The events at Brackenfell High School have once again emphasised that fundamental transformation is needed in South Africa, and this includes the education system.
There are lessons to be learnt by all of us from the situation regarding the “matric farewell” of Brackenfell High School. It reminds me of my own matric dance long ago. Like 2020’s matrics, we had had a difficult year. It was the year of youth protests. We were privileged to have a matric farewell at all. Even though it was held in the hostel hall, without any pomp and ceremony, expensive cars or extravagant clothes, it was an evening to remember.
Due to Covid-19, Brackenfell High did not have an official matric dance. Parents arranged a function for them. Whether black pupils were actually invited or just stayed away is not clear. What we do know is that only white pupils were present. It was the spark to the EFF’s powder keg. It is anyone’s democratic right to object to racism. However, it is HOW the EFF did it that is upsetting. To demonstrate in protest while matrics are writing their final examinations testifies to disrespect of matrics who had experienced a difficult year.
It turns out that the pupils had previously brought incidents of apparent racism to the attention of the school management. According to the school it investigated the matter and was about to launch a diversity committee, but Covid-19 thwarted these plans.
The school governing body, as well as the Western Cape Department of Education, were quick to wash their hands of the matter by pointing out that the party took place without their knowledge. This may be true. But I am reminded of what Arnold Glasgow said: “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognise a problem before it becomes a crisis.” The school had the opportunity to do something when it was informed by the pupils. Ignoring the problem has led to the crisis confronting us today.
The Department of Education is also not completely innocent. According to reports there are many schools with similar problems. And I am referring to ALL schools. Principals must ask themselves: how many women serve on the senior staff? Is the staff representative of all South Africans? Does the school have interaction (e.g. sport) with schools of different cultural backgrounds? Are other sports (e.g. soccer) ignored even if there are black pupils in the school? Authorities should show leadership instead of distancing themselves from the problem.
The events have once again emphasised that fundamental transformation is needed in South Africa, and this includes the education system. As I have pointed out before, transformation is not a single act or a few individuals of colour making the right noises. Transformation is a lifestyle which must be continuously adapted to fit the South African context. Each school requires a committee to serve as watchdog to keep the school management team on its toes.
One thing is certain: the future will (and must) be different from what we see today. Change will not occur by waiting for others, or by postponing it. Change starts with us. DM
Prof le Cordeur is head of the SU department of Curriculum Studies in the Faculty of Education