Letter to the President: Launch an independent investigation into Brackenfell High School
The disturbing events unfolding at Brackenfell High School in the Western Cape over the weeks of November 2020 are evidence of racism not having been addressed in our education system, including in high schools. The ‘Brackenfell’ incident is but one painful example of racism experienced by Black learners—including African, ‘coloured’, Indian and non-locals from Africa and Asia – at formerly white public and private schools everywhere.
A subset of white learners and their parents arranged a whites-only matric-farewell, which two of the school’s teachers attended. When asked for comment, the school distanced itself from the event, alluding to the fact that it was a private event of which they had no knowledge. Their response dismisses the seriousness of the event’s obvious racial prejudice and also avoids responsibility for the cultures, practices and policies of the school itself, which, as responses from past and current students of the school indicate, have steadily cultivated an atmosphere where such an event could take place unchecked. Even more disturbingly, these utterances were echoed by Western Cape Provincial Minister of Education of Education, Debbie Schäfer.(1)
This incident is not an isolated one (2). Learners have been reporting incidents of racism at the school for a number of years dating back to 2006 on an Instagram profile(3). To quote but a few:
“I was in the bathroom stalls and your RCL then carried me out of the stalls and chased me away and he said that “you k word don’t belong here” i complained but the issue was not resolved.”
“Let’s talk about how a group of white kids can play their Afrikaans sokkie music on the speakers loud and the teachers will just dance with and sing with. But if a group of black/coloured kids do the same with gqom or rap music then they get their speaker taken away for the rest of the year?? Ohk brackenfell”
“At the beginning of this year , when there was Ko-Ed . Mrs (redacted) would always chase the black kids for misbehaving but then when the white kids misbehaved , she would give them second chances. One boy told her “ma’am you only chasing the dakies ” all she did was laugh as a response.”
The incident has attracted solidarity from organisations such as the EFF, ANC and the PAC, who have been peacefully demonstrating outside the school. We have repeatedly seen white members of the Brackenfell community violently attacking these protestors, assaulting them, throwing stones at them and hurling epithets. Shockingly, a woman was beaten with a baseball bat, but no outrage or condemnation was expressed by any DA officials.
In fact, rather than condemning this behaviour, the DA has actively sided with the violent counter-protestors, alluding “planned EFF violence”.(4) To make matters worse, police have used rubber bullets, stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons at the PAC and other protestors.(5)(6)(7)
Despite calls from learners, parents, protestors and civil society organisations, the incident has still not been properly dealt with by the school, the governing body, Western Cape Provincial Minister of Education, Debbie Schäfer, or the Western Cape Education Department. This is unacceptable, irresponsible, and creates a divisive atmosphere.
We demand the following:
1. A public apology from a) the school b) the learners and parents involved and c) the teachers who attended, regarding the matter of the whites-only matric dance.
2. That an independent investigation be launched into the culture, policies and practices of the school. This investigation and action taken should take into account the students’ demands, published in the afore-mentioned Instagram account.(7)
3. That diversity training be conducted urgently at Brackenfell high school for all teachers and the principal, during the month of December 2020 or January 2021.
4. That there be regular diversity and sensitivity training at the school thereafter, on a quarterly basis, for all teachers and the principle.
5. That measures put in place to protect students experiencing racism and bigotry in any form, and which allows for those guilty of racism and bigotry to be held legally accountable.
6. That Western Cape Provincial Minister of Education Debbie Schäfer be suspended and investigated for white-washing the incident(9), scapegoating protesters(10), praising police brutality against peaceful protestors(11), and failing to address the concerns of the learners and parents of the school.(12)
7. That those who violently assaulted protestors be charged with a criminal offense.
(2) The minister will be well aware of other schools in the province where students have engaged in debate around institutional racism. It is well within reason that the minister be familiar with the context within these events take place: