Parents claim a leaked email thread has shown how Rustenburg Girls Junior School allegedly discouraged an American family from sponsoring an underprivileged learner to apply at the school.
An American couple sent an email in February 2015, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, to the school’s admissions officer Gill Cook, enquiring what the process was to apply at the school. RGJS is an elite public school located in Cape Town’s pristine southern suburbs. The school governing body (SGB), responding to questions from the M&G, denied allegations of racism.
The couple were tourists who had visited informal settlements and, after seeing the poverty and lack of opportunity, wanted to help a young girl by paying the full costs of her tuition.
“We wish to help one small [child] to have a chance in the world. Would you be so kind as to help us understand the process and the cost in more detail?” the email reads.
Cook responded to the couple on February 13 2015, five days after the couple had sent their enquiry. In her response, Cook re-directed the couple to apply to Wynberg Girls Junior School.
She listed “concerns” which she said the school had observed in its learners who had been awarded scholarships.
“There is often a lack of real support at home on many levels – management of homework, contracting reliable transport to and from school (difficult for younger pupils having to manage this on their own) and participation in events after school hours and during the weekend,” Cook began.
“Concerns exist when a child feels isolated from her home community. We have found the home community isolates her in return,” she continued.
She added two other points, saying the children would struggle to make friends and there was worry that the sponsors would discontinue their financial support of the child.
“Friendships at school often result in playdates – this can also become tricky because of the distance in travel and result in a child feeling isolated and excluded,” she said.
“We have also experienced that the focus and support of a sponsor can cease – a change in personal circumstances sited. This has dire consequences for a pupil and her family,” she said.
Cook ended her email by saying the Americans are “welcome to apply” for the child to be put on the RGJS waiting lists.
The school governing body said that in hindsight the email from Cook did not “convey our intent, which is to promote the overall holistic well-being of all our learners”, but that it was standard protocol raise such issues. The SGB also said that all learners enrolled at the school who have been awarded scholarships are “of colour and from underprivileged communities”. The school did not, however, answer questions of whether the learners are African black, and how many are enrolled.
They denied that it is practise to discourage underprivileged learners from applying to the school, saying that at the time the American couple had made the enquiry, the school had a similar interaction with a British family, where the same issues were raised, but the learner was accepted to RGJS.
“For context, a British family also enquired about sponsoring another child of colour (a 4-year-old) at our school at the same time. We supplied the same communication to this family who then proceeded to follow up with a formal application. The application was considered and the child was accepted,” the SGB said.
But parents say that they raised concerns about the school’s admissions policy in a public meeting last year, after the three members resigned from the SGB after becoming frustrated by, in their view, the school’s lack of willingness to transform. RGJS has reiterated that it is committed to transformation in press statements in recent weeks. The parents say, however, that the school’s population remains predominantly white.
Kashif Wicomb, a former parent at the school who saw the emails last year, said the school had not responded after he supplied them with a copy of the emails.
“A little girl’s life remained unchanged because of the racist mindset and attitude of the principal, management and SGB at Rustenburg,” Wicomb said.
Parents for Change, a group of concerned parents at the school who want transformation to be prioritised, have said that the emails are evidence of the school’s “ongoing exclusionary tactics with regard to admission of learners”.
The M&G reported two weeks ago that RGJS has become embroiled in allegations of racism after it was accused of “coercing” black teacher Nozipho Mthembu into leaving the school this year. In its 124 year history, the only black teachers RGJS has employed have taught isiXhosa. Mthembu was the first black teacher employed at the school to teach other subjects.
Parents at the school had said the school’s alleged mistreatment of Mthembu and criticism of her competency had influenced children at the school to believe that black teachers can’t teach.
The school, meanwhile, has maintained that it is committed to transformation.