White pupils flee ex-model C schools 'over fear and mother tongue'

06 May 2018 - 00:00 By PREGA GOVENDER
There are no more white children in this Grade 5 class at Saxonwold Primary School in Johannesburg.
There are no more white children in this Grade 5 class at Saxonwold Primary School in Johannesburg.
Image: Masi Losi

When Manuel Govender was appointed the first black principal of Newcastle High 10 years ago, he received several letters from Afrikaans parents demanding his removal.

At the time, more than 760 of the 950 pupils at the former Model C school in northern KwaZulu-Natal were white. This year, there are only nine.

It is similar at the once predominantly white Estcourt High in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, about 180km from Newcastle, which has eight white pupils this year.

The Sunday Times found that dozens of former Model C schools either had only a few white pupils, or none at all. Officials call it "white flight".

Former Model C schools in Gauteng that have no white pupils include Pretoria Technical High, Daspoort Secondary, Elandspoort High, Langenhoven High, Clapham High and Parkhurst Primary.

Other Gauteng schools, including Hillview High, Pretoria West High and Voortrekkerhoogte High, each have just one white pupil.

This week teachers and principals said most white pupils had moved to either private or predominantly Afrikaans-medium schools, and their places had been filled by pupils from township schools.

The recently released results of the General Household Survey found that at least 16.7% of high school pupils and 14.3% of primary school pupils in the country were not attending the school closest to their homes.

The poor quality of teaching at their local schools was given as the reason for the commute.

Responding to a parliamentary question from the DA on the shortage of schools in Greenstone, Ekurhuleni, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga recently said parents living in the area were apparently not interested in sending their children to the three local schools.

There are white people who are not open to change and so the trend is that from our school they have moved to other schools
Marion Wheater, principal of Saxonwold Primary

Instead, 2,353 out of the 3,440 pupils attending Eastleigh Primary, Nobel Primary and Edenglen Primary, which are all in Greenstone, are from Tembisa and Alexandra.

Marion Wheater, who has been principal of Saxonwold Primary in Johannesburg since 1994, said white families moved their children to "whiter" schools when they saw children of other races being admitted.

"They [white families] didn't think that they wanted to integrate and they believed standards would be lowered. You know, the big standards debate. Saxonwold opened its door to all races in 1992 and the exodus started in 1994."

The exodus was due to the "fear of difference", she said.

"From my experience, there are white people who are not open to change and so the trend is that from our school they have moved to other schools.

"We work towards excellence and we have high expectations of our children."

The school has 438 pupils - 346 of whom are black African, 48 Indian, 24 coloured and 20 white.

The parent of the only white pupil enrolled at the pre-school section at Saxonwold Primary said her daughter had been at the school since she was six months old.

"I do think that a lot of white families are doling out the cash to send their kids to private schools. If you own a house in Saxonwold, you can afford to send your kids to private schools."

But she did not believe that the migration of white pupils from some of the former Model C schools had anything to do with the huge black enrolment at these institutions.

"I think they [white families] also just lost a little bit of faith in the government education system."

They [white pupils] exited the system or they migrated to single-medium Afrikaans schools where they can still get mother-tongue education
Jaco Deacon, deputy CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools

Govender declined to comment, but the Sunday Times established that parents of pupils attending Newcastle High were upset after prayers at assembly. The prayers had been Christian in character, but had been changed to also accommodate other religions.

Jaco Deacon, deputy CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools, said there was definitely a "white flight" out of some schools.

Asked if the large black enrolment and more black teachers being appointed in former Model C schools could have driven white pupils out, he said: "It played a role in some households, but definitely not in the majority of households.

"They [white pupils] exited the system or they migrated to single-medium Afrikaans schools where they can still get mother-tongue education. Language is one of the most important factors parents consider when moving their children."

He said the positive thing was that the former Model C schools were now still being used for the benefit of the school community.

"The mere fact that the community around the school changed should not change the quality of education or the culture of learning."


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