College probes racism claim

Maritzburg College has launched an investigation into claims of racism involving a senior teacher at the school.

It is alleged that the teacher — whose name is known to The Witness — told a coloured pupil that he was “not white enough or black enough” to become a prefect at the school. The teacher has denied the claim.

The alleged incident reportedly caused the Grade 11 pupil, whose name is known to The Witness, considerable stress, with a psychologist’s report concluding that he experiences “persistent sadness or ‘empty’ mood, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and helplessness”.

In diagnosing the pupil with anxiety and depression, the psychologist wrote that the teacher’s comment led the pupil to see “himself as ‘different’ to other people because of the ‘colour of his skin’”.

Maritzburg College, however, told The Witness categorically that the pupil’s race was not a factor in his non-selection as a prefect.

Contacted for his side of the story, the teacher at the centre of the fracas dismissed the allegations against him as “completely ridiculous”.

He suggested they may have been trumped up because the pupil’s family were desperately looking for reasons as to why he wasn’t made prefect.

“The fact is, unfortunately, he didn’t have the support from a voting point of view,” he said when asked why the pupil had not been chosen.

Replying to a list of questions sent by The Witness, the school said extensive dialogue had been entered into with the parents. “This has been via meeting with senior management and the headmaster on more than one occasion. There has also been e-mail and telephonic contact,” the school said.

“We sympathise with the learner and his parents. The school has a strong pastoral programme in place which via a number of processes provides an opportunity for members of the College community to reach out to learners.

“In this case the learner’s father was adamant that his son not be interacted or interfered with in any way by the school. This was due to the onset of the year-end exams,” the school said.

The school also said that the allegation at this stage was “unsubstantiated” and subject to an investigation, but added that the school views “any allegation of racism or racist comments very seriously”.

The Witness was told that the final say on prefects is made by members of the school heirachy, which includes the teacher in question.

The alleged incident happened in August during a leadership camp where school management assesses potential prefects. Pupils and teachers also vote for preferred candidates.

Asked how Maritzburg College selects prefects and how many were chosen for next year, the school said prefects are chosen on merit “following a rigorous selection process”.

“This is a multi-stage process which gives learners and educators input into the selection,” the school said, adding that 33 prefects have been chosen for 2019.

Asked about claims that the allegation has caused a stir among staff, some of whom are “very upset” about it, Maritzburg College said this was not brought to the attention of management and added that there are processes in place for staff to communicate concerns of this nature.

Maritzburg College also “strongly refuted” claims by sources that the school was known to “sweep issues like this under the rug”.

Sources told The Witness that the pupil — a recipient of many merit awards and who has provincial colours in some sports — was snubbed in favour of white pupils who had “appalling” disciplinary records, and who had been “gated” — a disciplinary measure where pupils may not go home for a weekend.

“Usually, white boys get pushed in front of others — especially if their parents are on the SGB or donate to the school.

“It’s a segregated system, and it has been in the school since apartheid.

“Incidents of racism tend to fly underneath the table, and if one speaks out they are sidelined,” a source said.

However, Maritzburg College said that when choosing prefects past history was “carefully looked at to ensure that any learner, regardless of race, is not disqualified by virtue of previous misdemeanours”.

The school said further that the SGB was not involved “at all” in the selection process and that it “strongly refutes that parental involvement on the SGC or donations have any impact on who is chosen to be a prefect”.

The school disagreed that it has a culture of exclusion and racism.

“On the contrary, we have a policy of inclusion and tolerance and through various programmes are working hard to see transformation growing from strength to strength,” the school said.

The Witness understands that the pupil will not attend Maritzburg College next year.

One source said: “He started doubting himself and believed the colour of his skin would hold him back. It will be difficult for him to find a school to put him in for Matric next year. It’s a pity — he loved the school.”

Another source said: “His removal will be a loss to the school; the teachers are very fond of him.”