It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to be a pupil at the Rustenburg Girls’ Junior School in Cape Town’s Rondebosch. The teachers are white, most of pupils are white and the dominant culture is (unsurprisingly) white.
Since the Mail & Guardian first drew attention to the case of the school’s first black teacher (who is not an isiXhosa teacher), Nozipho Mthembu, who has accused the institution of constructive dismissal, it has placed the suburban former model C school firmly in the spotlight, with one pupil asking: “Are black teachers real teachers?”
A letter from black women, alumni of the school, offers an insight into what it means to be caught up in that bubble. “The black women signed to this letter learnt early on that becoming more ‘white’ in Rustenburg — by adapting how we spoke, what we shared of our home lives, what our parents could afford and how we presented ourselves — was an important tool in fitting in, getting ahead and in securing recognition for our abilities. At a fundamental level, being a black student meant being ‘other’.”
This heartfelt, despairing call for recognition, to abolish the othering of children, yes children, must surely strike home with the school governing body, parents, teachers and the Western Cape education department who, despite their mouthing of the words “transformation”, “committed” and “diversity”, recognise their complicity in perpetuating divisions, otherwise known in a different language as apartheid.
The initiative by Parents for Change, comprising just 24 black and white parents at the school, is heartening and reminds us that the change most of us yearn for is something that we should not stop fighting for.