COLUMN // WE NEED NEW SCHOOLS

I am in possession of four short but disturbing WhatsApp voice recordings sent to me by two concerned black girls who want to do something about the way black girls are perceived and treated by their peers in South Africa’s private schools. In the voice notes, 3 black boys who attend a prestigious private high school in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands discuss how much they dislike black girls, how much black girls stink and how they prefer hooking up with white girls because black girls are disgusting. ‘’I’d rather be with a white girl who picks her nose than a black girl who eats pap with her hands at a restaurant. Fuck. That’s disgusting man, who does that?’’ one boy asks in flummoxed repulsion.

‘But how did we expect these kids to turn out after sending them to the sausage factory of white supremacy?’’ asks a friend of mine with whom I listened to the recordings.

While the cracks of South Africa’s rainbow nation project deepen, it would be wise for black people to clean house, to reflect on the choices our leaders and inevitably, we made against ourselves during the aborted revolution of 1994.

What type of education are our children getting and who is benefiting from it if at the supposed highest levels, a black child can emerge not only ignorant of his own value, history and self, but hating his sister and his mother?  So eager were we to have rightful access to developed white schools that we failed to develop our own schools to the same or better standards. This is a situation questioned by lecturer Dr Nomalanga Mkhize in a recent Business Day column in which she recalls the paradox that a lot of black parents faced when sending their children to elite white schools because ‘’the school was ostensibly offering the best available education under the sun, but it also seemed that it was teaching me nothing at all of what was going on around me’’. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that black children are educated to their own benefit? Is it the government’s? Is it for the colonized schools to transform? Or should I, the future parent, be prepared to build the school that I want my child to attend one day? Fortunately, it’s not a matter of choosing one or the other, all three options are viable and there are a few good examples of public and independent schools that are undoing the legacy of our history, few being the operative word.

Black people with money can no longer rest on colonial laurels when it comes to the education of our children. What little black capital there is should not continue to flow so enthusiastically into the coffers of established private schools that are the breeding ground for the miseducation of not only the black child, but of all the children whose ideas and perspectives ripen inside them.

It is not enough to observe the transformative work that the country’s university students are doing at the moment without the willingness to change what we, the black elite, the comfortable classes have become used to in the last 22 years. We need to organize around causes that are beyond the celebratory, beyond self-enrichment and beyond the contemptible idea of charity which funds and maintains the status quo.

It also does not serve our progress enough to congregate around things that make us angry if we do not turn that anger into organization and that organization into cemented initiatives. How do we do it?

Do we learn from Jews and Muslims who take their children to Yeshiva College or Hebrew School and Madrasah in addition to or as an alternative to ‘’normal’’ schools where they are taught the value of their community and their history? If a black child is taught about their history, their language and their exceptional forms of intelligence, what are the chances that they won’t value that history, language and intelligence enough to want to preserve it? What are the chances that they won’t want to build wealth around it? We have the benefit of knowing the value of community yet we not capitalize on the inherent monetary value in aggressively building wealth from within and for the benefit of black communities. Imagine if all the money black people give away to centuries old, slave built wine estates that host weddings in the Western Cape, was funneled instead, to empower a black owned business?

Knowing that black children deserve better is not enough anymore. That knowledge is useless without mobilization and organization for this and other causes. There is a long tradition of education in black South Africa, from when we had no choice but to serve our own interests, even though it was against a miasmic backdrop. Both my parents built multiple schools from scratch, through fundraisers, donations and other means. Many of our parents did so this is not a new or an impossible task, especially because the conditions have not changed – our relationship to them has. For those of us who have benefited from these schools, we cannot be as naïve as to think that it is still good fortune to be able to send our children into seasoned Lion’s dens, without a back up plan.

The treatment and perception of black teenage girls by their private school peer is the subject of a documentary that is currently in development by a young South African filmmaker. 

Ends

Here’s a list of some schools that I found that are pioneering the necessity of educating children in environments that are not Eurocentric, please feel free to add to the list.  We need a lot more and we need them to be affordable and accessible.

Pioneer Academies
Lebone College
The African Leadership Academy 

There’s always been this great school in Swaziland The Waterford School

I’m not a parent so I do not know the pressures and intricacies involved in choosing a school for your child, considering there are so many elements to think about when making that choice. Is it affordable? Is it close to the house or work? What indigenous languages are prioritized in the school? And and and! My biggest dream, the one thing that I have to do in my life when I get to the right age, is to build a school. I liked my education at Clarendon Primary and High School, but there’s a lot that I’m still unlearning from the whiteness of the environment that I was schooled in for 10 years.  I don’t want my kid to have to unlearn before she or he can fully accept themselves.

 

 

 

// Comments (15)
  • Samora Sekhukhune says:

    Another interesting, thought provoking article. Thanks Milli.
    Yes, Black people need their own affirming schools. Correction – these should be the norm in an African country. Then other people who don’t feel their children are being well enough catered for e.g. Jewish, German etc would then branch out into their own schools. But we are still caught up in divisive thinking among ourselves as Black people. When I mentioned with much admiration a Black mother who, having similar concerns to you, decided to do something about it and started her own school I was shocked at the response from a Black, pro-Black feminist which went along the lines of “It would be great if she wasn’t a Black person born in the US” That is the kind of thinking that will leave this issue a blog/newspaper/socialmedia/pipedream issue.

    On another note …there are other commonalities that the ‘alternative’ school will have to satisfy spiritual beliefs (imagine being ‘animist’ in a very Christian school or being of socialist persuasion in a very capitalist minded school or an artistic child in a so-called mainstream school)

    There is much to say and hear but what will count is what we do.

  • Malindi says:

    I was lucky enough to have attended a school called uThongathi N.E.S.T College, the school was a private school, however, in a way it was designed to ‘test’ how we would co-exist as a rainbow nation, when the time came. It was quite similar to Waterford and Sisekelo in Swaziland. Sadly, after 1994 was achieved, funders pulled out and it was turned into yet another ‘normal’ private school about three years later. We never related to the ethos taught by the ‘normal’ white school which hailed the white way of living and created our own diverse way of existing, yes there were conflicts but we celebrated our differences, our cultures, and we were taught to engage and learn from our differences.

    I often look at all those I went to school with and to date, our outlook and respect for people in general is different. However, things have changed, we left that protected environment and joined the real world. My mother always said, we need to start building our own private schools for blacks by blacks.

    That said, I think the time has come, we already have these schools with great history like the iNanda Seminary’s. We could improve on that, begin somewhere. Generally we need to start creating black for blacks everything, business, research centres etc we cannot sit and wait for our societies to be predefined for us

  • Nomvula says:

    What an amazing article. True story I say. I stand with you in realising that anger and talk alone will not do us any good. I am a young parent too with a child in a private school. I yearn for the opportunity to build my own school of to transform the existing ones in my township. Thank you for some much needed inspiration.

  • Tasneem says:

    I can relate to this post and fully agree with you. School’s overall need to look at embracing different cultures, races, belief systems and reflect what is happening in South Africa as a whole. We all struggle with identity and belonging, especially in a school environment where you are at an age that acceptance and belonging is highly valued. The whole article resonates with me, as a coloured, Muslim child attending a white private school in the early 90’s. I was made to feel unintentionally different or ‘left out’. Not only because I was middle class and could not relate to my peers on a social level but because I was the minority. I do however hope that because we are living in a different social circumstance, that our children attend schools whether it be public or independent, which is reflective of South Africa as a society on a whole. That they learn to accept and respect their peers and like you said, “fully accept themselves.”

  • slomokazi says:

    This has been being my concern for a minute now and as a parent of a toddler, I’m already struggling and trying to unteach my daughter some of the things she learns at creche already. And it is up to us as parents to consider these things and make choices that reflect us. But ueah, new schools are very much needed.

  • Tholakele says:

    My daughter is is at Pioneer Academy. I love every moment

  • Dudu says:

    join us on Thursday 25 February at 15 Jubilee Road Parktown- Emoyeni Conference Centre, to take this discussion further.

    Inbox me at dudu@ngangeafrika.co.za
    NgangeAfrika (Pty) Ltd is a member of the BuyBlackByBlack Community

    We’ve line up an African philosopher, folks that are opening a school next year, folks that have a school on the go and folks who traveled the journey of starting a school and have had to rethink a few things.

  • Love the write up, very close to my heart….watched this video this morning and it talks about the same thing. Educating our children our own way. “It doesn’t make sense that we give away our children in those formative years to the white schooling systems, and only they you do adults, try to Africanized them?” Got me thinking of the choices I will one day make when I have children.

    http://youtu.be/Lde2CFUPsx0

  • Zimasa says:

    Milli ! Just took a look at that Lebone II school – oh my word I am so impressed! So much so that I sent the link to my fiancé & told him we should consider this as a school for our kids one day! Thanks soooo much for alerting me to it, it’s just what I needed 🙂

  • Milly (not Milli) says:

    What! So I’ve been reading your blog on and off for a few years now after I randomly discovered and I was fully unaware that you went to the exact same school as me! Girl, you’re talking about 10 years, I was there from Grade R, 13 years of indoctrination. I have to agree with you in that I do not hate our school and am ever greatful for the privilege of attending it. And I’ll fight people to the death if they try to insult it, but there is definitely some unlearning that had to be done. As much as what those private school boys said was ignorant, I can think back and say I probably said something along those lines for the very same reasons, cause we’re taught by a system that essentially hates (or at the very least looks down on) our people. I often talk to my sisters about this as one recently left school and the other is doing Matric and it does encourage me that there are girls like them in the school (and I’m sure other schools) that can see past the lies and stay grounded. And you are completely right that we need to start new schools, even if it’s for the mere fact they don’t carry the burden of colonial past. The heaviness of schooling in a place you know was once barred to you can not be ignored. Anyway love the write up, and love it a little more knowing it was written by a Clarrie-bag.

  • Slo says:

    I’ve been looking into the African Union international School (in Midrand). Would be great to get feedback from anyone who either went to school there or has a child/niece/nephew etc there

  • Thandiwe says:

    Thank you so much for this Millie, so much that I’m enquiring about the African Leadership Academy for my 5 year old son. Hopefully in the next couple of years more of these schools will exist.

  • Alicia Kabini says:

    I found your article insightful and thought provoking. I was about to agree that us middle class black people need to build our own schools. Then I paused to wonder where do my kids would fit into the mix, being mixed children ( I am coloured and my husband is black), and we do coloured children fit it. I wonder whether it is naïve to dream that one day people will simply be referred to as people, and we will not want to be grouped together by race, religion, or anything else. We will instead celebrate and embrace our differences.

  • Lebo says:

    Thanks Miss MilliB! This is a great call to action. The Pioneer schools seem to be doing a great job. Let’s not let the next generation be burdened with unlearning self-hate. Or having aspirations to ‘white’.

  • Milli Bongela says:

    Hi Alicia, your kids are black in my eyes (politically even though they have coloured identity ethnicity wise) and this school would be for them as much as it is for any child of any race. This imagined school would not exclude people based on race, even white people – the idea would be to teach a syllabus that centres African ways of ”knowing” and of course to teach a history and world view that does not leave the African child at the bottom of the global heirarchy, and one that does not take lies and make them facts. This school would find and uphold the beauty and power of being African. If white kids and chinese kids are also there, the point would not to miseducated them, it would be to educate everyone equally but certainly not twisting the truth like the schools that exist do regarding who matters in the world. And yes, the point is to create a world in which race does not matter one day. But because it does today, we need to undo the past one word and hopefully school at a time

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