Racial tension in Makhanda school: We cannot pretend all is well, say pupils

2019-11-11 22:35

‘Snoobab’ was a term used by white pupils to refer to black pupils at an Eastern Cape posh school.

The term is baboons said backwards, according to a social media post shared by aggrieved pupils from Kingswood College.

City Press learnt that pupils coming from one African country were not spared from xenophobic slurs allegedly made by their white schoolmates.

A pupil said the reason victims posted the allegations on social media was that nothing was being done by college management to deal with their issues.

“This has even caused tension between us and our parents. They just want us to focus on our studies and forget about this, but we cannot pretend that all is well at this college,” the pupil said.

The college didn’t respond to specific questions, but confirmed that in the past few days racism had been a topic of conversation within its community, particularly in the boarding houses and in the classrooms.

College head Colleen Vassiliou said they acknowledged the allegations on social media and had been engaging with affected individuals directly to ensure that due process was followed and as such the conversation was ongoing.

“The school has been facilitating talks with all pupils, staff and concerned parents, and has worked tirelessly in the past few days to ensure that we do this right, not for Kingswood but for our pupils. We strongly believe in protecting all our pupils.”

The outcry on social media followed after a white girl, who had been accused of making racist and xenophobic comments by another white girl, was found not guilty.

Vassiliou said the college received the allegations on Thursday last week.

“Our senior houseperson investigated the matter further and the alleged perpetrator stated that she never made such comments, but that the accuser had actually uttered such statements to her earlier in the year. Due to the seriousness of the matter, the senior houseperson led testimony on behalf of Kingswood College and both girls were put through a disciplinary process in front of a legal expert – a highly qualified black woman – who was neutral to the school and very au fait with matters such as these. Based on the facts presented, the evidence given and the mutually destructive versions by both sides, based on the balance of probability, the chair found both girls not guilty. This verdict, by someone of her expertise, cannot be ignored or overturned by the school. We carried out this process in a fair and just manner, but pupils were unhappy with the outcome. A few took to social media to voice their anger. We uphold the constitutional right of each pupil, that they are innocent until proven guilty,” she said.

Vassiliou said they had formal structures put in place for pupils to speak out against issues that they may be confronted with.

These structures are inclusive of anonymous reports as well as reports made in person.

“Our point of departure is one of respect. This is not a white-versus-black problem. This takes a united stand by all races and cultures against a system that has affected our lived experiences, our thoughts and our actions. We are an African co-educational school, with black and white pupils, pupils with different cultures, languages, beliefs, sexual orientations, family homes and backgrounds. We value and embrace each individual. We value and embrace our diversity,” she said. 

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January 19 2020