Former students of Rustenburg Girls’ High School have spoken out about their experiences of racism at that school. They have created a platform where stories can be told in order to provide validation, catharsis, healing and the restitution of dignity for those voices that were previously subdued. I am providing space here for a document that they have compiled.
Nuraan Davids writes, “the fact that past and present learners have taken to a public space to voice their frustration, anger and pain is a confirmation that they did not experience their school as a safe space.” The complete article can be read here.
Parents for Change commend the courage of those current and former students of private and former model C schools who have spoken out about their experiences of racism and the impairment of their dignity. Those who have spoken out include young people associated with both Rustenburg Girls’ Junior and High Schools, as well as other schools in the southern suburbs of Cape Town. Our youth insist that we centre the historical woundedness, social incongruencies and our uneven inheritances. They demand new forms of accountability.
We also note the accounts of the undervaluing and bullying of Black
teachers in schools, and the poor offering of marginalized African languages,
particularly in primary schools. We believe that it is the responsibility of
the schools to value these teachers and protect them from all forms of
bullying. The schools should also consider reviewing their policies and offer
marginalized languages as a way of fast-tracking social inclusion and the
transformation plans which many schools claim to be prioritizing.
Since 2017, Parents for Change (PfC) have been working to create and
support inclusive and transformed schools where all learners, staff and parents
are respected and treated with dignity and equity. We believe that this will
prepare our children to embrace and thrive in our diverse society as adults
with consequential social cohesion and the potential for healing.
The statements made by young people on the YouSilenceWeAmplify Instagram account and other social media sites have highlighted that we still have some way to go to realise our vision. These events are unfolding in the context of the global COVID19 pandemic and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which have both exposed deep inequalities in our society and shown the need for new ways of being. The possibility of wilful ignorance, silence and amnesia no longer persists. Within this moment deep reflection is a pressing obligation.
What is critical is how the schools implicated by these allegations
respond. We believe that important first steps include admission of
institutional complicity in advancing racism, commitment to making racism a
matter that matters for us all, and being proactive regarding anti-racism work.
We hope that the schools will adopt a posture of humility and open themselves
up for listening and dialogue with the young people who have shown the courage
to share their stories, and that attempts will be made to seek answers and
justice for the girls who experienced blatant racism and discrimination. In
cases, where staff who are implicated in these incidents are still employed by
schools, urgent investigations are required.
Schools must be safe spaces where our children can learn and grow into whole adults. No child should have to be made to feel as if they do not belong. The lack of transformation and anti-racism work at schools has done a great disservice to both black and white students. We call on all members of school communities, including fellow parents, to become part of the change required in our society to enable thriving, wellbeing and healing in a context of deep historical wounds. We need to learn to be more explicit about white privilige, racism and search for blindspots.
Tohira Kerrike has been selling flowers at Silwood Centre in Rondebosch for the past 45 years. More than 50 years ago, her family were the victims of forced removals in Cape Town. Despite the end of Apartheid and the hope inspired by the first democratic elections of 1994, she is still waiting for a land restitution claim to be addressed. She talks about her early life in Untold Stories: Memories of growing up in a different era, a book by the Cape Town Museum of Childhood. The book was launched on 23 April 2019.
Tohira’s father owned a small farm in Constantia at the top of Ladies Mile Road. On the farm, they grew vegetables and flowers. Her mother sold the flowers that were grown on the farm. In Standard 5 (which is Grade 7 today), Tohira started helping her mother with the selling of flowers. After passing Standard 5, she dropped out of school and started working as a flower seller. She would continue in this occupation for the next 52 years.
Cape Town has a long history of flower selling. Melanie Boehi writes in “The flower sellers of Cape Town – a history”, that the cut flower trade began as an activity of slaves in early colonial Cape Town and that flower selling began in the mid-1880s.
“Being largely excluded from careers in botany and horticulture during apartheid, flower farming and selling were occupations in which black people successfully made a living by working with flowers,” she writes. Like many things in South Africa and Cape Town, in particular, the occupation of flower sellers and the regulations of the trade were subjected to racist legislation.
Tohira’s mother sold flowers on the Grand Parade in the Cape Town city centre. The sight of flower sellers in the central business district of Cape Town eventually became a popular tourist attraction. It was not always so. In 1905, the introduction of a permit for the sale of flowers was discussed in Parliament. There was opposition to allowing flower sellers to conduct their trade in the CBD. As one parliamentarian stated, “‘able-bodied coloured’ men and women should not be flower sellers but employed as farm labourers or domestic workers.”
by the early 1900s, flower sellers became a feature on postcards, tourist guidebooks
and in local newspapers and magazines. They were presented as exotic characters,
with little understanding of their real lives. Melanie says, “Photographs on
postcards were altered in ways that emphasised not only the colours of the flowers
but also of the flower sellers’ dresses, especially the ‘Malay’ attributes such
as women’s headscarves and men’s fezzes. Painters, with Irma Stern and Vladimir
Tretchikoff among the most well-known, frequently produced images of flower
Flower selling is hard work. When Tohira
started out, she had to get up at 5 o’clock every morning to get to the farm to
buy fresh flower. Then she would go home to pack them before travelling to
Rondebosch to sell them. In the early years, she would sell flowers till 2 o’clock
in the afternoon. But “now business isn’t like it was, and you have to work the
whole day!” she says.
The introduction of the Group Areas Act in 1950, placed the economic activity of black people in city centres throughout South Africa in a precarious position. In 1965, central Cape Town was proclaimed a white Group Area and it was announced that “the coloured flower sellers would eventually have to move from the flower market in Adderley Street.” In the end, they were allowed to stay.
However, the flower sellers experienced the wrath of the Group Areas Act in other ways. In 1968, Tohira’s family were uprooted from their farm in Constantia and forced to move to smaller land. Constantia, which today is one of Cape Town’s wealthiest residential areas, was declared a white area: black residents were evicted and their houses and gardens destroyed.
Melanie says that “Few traces remind us that until the 1960s Constantia was a farming area with a predominantly black working class population. They were farmers, farm workers, domestic workers and fruit and flower sellers, and they practiced subsistence farming, growing vegetables, fruit and flowers…” Being dispossessed of their land had serious consequences for black people. Tohira remembers eating the vegetables that her parents grew. Only surplus vegetables, like with the flowers, were sold on the market. Being forcibly removed from their farm and relocated to a much smaller area meant that they could no longer pursue their subsistence farming activities.
Tohira and went on a pilgrimage to Mecca at the age of 21. Today, evidence of the fact that her community once lived in Constantia is the Mosque and Muslim cemetery that still stands in Spaanschemat Road. Tohira and her family still go there. The school that she attended, Constantia Primary School, also still stands as a witness to their forced removal.
In 1998, Tohira’s family lodged a claim for the restoration of the rights to the land that they owned in Constantia. “If we ever do get it back, I’ll just thank God that we can go forward,” she says. Till today however, they have had no success.
During the twilight years of Apartheid, Zoe Wicomb gained attention with her first book, You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town. The book is a collection of inter-related short stories. In 2013 she was awarded the inaugural Windham–Campbell Literature Prize for her fiction.
“You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town comes from a confident statement by Frieda’s longstanding white boyfriend as she is about to go off to have an abortion in the white part of the city. Frieda Shenton, for her part, does not have a sense of direction, even though she ends up in the clinic and is able to deny that she is coloured in order to have the procedure,” writes Marcia Wright.
A look at my anxious face compelled him to say, “You can’t get lost in Cape Town. There,” and he pointed over his shoulder, “is Table Mountain and there is Devil’s Peak and there Lion’s Head, so how in heaven’s name could you get lost?”
The story recounts the anxiety of the bus ride into town to have the abortion:
I should count out the fare for the conductor. Perhaps not; he is still at the front of the bus. We are now travelling through Rondebosch so that he will be fully occupied with white passengers at the front.
To the desolate moment that concludes the process:
It is 6a.m. Light pricks at the shroud of Table Mountain. The streets are deserted and, relieved, I remember that the next train will pass at precisely 6.22.