Young woman makes a stand against WhatsApp sexism
Student serves summons on 25 Affies old boys who took part in 'threatening' WhatsApp group chat against her
A photo of a teenage girl donning an alumnus cap from a Pretoria boys’ school, posted on social media three years ago, has culminated in legal action and intervention by Gauteng’s Department of Education.
Law student Juanè Slabbert, 20, has served summons on 25 Afrikaanse Seuns Hoërskool old boys who took part in a WhatsApp group chat in 2015.
The topic of conversation was a picture of Slabbert wearing a school cap, that had been shared on Snapchat.
The expletive-laden discussion threatened violence towards Slabbert and insulted her for wearing the cap – a privilege which the school, nicknamed Affies, traditionally reserves for current and former pupils.But Slabbert has now taken the young men to the Equality Court for their remarks, which she has in court papers labelled sexist and threatening.
She is seeking R100,000, unreserved apologies from everyone involved and also institutional intervention at the school, to prevent future occurrences of threats and violence towards women.
While Slabbert was not available for comment, her lawyer Sanja Bornman, an attorney with Lawyers for Human Rights, told Times Select on Wednesday the process had been time-consuming.“It took [Slabbert] a while to decide if she wanted to proceed, and to get legal advice. The matter was launched in 2016, well within the three-year prescription period. The reason for the delay is because the school refused to provide contact details for the respondents. This meant we struggled to obtain these details, and even appointed a tracing agent to assist us.”
In 2016, Slabbert approached the Equality Court seeking permission to serve summons via Whatsapp and newspaper advertisements.
“The court was hesitant initially, as it felt it could not be completely sure that some of the respondents weren’t minors – we then had to make further representations,” Bornman said.
In April this year, the court granted the request. The respondents have 30 days to respond to the summons.Education Department spokesperson Steve Mabona said officials had been sent to the school on Wednesday and would make several more visits over the next few weeks.
Bornman said she welcomed the department’s intervention, which will involve a team of psychologists reviewing the code of conduct and providing gender sensitivity training for staff and pupils.
“We congratulate the department on taking this initiative, and for its commitment to interrogating institutional cultures that are harmful in the context of gender discrimination and gender identity. We hope we may call on them to do so again in the future, should it be necessary in other schools.”Bornman said that for Slabbert, it boiled down to gender equality, bullying and ultimately violence against women.
“It is about individual accountability and interrogating and challenging institutions where toxic masculinity exists.”
Affies vice-principal for discipline Peregrine Joynt told Times Select on Wednesday the school had been in contact with the department and also welcomed the intervention.
“We have been in discussions with the department and will continue to be in discussions with them,” he said.
He shared a short statement on the Affies Facebook page on Tuesday, condemning the behaviour of its alumni as “inappropriate”.
“The position of the school is very clear: AHS distances itself totally from the alleged behaviour of the boys as well as any form of violence, especially toward women and children. This type of behaviour is discouraged in the strongest terms,” Joynt’s statement read.He said the school viewed the incident in an extremely serious light and that it was being looked into by the governing body as well as a “top legal team” appointed by the school.
“The school will deal with the case at the appropriate time and on the correct forum with cognisance of the facts of the incident. We are already in discussions with the legal representative of [Slabbert] to seek a constructive way forward.”But Bornman confirmed the school had not wanted to assist them with contact details for the pupils involved.
According to media reports, the school had at the time identified the 26 pupils – from the WhatsApp group of over 90 participants – and they were punished with detention while another was denied the honour of ringing the school bell on the final day of matric.
“As per the remedy we are requesting from the court, [Slabbert] would like to see an audit and review of the school’s policies and institutional culture, followed by targeted workshops/training for staff and learners that focus on gender equality and gender-based violence. It is unlikely that a once-off intervention would really shift things, and so it will be necessary to plan a long-term approach, or ongoing efforts,” Bornman said.