Black pupils at Pretoria High School for Girls are accusing the institution of discrimination directed at their hair, language and dress code, telling Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi they were subjected to racial slurs from some teachers and white pupils.
The pupils allege they were called derogatory names, including the k-word, and were victimised.
Lesufi met stakeholders at the school yesterday after videos of pupils being manhandled by police went viral and more than 4 500 people signed a petition for him to intervene.
The pupils said that on Saturday, which was the school’s “casual day”, they were manhandled by teachers and threatened with arrest and suspension.
They also alleged the school hired extra security guards who threatened them.
On casual day, some pupils wore black clothes and black doeks. They allege they were criticised for looking “ghetto” and were mistreated. Their phones were confiscated. The security guards were reportedly armed and ordered not to allow the girls to form groups.
One pupil said: “Every time there was a group of more than four girls, we were told to disperse by the security guards hired by the school. The security were armed with AK-47s and other guns and were instructed to break up [groups of] black students if they saw more than four girls gathering at a time.”
When they were victimised, called names and embarrassed in front of their peers, some pupils said they felt “anger and hate”.
Yesterday, some of the girls said they were told their hair looked like a “bird’s nest”. Another pupil tearfully recounted that “a teacher called me and told me my hair looks like a bird’s nest and that I look like a sheep”.
The pupils added that being called the k-word and derided for speaking “that k****r language” by their white counterparts had caused them pain.
The school’s code of conduct states that pupils’ hair braids cannot be thicker than 1cm. They are not allowed to wear their hair in a big Afro as it is “untidy”.
One pupil said she was told her hair (Afro) was too big. Another pupil had cut her hair off completely.
Yesterday, these pupils demanded an apology from the school and an end to its racist practices.
They said: “We are forced to straighten our natural beautiful black hair.”
Former pupils of the school and University of Pretoria students gathered in front of the school to show their support.
The pupils added that when they spoke African languages in class, teachers had told them “not to make funny noises”.
Lesufi told the girls: “This is not normal and there are many who are suffering in silence. You don’t deserve this and that is why we are here to sort it out. You are not alone, there are many others who suffer in silence. I am here to protect you.”
Head of the school Karen du Toit and her two deputies, Doret Schoombie and Danica Stoffberg, sat in silence as the students told how their complaints had fallen on deaf ears as they were advised to “be strong, this is high school”.
Executive Mayor Solly Msimanga said the City of Tshwane would offer venues for dialogue so that not only issues regarding this school could be discussed, but those at township schools as well.