There have been numerous articles and posts in recent times about identity politics, some of them about accusations of racism at schools and colleges in South Africa.
Stories are being told about unfortunate cases at various institutions, including St John’s College in Johannesburg, Michaelhouse in KwaZulu-Natal, St Mary’s DSG in Pretoria, Herschel Girls School in Cape Town, and my daughter’s former college in Sandton, St Stithians.
There appears to be a common thread: a handful of activists and their yay-sayers who are hell bent on seeking and amplifying division and cancellation*. These activists are allowed to flourish and are perhaps even encouraged by those in charge. This is not only destructive for any innocent victims, but it is also not what the institutions themselves, or the country, need right now.
It is also very expensive. Yet it seems these schools have lots of spare cash for consultants and lawyers in helping to drive the activists’ agenda and narrative.
I believe there are many innocent victims out there, including students, parents, and teachers, who want to tell their stories but who are too scared to do so for fear of further reprisal. Or perhaps it’s because it takes time and energy to fight back. Either way, it’s not going to help our children if parents sit back while standards of leadership and governance are allowed to decline.
I am a father whose daughter was in Grade 12 at St Stithians College in 2020. I am now suing St Stithians and three of its officials, and, if I succeed, it’s going to cost college management a lot of time and money.
Summons has been issued in the Randburg Regional Court against St Stithians College, Dr Sally James (Head of Girls’ College), Ms Leanne Horwitz (Head of Diversity and Transformation, Girls’ College) and Mrs Ntombi Langa-Royds (former Deputy Chair, now Chair of Council).
What follows is a summary of the case and public record.
For broad context, St Stithians and its officials had a legal duty not to infringe or impair my daughter’s right to a basic education, and to act in her best interests. However, on 31 May 2020, Dr James made false, unfounded, and defamatory allegations against my daughter.
On 1 June, Ms Horwitz was appointed as ‘Chief Investigator’. Interviews and discussions were held with my daughter, while I was prohibited from attending.
On 5 June my daughter was issued with a notice to attend a disciplinary hearing on 12 June. She was charged with ‘Racism, racist conduct or other offensive behaviour’ and with ‘Dissemination of a WhatsApp communication with an (sic) alleged racist content’.
On 12 June my daughter pleaded not guilty to all charges at the disciplinary hearing chaired by Mrs Langa-Royds, who proceeded to find my daughter guilty on both charges and recommended the following sanctions:
- A written warning valid for 6 months with expulsion for any offences of a similar nature; and
- A ‘Restoration and Reflection Task’ of purchasing and reading ‘Waking up White: and finding myself in a story of race’ by Debby Irving, followed by a two-page essay.
My daughter maintained her innocence throughout and appealed against the findings and sanctions.
Advocate Ngwako Hamilton Maenetje SC was appointed by St Stithians to chair the appeal process. Despite the appeal having been noted, St Stithians and Dr James proceeded to implement the sanctions.
On 5 October 2020 Adv. Maenetje SC ruled against St Stithians, Dr James, Ms Horwitz and Mrs Langa-Royds, and dismissed both the finding of guilt and the sanctions imposed upon my daughter.
St Stithians, Dr James, Ms Horwitz and Mrs Langa-Royds intentionally and deliberately failed to act in my daughter’s best interests; they failed to properly investigate the veracity and origin of the false allegations and acted with undue haste in their quest to prosecute her.
It appears that this was due to pressure from certain groups within and without the St Stithians community (which they referred to as the ‘greater school community’) and in the context of the ‘Black Lives Matter Movement’. Dr James, in her capacity of Head of the Girls’ College, decided to make an example of my daughter and to punish her in an attempt to quell the pressure from mainly black students and negative publicity on social media targeting several white students and teachers.
Ms Horwitz, as Chief Investigator for St Stithians, persisted with the prosecution of my daughter without having conducted a reasonable and proper investigation and without having investigated the origin of the allegations.
Mrs Langa-Royds, chair of the disciplinary hearing, found my daughter guilty on all charges, despite finding that she could not determine whether my daughter disseminated the alleged WhatsApp communication with the alleged racist content. Mrs Langa-Royds nonetheless found her guilty of racism, racist conduct or other offensive behaviour.
St Stithians management failed to consider the damage and devastating consequences for my daughter of being found guilty of serious charges of racism.
St Stithians management failed further in their duties to my daughter when they opposed the appeal brought by her, at which they introduced a large volume of documents, most of which had not been introduced at the initial disciplinary hearing and were therefore irrelevant to the appeal process.
My daughter was denied legal representation during the investigative, disciplinary and appeal processes and was represented where possible by me, her father.
I had to prepare to be able to assist my daughter properly and spent many hours preparing for defending her against the conduct of St Stithians and its officials.
I set out the time I had had to spend, as well as the relevant costs attendant thereon, in an invoice to St Stithians.
It is for payment of this invoice that I am now suing St Stithians and its relevant managers. St Stithians in turn is suing me for outstanding fees for the year in question; I am defending this claim strenuously. If I win both matters, it will likely cost St Stithians over R500 000.
The college’s management may have felt under pressure to be seen to be dealing with several allegations of racism. However, they were obliged to thoroughly investigate any allegations being made. In the current climate, being falsely accused and found guilty of racism can destroy a child’s schooling and prospects.
This may be hard on management, but they are obliged to manage these fraught scenarios fairly and professionally.
*cancellation is the ostracism of someone from media, social media or in person, for doing or saying something that is contrary to the view held by those promoting the cancellation.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR
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