Sans Souci Girls’ High allowed discrimination, says Western Cape education department

The Western Cape education department (WCED) has released an investigation confirming that Sans Souci Girls’ High School in Cape Town allowed “discriminating practices”. Last year, learners at Sans Souci joined Pretoria High School for Girls in protest against the schools’ codes of conduct and hair policies. 

“The investigation found that a number of discriminating practices gave rise to understandable unhappiness among learners and steps have already been taken to remedy these practices,” Brian Scheuder, the head of education in the Western Cape, said in a statement.

The investigation, which began on September 1, was conducted by four senior officials in the WCED at the request of education MEC Debbie Schäfer. Protests at Sans Souci led to a group of black learners being locked out of the school on September 1 and drew support from students across Cape Town.

The learners said teachers banned natural hair on school premises and that they were penalised for speaking black South African languages at school. In one incident, a learner told journalists that she had received the equivalent of a demerit for speaking isiXhosa, her mother tongue.

Schreuder said individuals had made representations to the department and that the investigation had been concluded over the holiday season. Discussions with the school will continue after the new school year begins, with specific attention on:

  • Reviewing the code of conduct;
  • Reviewing actions and decisions taken about being inclusive of all cultures and faiths;
  • Helping the governing body fulfil its functions through training and support; and
  • Having disciplinary engagements with individuals where applicable

But Schreuder said there was little evidence to support the dismissal of anyone at the school.

“I have taken legal advice on the matter and the conclusion is that while a number of unacceptable practices, which require revision and correction, were identified the evidence is unlikely to lead to dismissal in any one instance,” he said.

Sans Souci started amending its hair policy shortly after protests began, but learners said they had not been consulted about the proposed policy. The learners had initially asked Schäfer if they were allowed to wear braids at school because teachers would not allow it.

“She couldn’t find any reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to,” Schäfer’s spokesperson, Jessica Shelver, told EWN at the time of the protests. 

Principal walks away
Schreuder also announced that Charmaine Murray, who has been the school’s principal since 1999, had resigned following the protests.

“She has indicated that her decision is a consequence of the trauma of the unfolding events and believes this to be in her and the school’s best interests,” Schreuder said.

During the protests, learners called for Murray to be dismissed. The learners said she had allowed the school to embrace a culture that marginalises black learners. She was also accused of manhandling them. 

“Institutional violence and systemic racism enacted upon us by the school is not new. We have hidden our experiences in the kinks of our hair and swallowed the languages of our mothers into our throats. Mrs Murray, we ask you to step aside,” the Sans Souci learners wrote in a memorandum in September last year.

“We have been berated by you and marginalised by you. You have enforced upon us the kind of structural violence that requires healing of the soul. You have characterised us as reminding you of the Ugandan gorillas you saw on safari and mocked our afros. You have been the gatekeeper of the school’s oppression.”

There has yet to be an announcement as to who will replace Murray. The Mail & Guardian attempted to contact Sans Souci at the time of publishing.

Review for all school codes of conduct
The WCED said the protests at Sans Souci had taught the department “valuable lessons” and that it would make efforts to “pre-empt any such instances [of discrimination]”.

“I have already asked schools last year to review and amend their codes of conduct where necessary and we will engage with schools about this important aspect,” Schreuder said.

The department has said that schools should embody a culture of inclusivity that is reflective of South Africa, but the protests and the findings of the Sans Souci probe show that South African high schools still have much work to do. 

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.
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