Dear 'white' schools, stop deliberately keeping apartheid alive
A Sunday Times reader, inspired by Ashwin Willemse, writes an open letter about nonsensical school application policies
Dear White Schools,
A lot of people in this country will tell you that life in South Africa has changed for the better. The country has transformed since 1994 and there’s a new generation of so-called born-frees who will grow up in a completely democratic and colour-blind Republic of South Africa.
As the parent of a six-year-old in Grade R, I believe such transformation is lacking in our education system. Since applying for Grade R in 2017 and Grade 1 in 2018 I have been exposed to a system of what I call “indirect discrimination with racist undertones”. This form of discrimination is enforced by school governing body admissions policies, which are empowered by the South African Schools Act.It doesn’t matter what job you have, it doesn’t matter how much money you earn, it doesn’t matter how academically qualified you are as a parent, or how much you would like to prioritise the quality of your children’s education. All that matters is where you live.
You can read the admissions policy of any school and you will find the following trends:
• There will be no discrimination;
• There will be a promotion of racial, religious and cultural diversity;
• Siblings and historic school affiliations will be given preference;
• Proximity to schools will be given preference.
If you consider the above points, how can there be grounds to push this “indirect racism”? According to the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), as long as the school’s governing body admissions policies are in terms of the South African Schools Act (Sasa), all is in order. I’ve looked at the act and the WCED’s Policy for the Management of Admission and Registration of Learners at Ordinary Public Schools. Here are some interesting extracts regarding admission to a public school:
• (5). Admission to public schools. — (1) A public school must admit learners and serve their educational requirements without unfairly discriminating in any way. (Sasa);
• (5) Subject to this Act and any applicable provincial law, the admission policy of a public school is determined by the governing body of such school. (Sasa);
• (9) Any learner or parent of a learner who has been refused admission to a public school may appeal against the decision to the Member of the Executive Council. (Sasa);
• The WCED has not determined any feeder zones for public schools in the Western Cape. Admission of learners to all public schools should be within the prescripts of the law. (WCED);
• Where insufficient vacancies exist at a public school, learners of the compulsory school-going age shall have preference of admission over deregistered learners who are not of compulsory school-going age and overage [Grade plus six years plus three or more years] and under-age learners. Deregistered learners who are above the compulsory school-going age should be referred to an AET centre or an FET college. (WCED).
There is no condition relating to the proximity and geography of a pupil’s residence to a public school (feeder areas) in the WCED policy, Sasa and the Western Cape Provincial School Education Act. This means that this policy comes only from a school’s governing body and not WCED or Sasa. In fact, the WCED actually goes so far as to explicitly state in its admissions policy that it does not determine or endorse feeder zones. The only time any sort of preference is endorsed is in terms of the correct school-going age.
Based on my research it is clear that the concept of feeder areas and proximity originates only from school governing bodies.
Now, take a look at the clear racial divisions on Adrian Frith’s dotmap (dotmap.adrianfrith.com) of South Africa, then consider the locations of all top schools in the Western Cape in particular.
I was told by the secretary of a top school in Rondebosch that all their 30+ Grade R spots were taken by girls within a 1km radius of the school – the 90% white 1km radius. She then told me in a very smug way that the WCED only cares that every child is placed at the closest public school; “unfortunately we cannot send our children where we want them to go, we can only send them where they are allowed to go”.
So, basically, if I can’t afford to buy or rent a R3-million-plus home in Rondebosch I can’t send my daughter to a school in Rondebosch. Even if I can afford school fees of about R3,000 per month, have a stay-at-home wife with her own car, live a 10-15-minute drive from the school, it means nothing because my daughter is from the Cape Flats. A Cape Flats girl won’t fit in at Oakhurst or Rustenburg Girls’. Even a predominantly coloured school like Golden Grove has those reservations about those who live on the wrong side of Crawford Station.Just a quick reminder why these racial divides conveniently benefit people of a particular race, culture and economic standing: the Group Areas Act of 1950.
I don’t mean to wake demons of the past but the school governing body policies are only reinforcing the racial divides put in place by a horrendous act of discrimination put in place by an apartheid government.
We have an obligation to stand up against this discrimination. Not only because it contradicts Sasa, but because it filters through to high schools as preference will be given to feeder primary schools within the area. How do you think those pupils were admitted to the feeder schools?
So, unless your child is exceptionally talented (or you are exceptionally wealthy) it’s going to be almost impossible to get into these top high schools if you are not from the right area.
All they have to do is relax their policies for previously disadvantaged individuals; it’s only fair considering the history of this country.
The schools with the best facilities are located where? The schools with some of the best teachers are located where? Just look for the purple dots on dotmap.adrianfrith.com.After following up on my daughter’s application to two all-girl primary schools in Rondebosch it was confirmed that her application was deemed unsuccessful because of where we live. When I asked the schools to comment on this article before publication, one school governing body responded that they were disappointed that I was resorting to “written threats”.
Both schools rejected my daughter without even calling her in for an interview.
I am considering taking this matter further by appealing such a decision to the MEC, Debbie Schaffer, as I am entitled to do in terms of Sasa. Furthermore, I will be requesting admissions records for the past five years from any school that rejects my daughter because of discriminatory governing body policies.
These applications have brought me to a crossroad: should I blow this debate wide open all over public media or just back down and not make a scene? After seeing Ashwin Willemse stand up for his own dignity I was inspired to soldier on and not back down.
We have done a very good job of eliminating blatant in-your-face racial discrimination in this country. Now is the time to move on to phase two and tackle these indirect methods of enforcing what is left of an apartheid legacy. I should have actually taken this argument forward with my daughter’s Grade R applications, but it may not be too late for others.I need to follow this process to restore my own faith in the progress of this country. I was advised by other parents to either lie (use fake addresses and affidavits in my application), spend big (promising to pay one year's school fees up front and make generous donations to the school), or make a big scene at the school by shouting and threatening the principal. But I refuse to be forced into such measures because of where I live. I am urging all parents applying to public schools that have historically benefited from apartheid systems to use this information to challenge any school applications that are unsuccessful because an applicant resides outside of a “feeder zone”.
Remember, there is no such thing as a “community-based” public school. Never back down.