Groups of Students are Exposing Institutional Racism in South African Model C Schools

“Blacks should never be shown the greener pastures of education, they should know that their station in life is to be hewers of wood and drawers of water." This is a quote by the infamous Hendrik Verwoerd; the so-called architect of apartheid, the man who spawned the worst period of our history as South Africans. This way of thinking was banished in 1994 when our nation tasted freedom for the first time in decades, but has it ever really left us?

With the recent global effort due to the unjust murder of George Floyd, everyone has been speaking up and speaking out about their own experiences with racism, especially in their own schools. Discrimination and misconduct, that has spanned over many years, has come to the forefront on all social media platforms. Hundreds of Model C schools all over the country have been called out by pupils, on social media, for rampant racism and other discriminatory actions. Current, and former, students alike are demanding the teachers explain themselves and are crying out for their voices to be heard. Allegations were made on all major social media platforms, spawning threads upon threads of students detailing their own experiences and hardships while at their particular schools.

Some of the allegations include students being separated by race in the class, POC girls being told their natural hair is “untidy” and that they should straighten it so that they can look more “white”, and teachers telling POC students that they belong in “township schools”, because they “cannot conform to white behaviour”. One girl, from Paarl Girls High, disclosed three incidents during her time there where the teachers not only discriminated against POC students but also any students who were not Christian. 

Even lesser-known schools from smaller towns, like Upington in the Northern Cape, have come forth with allegations so strong that the SABC and the Premier of the Northern Cape were tagged in the thread, to have the schools investigated. A certain school in Upington, Upington High School, allegedly refused soccer to be part of the list of sports that could be played by the students, because it would “attract the wrong kind of people to the school."

Many schools responded, promising to aid the victims in filing reports for harassment by specific teachers, and generally apologising to their students. Principals and teachers alike were expressing their sadness for the students who experienced discrimination and doing what they could to make amends. Forums were created to allow the students to voice their concerns in a more intimate manner, but many students shamed this as being a way to silence the students’ messages on social media. 

We have come so far as a nation in many ways, but the young people of South Africa continue to be subjected to rules and laws that should not exist anymore. It has been almost 30 years now, and yet reading all the messages makes it feel as though there has been no progress made. But, progress is in the making; the more of us who speak up, the larger the movement becomes and the stronger we will be as a nation moving forward.