The furore that has beset Rustenburg Junior Girls School in Cape Town after a group called Parents for Change (PfC) virtue signalled their dismay at the lack of transformation at the school highlights the importance of analysis over rhetoric.
In this case, what someone has called our “bullsh**tometres” went into overdrive in what appears to be a repeat of the egregious attacks on Pretoria High School for Girls (PHSG) in 2016 over its alleged, but not in fact, discriminatory hair policy.
The media fell over themselves to report on the theatrics surrounding the allegations of racism at PHSG, but did very little to get the school’s version on record. In the case of PHSG, as with any public school in Gauteng, the school principal and administration may not talk to the media – only the Member of the Executive Council in charge of Education may do that.
The essence of the accusations against Rustenburg are those articulated in ‘Rustenburg Girls’ Junior parents slam Zille’s stance on transformation’, (Cape Times, 20 November).
Parents for Change (PfC) are reported as saying: ‘Irrespective of the alleged poor quality and incompetence of Ms Mthembu’s teaching, both (Premier Helen Zille and principal Di Berry) are missing the point on the lack of transformation at Rustenburg. There appears to be a somewhat desperate attempt to preserve the privilege of a few.’
They argued that the school and its community needed to have robust dialogues and conversations about the responsibilities of schools in upholding academic excellence, while also taking account of the socio-economic climate.
They said: ‘Perhaps the premier could even use her fighting spirit to begin to engage with the stark practices of exclusion, which define most schools like RGJS. In our view, the lack of any significant representation of black teachers or senior management is detrimental to our children.’
The PfC is correct that schools must uphold academic excellence while taking account of the ‘socio-economic’ climate. But sometimes the one precludes the other. Quality has to trump social justice.
The parents’ group says that ‘irrespective’ of the ‘alleged poor quality and incompetence of Ms Mthembu’s teaching’, Zille and Berry are ‘missing the point on the lack of transformation’.
The PfC can only mean that if a black teacher is incompetent, unwilling to be mentored, and frequently late or absent, parents must put up with this, for the sake of having a black teacher.
The PfC also believes that ‘(t)here appears to be a somewhat desperate attempt to preserve the privilege of a few’. What does this actually mean? The answer lies in the PfC’s view that ‘the lack of any significant representation of black teachers or senior management is detrimental to our children’.
So what the social justice warriors mean is that it’s really a demographics game to give expression to their soft racism of low expectations.
But this is not enough. Rustenburg has also come under fire for suggesting that “a black pupil would not fit in at the prestigious school” after a generous couple reached out and offered to pay for all 12 years of the underprivileged girl’s fees.
Among concerns cited in an email to the donors in 2015 was that “friendships at school often result in play dates, which can also become tricky because of the distance in travel, and result in a child feeling isolated and excluded”. The other concerns have not been publicised.
Anyone who has seen a poor student having to travel great distances to a school, which results in her not being able to take advantage of what the school has to offer, would not agree with this criticism.
It can, though is not guaranteed to, leave the student feeling “isolated and excluded”. Distance also affects the ability to concentrate because of time spent travelling.
Another problem – though we don’t know the details in this case – is how the child is going to travel and by whom, if anyone, is she is going to be accompanied. Safety is a very real issue.
The well-meaning American couple who will be the donors said: “We wish to help one small child to have a chance in the world.”
With all due respect, the child is less than five years old! The woke among us sometimes threaten to do more harm than good.
Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823.