Racism dogs Zim schools

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EVERY YEAR, on June 16, Africa remembers the high school learners in Soweto, South Africa, who, in 1976, dared the apartheid security forces, demanding to be taught in their mother tongue.

On June 16 1976, black high school students from different schools, in their thousands, took to the streets of Soweto to protest. 

They were expressing their grievances over a racially discriminatory educational policy that forced them to use Afrikaans as the official language in the classroom.

The ensuing clashes between the police and the defenseless children resulted in about 200 deaths.

And one of the victims of that callous and brutal response by the apartheid regime was 13-year-old Hector Pieterson.

Forty-five years on, structural racism and white privilege in schools remain a problem in Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe.

Last week, parents of children at Hellenic Academy in Harare raised racism allegations against the school authorities.

It is reported that one of the ‘racist’ teachers has since been disciplined after using derogatory language in reference to black students and staff members.

This is after one student reported him for calling him a ‘kaffir’ during lessons.

In another incident, four white students are alleged to have attacked a male black pupil and broke his arm last month, resulting in the child arming himself with a knife to defend himself. 

He was suspended for the incident, while his assailants walked scot-free.

The incident led to protests by other students at a sports day event recently.

This is not the first time the school has been fingered in racism allegations.

Located at 42 Basset Crescent in Harare, Hellenic Academy was founded by the local Greek community in 2008.

It enrolls about 140 Greek children and 700 others from around Zimbabwe.

Exactly a year ago, racism reports rocked the academy after it cancelled a debate on racism.

The event, which had been scheduled for June 11-12 was reportedly cancelled because it was “…not the right time to hold the discussions for the fear of media backlash.”

Outraged Hellenic Academy alumni petitioned the school, expressing outrage over the decision.

According to the petition, learners demanded:

“Hellenic Academy takes an explicitly anti-racist stance and create a framework to dismantle racist systems within the institution. 

We urge that Hellenic Academy addresses the racism from staff members and within the student body.

This is to be achieved by providing a mandatory and comprehensive anti-racist training for all staff members, the prefects’ body and any students in a leadership position.

To achieve the aforementioned, we strongly urge that a qualified diversity and inclusion board is established at Hellenic Academy.

A ‘diversity officer’ should be appointed to chair this organisation and enforce the anti-discrimination policy throughout the school.

The students also proposed that learners have to be considered for any sport irrespective of their skin colour.”

This comes amid allegations that the private school favours whites in sporting disciplines, like cricket, hockey and rugby, while mixed-race and black learners are pushed to soccer.

The decimation of local languages and indigenous knowledge have also been a cause for concern.

“We urge Hellenic Academy to amend the existing Eurocentric hair policy to achieve a race-neutral hair policy which prohibits any discrimination based on hair texture and natural protective styles.”

The petition resulted in the black students’ movements which were ignited by former Peterhouse Girls student Nakiso Gwatidzo, who used her social media page to speak out against racial prejudices at private schools in Zimbabwe reminiscent of the colonial era.

The Anglican-run Peterhouse Group of Schools was accused of entrenching discriminatory practices with rampant cases of segregation with white leaders allegedly treating students and teachers with racial bias.

“Peterhouse harbours and exercises some of the most racist and discriminatory behaviour I have encountered in my lifetime. It’s both individual and institutional; addressing one is not enough,” said Gwatidzo.

It has since emerged that secretive quota systems, a ban in indigenous languages on school premises and relegation of black staff to non-decision making positions are some of the subtle racist tendencies that are pervasive in white-run private schools in Zimbabwe.

Several other top schools in Bulawayo are reportedly having the same problem of racism, which can be traced to the country’s colonial past.

Petra High School students also took to Instagram to expose the alleged ill-treatment of blacks at the school and push for reforms.

The learners accused teachers at the school of inciting racism by using derogatory language towards black learners and causing divisions among the students.

In 2017, learners at Girls College accused the school head, Les Ross, of racism and launched an online petition calling for her sacking.

Another school stalked by racism allegations is Lomagundi College — located on the outskirts of Chinhoyi — where students under the #blackatlomagundi relived the horrors of racial prejudice.

Posting on social media pages in 2008, a former student said Lomagundi College placed mediocre white students in the A-class, while A-material black learners were put in the B-class:

“If one then compared Ordinary and Advanced Level results, you would notice that a lot of kids in the B stream would actually excel and do better than the so-called) A-streamers.

For example, the head girl in my year got four points but she had been in the A stream, then I got 10 points, but I was a B-streamer. We did the same subjects at Advanced Level by the way,” wrote a former student.

“Black lives matter. That is the rallying call. The remix is not appreciated and is no longer relevant. A Zimbabwean school struggling to be frank about the experiences of its black students are indicative of underlying discomfort and ill-distributed value,” she said.

During the colonial era, the Rhodesian Government used to separate schools on racial grounds with most blacks supposed to enroll in the so-called F2 schools which offered vocational subjects like technical drawing, woodwork, agriculture and metalwork. 

F1 schools were attended by most white children and offered academic subjects such as history, science, geography, accounting and commerce, among other subjects.

It is important to note that those pursuing the F1 schools used to proceed to university and other colleges, such as teachers’ colleges and technical colleges.

And today, most of these top private schools’ codes of conduct are premised on white experience, principles and values.

Eurocentric values of neatness, where black students, especially girls, are expected to have particular hairstyles, and curricula that degrades local languages and indigenous knowledge, are reportedly still being rigorously enforced.

Selection of black learners in sports, such as hockey, cricket, rugby and soccer, is also allegedly still being defined on blurred but visible racial lines.

Alumni of some of the schools, including some aggrieved staffers, have, in recent weeks, been volunteering information on some of the contentious practices.

One staff member who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation said racism is rife in private schools and called for urgent reforms as Zimbabwe is a democratic nation where all races are supposed to be treated equally.

“Something must be done to address this race problem in private schools where blackness is seriously under attack by white school administrators,” she said.

Surely this situation cannot be left unchallenged.

The demon of racism must be uprooted in its totality.

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