Old girls criticise Rustenburg’s lack of transformation

'We stand by Ms Mthembu, and hope that no future students, teachers or members of the wider Rustenburg community will have to face a similar ordeal,' the old girls’ letter concluded. (David Harrison/M&G)

'We stand by Ms Mthembu, and hope that no future students, teachers or members of the wider Rustenburg community will have to face a similar ordeal,' the old girls’ letter concluded. (David Harrison/M&G)

Former Rustenburg Girls Junior and High School learners have expressed disappointment at the public school’s lack of transformation and the “disturbing racial undertones” to the junior school’s alleged mistreatment of a former black teacher.

In an open letter addressed to the junior school’s governing body on Wednesday, concerned former pupils addressed the controversy over its treatment of former Grade 5 teacher Nozipho Mthembu.

“We are astounded by the fact that it took the governing body of Rustenburg Girls’ Junior School (RGJS) 24 years since the end of apartheid to appoint its first black African teacher,” the letter said.

Mthembu was employed as a class teacher by the school in January 2018. The only other black teacher at the school was the isiXhosa teacher. Mthembu told the Mail & Guardian last week that within nine months of her employment, she was admitted to hospital for stress and anxiety and that she was “coerced” to resign.

The junior school’s governing body and the Western Cape department of education have denied that they coerced Mthembu to resign, insisting that due process was followed.
Debbie Schäfer, the MEC for education, has said that RGJS had appropriately asked Mthembu to resign “after ongoing legitimate concerns that were raised with her.” Parents, however, found the process discriminatory.

READ MORE: Cape school accused of coercing black teacher to resign

The letter from former students said: “We are deeply concerned that an environment at Rustenburg Junior School exists where a child can openly pose the question; ‘Are black teachers real teachers?’. It is extraordinary that this was the first time for many being taught by a Black teacher, outside of isiXhosa classes.”

The old girls have accused the school of not being inclusive: “The dominant culture and ethos of the school turned on white eurocentric values, with little done to acknowledge the diversity within our student body.

“We urge RGJS and RGHS to publicly answer for the limited transformation achieved to date, to critically assess its working practices and culture, and to put in place measures to fix what is broken.”

Since the M&G published the story last Friday, old girls from both the junior and senior schools have take to social media to describe their experiences at the school. In a statement released by Rustenburg Girls’ High School on Wednesday, past pupils have been invited to give their input to help the school create an environment where pupils can feel at home.

Admitting that this process is long overdue, the high school has promised to accelerate transformation at the school by engaging with learners, staff and through parents on the school governing body.

“Transformation and diversity are extremely important to us,” high school principal Michael Gates said in a statement released on Wednesday too.

“Deliberate steps have been taken to create opportunities for meaningful engagement.  This has included facilitated workshops for the entire staff complement, specific training for subject teachers, a ‘Dialogue Day’ for the entire school community, and a team of teachers who provide opportunities for learners to discuss relevant issues and concerns.”

READ MORE: Parents, W Cape education department clash over Rustenburg school racism allegations

“We stand by Ms Mthembu, and hope that no future students, teachers or members of the wider Rustenburg community will have to face a similar ordeal,” the old girls’ letter concluded.

Gemma Ritchie

Gemma Ritchie

Gemma Ritchie works in the Mail & Guardian's online department. She majored in English Literature at a small liberal arts college in the USA.  Read more from Gemma Ritchie

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