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Statement: Racist policies, practices and cultures in Western Cape schools must fall

11 November 2020

Equal Education media statement: Racist policies, practices and cultures in Western Cape schools must fall

Post-apartheid South Africa has inherited – and continues to operate – an unequal education system across race and class lines. The fight for equal and quality education requires the dismantling of institutional racism (racist policies and practices) being experienced by Black learners (learners of colour) at formerly white public and private schools. The disturbing incident at Brackenfell High School on Monday 9 November is one manifestation of the racism found in schools across the Western Cape.  

“The fact that the white kids didn’t see anything wrong with a “whites only” party at the school says a lot about the kind of future Brackenfell students should look forward to. The whole scandal is racially motivated in a way that it makes POC (people of colour) look and feel less of humans, which is completely wrong. POC were protesting against racism outside of Brackenfell High and were still attacked which is very disturbing. It’s a shame that in our democratic dispensation, you still get such racially motivated acts. Personally, the principal should be held accountable, as he is the leader and is the one to promote a non-racial environment” – Equal Education learner member (Equaliser) Mihlali Mateta.

Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer’s response is tone deaf, disturbing and shows deliberate ignorance of what racism and discrimination is and how it plays out in schools. In her official statement, she dismisses the discrimination as a private event, stating: “The fact is that the event in question was privately organised, at a private venue, by private individuals”. MEC Schäfer’s unwillingness to identify the wrongness of exclusion and discrimination based on race shows the underlying value systems that negatively impact many of our schools. This results in schools like Brackenfell High School continuing to be non-inclusive spaces, hostile at times to Black people. When the Western Cape MEC of Education lacks the political will to see basic racial discrimination, how will the department which she oversees be able to properly address long-standing problematic policies, practices and cultures in schools, and what hope do Black learners in the Western Cape have of attending schools that are safe and integrated?

Unfortunately we are not surprised by MEC Schäfer’s refusal to see what is plainly in front of her. In the past, Equalisers have used social audit research to document their lived experiences, and held countless actions to demand safe schools but the MEC has either ignored or dismissively told learners that these were just “loose papers and vague allegations”.

Journalism plays a critical role in carefully and correctly documenting incidents. It’s disturbing that a journalist has said on Twitter that he was threatened by white members of the Brackenfell community while at the scene of the altercation between them and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EEF). But we’re also concerned that some of the news headlines (and statements released by political parties) about the altercation do not recognise that in at least one video posted to Twitter, the community members are seen very aggressively approaching a group of EFF members who seem to be peacefully protesting.   

Being part of a social movement, Equal Education (EE) members – learners, teachers and parents who come from marginalised schools and communities – use activism to draw attention to our experiences. Section 17 of the South African Constitution guarantees that everyone has the right to peacefully protest. Members of the Brackenfell community have violently shown total disregard for this right. The actions of some members of the  Brackenfell community must not only be condemned, but the law must play its part in holding them accountable.  

As tensions start to escalate between the EFF and the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the province, fueled by municipal by-elections, we must emphasise that the fundamental issue that needs fighting here is racism against learners of Brackenfell High School and many others like them. We call on the school community of Brackenfell High, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) and the Commissioner for Children in the Western Cape to play a more proactive role in investigating and addressing all complaints of racism at Brackenfell High School, and uprooting institutional racism in schools in the Western Cape.


Note to editors: Please quote Ntsiki Dlulani (EE Western Cape Head of Organising) and Chwayita Wenana (EE Western Cape Deputy Head of Organising)

To arrange an interview, contact: Jay-Dee Cyster (EE Communications Officer) or 082 924 1352

Leanne Jansen-ThomasStatement: Racist policies, practices and cultures in Western Cape schools must fall