28/07/2017 13:25 BST | Updated 28/07/2017 13:25 BST

We Need To Talk More About Racism In Schools

Each and every one of us, as active citizens in South Africa need to speak out about the racism and white supremacy


A number of racial incidents in our schools have been exposed by students and alumni alike within the last year in an attempt to make fellow South Africans aware of the serious issues of racism that many black students are facing in our public and private education institutions. It should be concerning to all of us that these racial incidents are taking place in our schools despite us living in the "new" South Africa and it begs the question, are many of our schools still established and running on the foundations of white supremacy and racism?

Last year, Pretoria Girls High School faced backlash from South Africans after its students revealed how problematic the school's code of conduct was in terms of limiting and suppressing black students from expressing and being themselves. In this case, the focus was on hair and the realisation that something as natural and normal as a black person's hairstyle was a problem for the school. The main reason for this, of course, was the fact that many schools' codes of conduct still have apartheid principles, values and rules which have not changed despite us now living in a constitutional democracy with more freedoms and rights.

Earlier this year, a school in the Pietermaritzburg area was under fire for protecting and defending white students who were being overtly racist towards black students in their schools. Not only were they allegedly protecting the racist student(s), but they also argued that the student's racism was a result of "stress" . In response to this, civil society and alumni protested against these schools and raised awareness about racism in South African schools. Fortunately, the schools decided to suspend the students for a period of time. However, simply suspending the students is not going to take away the fact that black students were victims of hate speech and that there is a more serious problem in our schools today.

In the last few days, South Africans have also learned about a teacher at St Johns College who has been accused of being racist towards black students and has made a number of offensive, dehumanising and demeaning comments towards black students. It is extremely concerning that we have teachers with racist mindsets in post-apartheid South Africa who continue to teach our students. In addition to this, it is also a massive problem that we have teachers who have warped, white supremacist viewpoints, who taught during the apartheid era and are still teaching students today in our constitutional, democratic South Africa.

Despite these major concerns and problems that need to be tackled immediately, it is commendable that students are brave enough to speak out against injustices and discrimination that are taking place in their educational institutions. It can be extremely daunting and challenging for any student to do this since they are openly opposing institutionalised racism that is either being supported or treated as the norm by these schools. These students have shown exemplary leadership and it is this reason why South Africa does have a bright future ahead because the new generations of South Africans are not accepting racism, sexism, homophobia, queerphobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination as the norm any longer.

Moreover, each and every one of us, as active citizens in South Africa, as leaders of change in South Africa, need to speak out about the racism and white supremacy that is taking place in our institutions. We need to support and be in solidarity with these students because they have to face it every day. I, in all honesty, believe that we need to review our education system and seek to implement a syllabus that will educate students on the many social injustices such as racism, colonialism and apartheid which continues to cause major issues in South Africa today just as it did in the past. We have to talk about this and we have to include civil society, political leaders, government and the Education Department. We have to counter this crisis in schools before it is too late.