understanding and strategies to counter racism within a period of six months. 

“The school in collaboration with the [department] should provide curriculum and resources which challenge racist attitudes and behaviours and increase teachers and learners’ understanding of racism,” Mangena said. 

In addition the school was urged to come up with policies and guidelines on countering racism, including clear procedures for the resolution of complaints of racism, within a year. A copy of these should be submitted to the commission for review.

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