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.
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.
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.