Gauteng MEC Panyaza Lesufi. Picture: SOWETAN
Gauteng MEC Panyaza Lesufi. Picture: SOWETAN

Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi says racism is a societal issue that must be addressed by‚ among other measures‚ introducing stringent laws. This comes after recent reports of racial incidents in Gauteng schools.

One incident occurred at Windsor House Academy in Kempton Park‚ where it is alleged that black pupils were targeted over their natural hair which, in some cases, was allegedly referred to as being "unruly".

The school has since agreed to suspend its code of conduct for three months, pending a review.

In another incident‚ parents at Klipspruit West Secondary School in Eldorado Park disrupted learning at the school‚ calling for a black principal to be removed and replaced by a coloured one. After visiting the school‚ Lesufi resolved to dissolve the school’s governing body.

Meanwhile‚ St John’s College‚ one of Johannesburg’s most prestigious schools‚ has retained a teacher‚ despite allegations of racism levelled against him. In a statement the school released on Thursday‚ it said the teacher was given a final written warning following a disciplinary hearing because there had been mitigating circumstances which did not warrant a dismissal.

"The staff member has already resigned from the senior positions he held‚ and St John’s is implementing a concomitant reduction of salary and benefits‚" the school said. Lesufi will visit the school management team on Friday to "urge" the school to reverse its decision.

Speaking to TimesLIVE on Thursday‚ Lesufi said racism is a societal issue and not a problem schools should be dealing with alone, and that "all of us" need to be involved. "Schools are a sub-section of society. We’ve seen on social media insults between racial groupings. Schools are not immune to these because they are part of society. "We need to strengthen the laws that punish such incidents."

Lesufi said the recent incidents of racism at Gauteng schools do not warrant a bigger discussion around the issue as only a fraction of Gauteng schools are embroiled in racial incidents. "I don’t think there is a need for a discussion. The incidents have occurred in less than 10 schools; the majority of schools are conducting themselves in an acceptable manner. There are [only] a couple that need intervention." He added that the majority of schools in Gauteng promote "non-racialism".

National Education Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga concurred with Lesufi that racism does not only affect schools. "The matter of racism is one that affects the entire country and must be dealt with appropriately by all of us‚" Mhlanga said.

Education specialist Cara Blackie said the incident at Windsor House Academy in Kempton Park‚ where black girls were targeted over their natural hair‚ was more of a cultural issue than a racial one. "It comes down to schools not adapting to changes within society. Rules are kept the same‚ while times are changing‚" she said.

However, she said there was a need for a discussion on how schools deal with racism: "There should be an open discussion involving schools‚ the Department of Education‚ students and other stakeholders to make it feel like students are heard. The discussion will allow students to feel heard."

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) also believes that a discussion on race-related issues at school should take place. "The issue of equality and racism at schools should be addressed. Where possible, the SAHRC seeks to facilitate such discussions and encourage human rights education and diversity training‚" said Gail Smith‚ SAHRC spokesperson.

She said it was difficult to say what kind of complaints they receive relate to racism. "The SAHRC does deal with allegations and complaints of racism at schools [and] the SAHRC cannot speak to the prevalence of racism in schools as we do not isolate ‘racism in schools’ as a category of complaint. Race does‚ however‚ account for the largest amount of equality-related complaints received by the commission," equality being a category‚ under which race‚ gender‚ sexual orientation‚ age‚ etc‚ all fall.

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