Pretoria Girls High will study education department's report on racism

Pupils at Pretoria Girls High School protested against the school's code of conduct, which allegedly instructs them to chemically straighten their hair. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Pupils at Pretoria Girls High School protested against the school's code of conduct, which allegedly instructs them to chemically straighten their hair. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Pretoria High School for Girls (PHSG) is studying a report presented to them by the department of education into allegations of racism, it said on Tuesday.

The school governing body (SGB) is currently studying the report containing a law firm’s findings and resultant recommendations, SGB chairperson Graeme Wilson said in a statement.

The report was presented to the school by Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi on Friday during a series of engagement sessions held with the SGB, school leadership, pupils and reporters.

“We will study the report and its recommendations in a spirit of correcting any wrong-doing with due sensitivity and fairness,” Wilson said.

On Friday, Lesufi said black pupils at the school were victims of racism and that the school’s hair policy was enforced without sensitivity.

Black pupils’ dignity was violated on numerous occasions, he said at the release of a report into the school. Black girls were randomly pulled out of assembly and told to “fix” their hair.

Rebuild a culture of trust

Black pupils were told to stand in groups according to their ethnic background, while white girls remained seated, according to one incident detailed in the report.

There were cases where black children were called monkeys, he said.

The report’s recommendations include that action be taken against the teachers responsible and that the school’s code of conduct be reviewed.

READ MORE: From slavery to colonialism and school rules: A history of myths about black hair

The school should implement diversity training and cultural awareness programmes. Within three months of the diversity training, an independent agency had to conduct an anonymous “cultural survey” to get the views of pupils on progress made. Lesufi apologised to those affected by the traumatic and humiliating experience of racial abuse. He said it was one of the leading schools in the province and its reputation needed to be guarded jealously.

The department intended working with the school to rebuild a culture of trust and mutual respect among teachers, parents, and pupils, he said. 

In August, black pupils protested against the school’s code of conduct, saying it imposed unfair restrictions on how they could wear their hair. 

School apologises 

The girls said school rules prohibited African hairstyles such as afros, Bantu knots, dreadlocks, and braids.“We acknowledge and appreciate the constructive approach followed by the MEC and his team in this very sensitive matter while supporting his call for corrective action.

“The SGB acknowledges that steps need to be taken to improve sensitivity for cultural and religious inclusion towards improving the social cohesion in our school in the interest of all the learners,” Wilson said. 

He said an apology had already been extended to the affected pupils who experienced “victimisation” and “racial abuse”.“We will ensure that no proven racist conduct or inappropriate rules will be left unaddressed. We will move forward as one inclusive proud South African school that recognises the diversity of our society with the sensitivity it requires.

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“It is important to recognise that the structure, school discipline and adherence to a higher standard must be shaped in an inclusive and sensitive manner, without compromise to the values or excellent results that PHSG has become known for.”

 

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