Racial integration…a first step…
In 1997 I was a student doing my PGCE at UCT and I did my practical teaching at Pinelands North Primary School, in Pinelands, Cape Town, South Africa. I was a passionate, inspired, intuitive, enthusiastic teacher and I got offered a job, to start there when I qualified in 1998. I joined an all-white teaching staff and not only experienced the inevitable joy that goes with teaching and the pressures, but also the, ‘you are the exception to your race’, ‘you speak differently to other Coloured people’, I was the first Coloured/Black person some had met. I did however become friends with some of the staff which has lasted to this day! The pupils were racially integrated, as the school had started accepting children of all races earlier on in the 1990’s.My appointment was exceptional then, it was brave leadership. It remains an intentional staffing strategy ( as it should, that’s called giving up power and unsettling the status quo), but what makes it shocking is that even though that was radical then, there are still so many schools today that have not made similar choices and justify their reasons for doing so! I spoke to a teacher a couple of days ago, who teaches at a school in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town with more than 70 all-white staff – that is persistent white power and privilege. I was a first at my primary school, can you believe in the year 2015 there are still so many more firsts that need to happen.
Sharing space… all the spaces
It is about making space in this post Apartheid, new South Africa, but unfortunately the problem is that the space does not belong to us all yet, it does not yet belong to everyone. It should, because Apartheid was an evil construct- hopefully it would be difficult today to find someone who would defend Apartheid, but we still live with what it left behind. Inequality, in terms of where people can live and go to school for example. All the Apartheid laws can be reenacted and are relived in people’s daily experiences. I don’t state that ironically or flippantly but actually with great sadness.
Inclusion…it is a basic human right
Let me explain why inclusion could serve as a model for transformation in South Africa. Inclusion presumes that all children (and adults) have special needs. So if you include children with special needs into a mainstream school, and take that a step further, then those with the highest most complex needs, would get included (where previously they would not be and currently are not included anywhere else). And they BELONG because we all BELONG. Inclusion is about belonging. Not being superior and saying: ‘yes we will include you’ …that is patronizing. As an illustration, it is including a child with Down syndrome and saying this would not have been allowed previously. Let us not presume we understand everything about all people with Down syndrome – let’s get to know who you are, specifically! So, the structure of the school has been turned on its head as those who previously would not have even been allowed through the door, are essential TO and FOR the organization to work. We again have upset the status quo. Those previously excluded or marginalized are now intentionally included. Our differences do not make us different, they make us human, and then when we can see our shared humanity, that is when we know we are making progress. This model can be used in many different organizations but it is especially powerful in schools. As someone who has dedicated my life to working with children, the most powerful lessons can be learnt from them! Schools have many purposes but what they should primarily serve to do is to teach and enable children to learn how to live together, with people who are different from them!
Acknowledge the past
We can’t erase someone’s history, it’s part of who they are, let me share a story from my childhood. 30 years ago, I was 8 and in Standard 2- Grade 4. (I went to school a bit young- a story for another time). I came home from school one Friday afternoon,in June of 1985 and saw lots of cars outside our home, and I wondered what the occasion was. Well, the occasion was that my mother had been arrested and detained without trial. She was in detention for 2 weeks. She was a teacher protecting her students from the police and army at Excelsior High School in Belhar. So when people say forget about Apartheid, let’s move on, you cannot do that when you are 8 and an event like that shapes your life. How can we not be a broken land when this is an example of so many people’s experiences? Some who suffered much more, with family members and friends who never returned or so crushed, they were never the same again. I believe this is why I feel so strongly about justice issues related to children.I was 8 and my mother was taken away.
Then look forward
Another great sadness for me is that in South Africa, we so easily blame those, who have not quite gotten it together to rise above their circumstances and to stop being angry or violent, for our current problems. I am not excusing violence, but I am so deeply concerned about the constant othering and the absolute lack of reflection and compassion by those who have so much and who have not had to give up anything!
Transformation must happen, everyday we breathe in the unfair practices that discriminate to this day – what we breathe out must be a call to action and if that looks like learning who people are, treating them as human beings,learning to be tolerant, not presuming or believing stereotypes, then that is how transformation is going to occur.
Apartheid was horrific, devastating, murderous and everyday we affirm the structures real and imposed ( through actions and thoughts) that its legacy left behind and reinforces. Transformation is not about when, it’s about now!
Cape Town, South Africa
* Photo – my Standard 2 report, 1985, note there are no results in the third term, because of the state of emergency and forced closures of schools by the state, we did not go to school from 1 September- 5 October 1985. See articles below.