Parents from Rustenburg Girls’ Junior School have rallied behind its first black teacher who was constructively dismissed‚ claiming that the alleged racism that forced her out was just the tip of the iceberg.
The group of parents‚ calling themselves Parents for Change‚ said: “There are numerous unspoken issues of racism‚ discrimination and humiliation at the school. The principal‚ school management team and the school governing body have chosen to turn a blind eye.”
They were responding to reports that the school‚ one of the leading public schools in Cape Town‚ discriminated against Nozipho Mthembu. The 26-year-old‚ who was the first black class teacher at the school‚ went to the CCMA demanding compensation following consistent discriminatory treatment.
She alleged that not only did the school single her out for a “mentorship programme” which left her more traumatised than supported‚ its principal Di Berry and school governing body (SGB) chairman Gavin Downward gave her an ultimatum to resign or face disciplinary action that would “ruin her reputation”.
The school told her that parents questioned her competency. Parents for Change‚ who have organised themselves to fight against apparent racism at the school‚ expressed outrage at Mthembu’s dismissal being turned into a political football. They criticised Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer’s handling of the incident‚ saying on Monday that “it is driven by a political imperative‚ rather than addressing the real issues of creating schools where all children can belong and enjoy equal opportunity”.
“It is not entirely clear whether Schäfer is not fully informed‚ or whether she is being selective in what she chooses to know. As a group of concerned parents‚ we have attempted to solicit the intervention of the Western Cape Education Department.
“Schäfer’s letter now confirms what we have suspected for a while… that it is up to parents and civil society to cultivate a socially just society‚ and that the department is not a partner in this endeavour.”
Schäfer said on Sunday that Mthembu had “resigned after ongoing legitimate concerns that were raised with her. Out of respect for her privacy‚ these have not been disclosed.”
“The admission of wrongdoing by the school at the CCMA was because of issues of procedure regarding the process followed. SGBs are not experts in HR processes – not because of racism‚” she said.
Parents for Change said it was “exceptionally worrying” that Schäfer had chosen only now to respond to allegations of racism at the school when they were brought to the attention of head of department Brian Schreuder in October 2017.
The parents’ group said that by insinuating that Mthembu had resigned because of “ongoing legitimate concerns” Schäfer‚ “like the SGB and the school‚ hides behind supposed respect for (Mthembu’s) privacy”.
“We are aware of the circumstances‚ and they do not in any way justify the treatment Mthembu received. Furthermore‚ neither Mthembu nor her privacy has been respected. She was subjected to numerous incidents of humiliation by parents without the school or the SGB intervening‚” they said.
The parents added that despite claiming ignorance of Mthembu’s appointment and resignation‚ Schäfer had clearly sided with the school.
“Schäfer states that she will ensure that parents are addressed on the ‘unacceptability of such conduct’. We hope and trust that she will also address the principal‚ the school management and the SGB on the ‘unacceptability’ of their conduct.
“We urge Schäfer to ensure that the principal and SGB in the first instance take responsibility‚ apologise for their conduct and set acceptable norms for themselves for future behaviour‚” said the parents’ group.