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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

#LearnerMisconduct: Is institutional racism at play at Three Rivers Secondary School

Thuletho Zwane

A short video made rounds on social media on Thursday. It shows a young learner sitting at her desk and looking at her book. She suddenly stands up, walks to the front of the class and hurls her book at her teacher.

This is followed by a mix of laughter and shock from her classmates.

The incident took place at Hoërskool Drie Riviere in Three Rivers, Vereeniging.

On Monday, the MEC for Gauteng Education, Panyaza Lesufi, told the media that the learner had been suspended.

“The school has issued the letter to suspend the learner. We have asked the SGB [School Governing Body] to meet with the parents to plan for the disciplinary hearing.”

“But the learner must not be disadvantaged with her academic studies,” said Lesufi.

He added that while the disciplinary hearing was is in progress, the student will continue to receive study material and support.

Lesufi went on to say, “If the learner is expelled [by the SGB], the parents have the right to come to me and appeal the decision.”

To him, the teacher was the victim, not the learner.

He shares the same sentiments with the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu). They also commented on the issue, condemning the learner’s behaviour as violent. In a statement released on Sunday, the union commended the teacher for having acted in a very professional manner against extreme provocation by the learner.

The union said: “It is our strong view that irrespective of whatever the circumstances that might have led the learner to react in that manner, she had no right to threaten the teacher and expose her to that kind of violence. Being an educator must never be viewed as a dangerous profession if we are to reach our developmental goals as a country utilising education as the main tool.”

Lesufi told the media he had met with the educator, whom he referred to as a “shy person”.

“I feel that she is committed to teaching and education. The mere fact that she is here and still teaching shows commitment. I salute her,” said Lesufi.

The MEC said the learner had committed a very serious offence.

He said he, together with his department,  Hoërskool Drie Riviere’s SGB and the school management, had had to act decisively but did so within the confinements of the law.

“We don’t need to prejudge and preempt,” he told the media.

However, the 17 seconds video clip does not show what happened before the incident nor does it properly capture learner experience at Hoërskool Drie Riviere in the Vaal Triangle.

For one, the sound in the video is not clear.

Soon after, another video made rounds on social media showing the young learner in tears and being consoled by her classmates.

Political commentator and analyst Siyabonga Hadebe said these kinds of quick talk shops aren’t enough to understand daily learner experience at these former Afrikaans schools.

“I have taken issue with the way this young learner in the Vaal has been portrayed. The teacher has been shown as the victim of an unruly and uncultured black child. People have said this is not a racial matter since it’s a black child attacking the teacher, but that is because race relations are complex,” said Hadebe.

“I went to the University of Pretoria where you are systematically oppressed and abused. And when you react, you become the problem,” he said.

Hadebe said learners at these former model c schools and former white Afrikaner schools are often left by their parents with the hope of a attaining better education for their children. These kids have had to fend for themselves and fight in order to survive.

In fact, these kids are not welcome in these schools. We saw with Overvaal and how the MEC [Lusufi] lost out to these enclaves that are the white school governing bodies who dictate to government what can and not be done, said Hadebe.

Hoërskool Overvaal witnessed several violent protests in January when the African National Congress (ANC) and affiliated teacher unions accused the Vereeniging school’s governing body of racism. The school refused an instruction by the Gauteng Education Department to accept 55 English-speaking pupils. The school said it had no capacity to admit the learners‚ and could not set up a parallel stream in the timeframe it was given by the department. Its decision was backed by the High Court.

The learner’s parents also feel the situation should be holistically considered. They believe that the recorded incident was a result of a culmination of events that have not been captured by those quick to condemn their child.

Lesufi told the media that even though the learner’s parents acknowledged that their daughter’s behaviour was wrong, they believe their child was provoked.

“They said their child was not fairly treated. They agreed that their daughter was wrong in attacking her teacher and welcomed the intervention by Gauteng Education, however, they said the provocation must also be looked into,” Lesufi said.

When asked if the department has evidence of racism and anti-black behaviour at the school, Lesufi referred the media to three videos he and the SGB have as evidence of the incident.

“We have access to three videos that filmed the event of last Thursday. You would not believe the kinds of words the learner said. I cannot go into detail or share the video with you,” he said.

Lesufi told the media that the department was making available their psycho social services to the learner, her classmates and the teacher involved.

He said his department had to meet with educators and assure them they are in charge of their classrooms.

“If we can’t assure them then there will be no learning in the province. When it comes to these kinds of areas we want to say, ‘If you do something right, we will cover your back’. We believe the teacher behaved well under extreme provocation. There must be no grey area of support,” he said.

There are others who do not have faith in SGB’s at these white schools. Hadebe does not believe the SGB will do justice to the learner’s case.

“The SGB consists of the same problematic voices that maintain the current status quo at these schools. A historical analysis of the situation would have to be made. It is important we know of former and current black learners experience,” said Hadebe.

The one thing that everyone seemed to agree on was the need to install cameras, CCtv security and biometrics at schools.

“I know schools should be a place where children should be free and not a military camp. But unfortunately, we can’t ignore the realities we are in: crime, violence, other things,” said Lesufi.

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