St Anne's Diocesan College appoints independent probe into racism claims

12 June 2020 - 13:37
By Kgaugelo Masweneng
St Anne's school is one of several called out on social media for alleged racial practices and inadequate transformation programmes.
Image: Supplied, used with permission from St Anne's St Anne's school is one of several called out on social media for alleged racial practices and inadequate transformation programmes.

A group of former pupils at the exclusive St Anne’s Diocesan College in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands are demanding an apology from the school and for the headmaster's resignation.

In a 6,000-word public document accompanied by a 2,000-word letter of demands, the pupils allege there is an institutionalised racist system at the school.

Though no apology can compensate for the “harsh” experiences to which the pupils of colour have been subjected over the years, they believe it is an important step to healing.

“It is imperative the school acknowledges its failure to create a safe space for its students of colour.

“We demand that the school issues a formal apology to its current and old students of colour, taking accountability for the racism it has inflicted, or been complacent to. This apology must be reflected upon deeply before it is made. We reject any apology that is generic, unauthentic and fails to reflect an understanding of the magnitude of our plight,” said the 'Wake up, St Anne’s' letter of demand.

Dave Arguile, St Anne’s headmaster, said the school was establishing a commission of inquiry to be chaired by an independent attorney.

On June 8, he issued a statement expressing the school's willingness to reassess its transformation journey, to engage with the public on any concerns and to ensure that all pupils are treated fairly and without prejudice.

However, the group of former pupils believes the school has not gone far enough in addressing their concerns. .

“The school provided a response that lacked accountability.

“It is why we will carry on applying pressure, and forcing an institution built on racism, oppression and silencing to reform,” said the group.

The headmaster said the school will investigate the allegations, and said he could not comment further.

The pupils are demanding that he step down.

“We believe that having a white male as headmaster has proven to be detrimental in regards to understanding the issues we face as young women. We call for the resignation of the current headmaster and ask for an appropriate replacement, a woman who is a person of colour.

“In 2021, we hope to see a more diverse grade 8 intake that has at least 50% students of colour.

“More black board members means that the needs and grievances of black girls are likely to be heard before they are pushed to cry out, as they have this past week. As an all-girls’ school, it is imperative we have more women on the board,” read the demands.

They are also proposing that a biannual compulsory racism workshop for staff and students be established.

“The purpose of this workshop will be to educate, through the learning and unlearning of racial concepts and systems. Furthermore, we propose students are adequately educated on the importance of BEE as a necessary tool for achieving affirmative action and redress for citizens who have been historically oppressed.

“It is essential that St Anne’s creates an adequate and detailed antiracism policy. In addition to this policy, there should be policies in place to explicitly reject any form of unfair discrimination based on gender, sex, ethnic or social origin, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, belief, culture and language,” they said.

Munaka Ramaite, a former pupil, accused the school of accepting only a certain number of black pupils.

“In my matric year, I recall scrolling through the St Anne’s yearbook, and counting a consistent number of black girls per grade. Which also explained the fact that there was only one Zulu class (a popular second-language choice among the black pupils) per grade. My vision for a 21st century St Anne’s Diocesan College is one that truly represents and embraces the racial diversity of South Africa.

“Not only does St Anne’s current demographic not reflect South Africa’s diversity, it also does not reflect that of its applicants who are present at the grade 7 sleepovers,” Ramaite said.

Arguile said on Monday: “Prior to me being aware of any criticism from past or current pupils, I had expressed my personal view that we need to make use of this opportunity.

“That need has become more obvious each day since then. I therefore confirm St Anne’s intention to use this opportunity to sincerely examine what is needed to ensure we are a school where all agree, and confirm via our actions, that 'Black Lives Matter'.”