Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi visited Cornwall Hill College in Irene, Pretoria, on Monday morning following allegations of racism at the school.
Last week, at the school’s annual fund-raising golf day at the Pretoria Country Club, parents held a peaceful protest against the racism experienced by their children at the school as well as the lack of diversity and the slow pace of transformation.
Parents and learners also gathered at the school this morning. They handed a memorandum against racism and the lack of transformation at the school to the school management and to Lesufi.
Parents also called on the school’s principal to resign for what they say is his failure to ensure an anti-discriminatory and non-racial environment at the school.
Learners at the school shared their traumatic experiences on video. Some said their teachers told them that black people come from apes.
Others said they have been referred to as “bloody k*ffirs”.
The learners also said they are not allowed to speak their mother tongues at the school and their natural hair is often called messy and dirty.
Singo Ravele, a learner at the school, shared how racism at the school has affected her.
Singo shared her first and most vivid memory when she was only in the fourth grade.
I was so happy to he accepted into the school, she said.
“And as a child I began to imagine a fairy-tale for myself. And that didn’t happen. Very soon that dream died,” said the girl.
“It died when a community that I loved did not love me back.
“And although I managed to find friends,” she said and began to cry, covering her face with her hand.
At this point, another girl walked to Singo at the podium holding the placard: “Racists must leave Cornwall Hill College”. The words “racists” and “leave” boldened and highlighted in red. The girl stood at Singo’s side, silent.
Singo’s father walked to her at the podium and held her.
Other learners screamed words of encouragement and began to clap.
“… and although I managed to find friends,” Singo said, her voice breaking, “I didn’t manage to escape the discrimination.”
“And that is not a dream at all. It is a nightmare,” she said.
This is not the first time that Cornwall Hill College is In the news because of racism.
Former Cornwall Hill College learner Kholofelo Mashitisho said, “I went to Cornwall Hill College, I am so glad these kids are doing what we were scared to do. I am proud.”
She added that at the high school, “you raise your voice, you get expelled”.
Another former pupil and head boy said: “I stand and fully support the class of 2021 calling out racism and standing up for a fully inclusive CHC (sic). Why has the school’s leadership ignored such accounts of racism for so long? Racists are not welcome, they must leave,” he said.
Addressing parents, media and learners this morning, Gauteng education MEC said: “I am worried about time, we committed that we will conclude this session by 07:30 so that we can demonstrate to those that think we are not human beings that we can adhere to time as well.
Lesufi said they, “these people”, may have oppressed our grandparents and succeeded. They may have oppressed our parents and succeeded, but they will not oppress our children and our children’s children, said Lesufi.
“It ends here, and it stops here,” said Lesufi.
He said his discussion with the school leadership was clear in that the school management had to go back to the negotiating table and make it clear everyone is very welcome in the school.
This was met with applause.
He added that the school management must stop “with the obsession with the hair of our children”.
In his address, Lesufi declared “racism ends here and goes no further”. The MEC made commitments that the school will have teachers that represent everyone.
He said all the policies will be reviewed so that they become accommodative.
The South African Reserve Bank Governor, Lesetja Kganyago, also took part in the morning protest.
Kganyago said his protest was done in his capacity as a parent and not as the SARB governor.
Kganyago held a placard with the words: “We stand by our children. No to racism”.
Kganyago ‘s daughter is a learner at the school.
He said there is systemic racism at Cornwall Hill College.
“The number of black learners has never been more than 25%. Secondly, the school has 66 educators and five of them are black and three of those black educators are concentrated in the Sepedi department,” Kganyago said.
Learners at the school also said there were incidents of racism including being separated at the tuckshop lines based on race. White learners would have their own line, while black learners had their own line.
Lesufi said that no one was out for revenge for what had happened in the past but he was pleading for inclusivity.
“We will have teachers that represent all of us and all the policies will be reviewed, so I urge you to protect this school. But in protecting this school, we must not protect the wrong things. Even those that hate non-racialism, this is the future and no one can stop it,” Lesufi said.
Singo penned three testimonies into the addendum that was later handed to Lesufi and the school’s management.
Singo said her first and very vivid memory of racism happened when she was only in the fourth grade. She said she was happily on my way to break when a teacher stopped her.
“She had this big frown that swallowed me whole.
“She looked me dead in the eyes and said, ‘Your hair’s unpresentable, it is messy and it’s not the Cornwall way.’ She also proceeded to tell me that I would look better if I chemically straightened my hair.
“When I got older, I became angry. I was stripped from my African identity. And that was one time, one moment, one person,” she said.
Leon Kunneke, Executive Principal at Cornwall Hill College said the school was aware at the peaceful protest action around diversity and transformation of the school. He said the school acknowledges the parents’ pleas and recognise the importance of active and inclusive engagement.
He said the school’s board is unequivocally committed to transformation.
“Matters relating to diversity are being revisited,” he said.
“They include hair policy, anti-discriminatory policy and a framework where matters of concern raised by pupils, past and present, could be addressed,” said Kunneke.