14 February 2021 – LRC statement on racist incidents in schools

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14 February 2022

LRC statement on racist incidents in schools

The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) strongly condemns the shocking recent racist incidents which occurred at schools in the Western Cape and Gauteng.

We were appalled read reports on the incident at Milnerton High School in the Western Cape where a black pupil was made to bow on his knees, and raise his hands up and down in worship and submission, before a fellow white pupil. This was allegedly done as a form of punishment ordered by the head of the school’s disciplinary committee following a school break altercation between the two pupils. We strongly condemn the “disciplinary methods” used by the head of the disciplinary committee in this instance, in response to the incident.  The purported “disciplinary method” used, humiliated, degraded and stripped the learner of his inherent dignity.

We do not condone violence, and should the learner involved be guilty of any misconduct, the school should follow the appropriate processes to ensure the learner is held accountable for his actions. It should be emphasised that making a black learner bow to a white learner blatantly disregards constitutionally entrenched rights to equality and human dignity – cornerstone provisions of our constitutional democracy.

The LRC is further concerned by the scenes taking place at Hoerskool Jan Viljoen in Gauteng where learners were involved in an alleged racially motivated altercation. The police presence this morning at the school clearly confirms that the current situation is not calm and urgent intervention is crucial. Gauteng Education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi, visited the school this morning to unpack the incident which took place between learners on Friday, 11 February 2022. Tensions are high with parents  also present at the school today to voice their anger. They allege that racism, bullying and sexual harassment issues at the school are often swept under the carpet.

The deplorable incidents of racism in schools are and always will be a barrier to education in South Africa. These re-occurrences of racism in schools result in learners taking matters in their own hands through forms of protest to get proper and equal treatment in schools. This takes away valuable time which should be focused on ensuring their right to education.

We applaud the Gauteng Education MEC for  visiting the school and requesting the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to investigate the allegations.

We call on the Western Cape Education Department and the Gauteng Education Department to do the following:

  1. Take decisive action against the perpetrators and ensure that they are held to account. Accountability and appropriate consequences must be proactively enforced.
  2. Adopt measures that ensure there is zero tolerance of racism in classrooms and in schools. The Provincial Education Departments must adopt ‘Anti-racism in school’ policies and must adequately implement them.

Racism in schools cannot be left unchallenged. Pretending that racism in schools is non-existent and not a barrier for black learners/learners of colour to access their right to basic education in a just and a fair manner is not helpful, it is rather an insult to the values of diversity and equality enshrined in our constitution. Responses to incidents of racism in schools must be dealt with seriously and swiftly by DBE. Actions taken in response to occurrences of racism at schools must be properly investigated and the outcomes thereof should consider the public nature of schools and the community values which promote combating racism as a paramount value. It is our call that schools as well as the DBE tackles all forms of racism in schools.