29 August 2016 - Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi at the troubled Pretoria High School for Girls. Lesufi visited the school on Monday after receiving a petition from pupils.
JOHANNESBURG – Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi will have his hands full on Wednesday, with visits to two schools over a race row and issues around black girls' hairstyles.
Lesufi's visit to the Klipspruit West Secondary School in Soweto follows protests by parents and members of the School Governing Body, who demanded the removal of the newly appointed black principal.
The protesters want a coloured principal for the school, which is in a predominantly coloured area.
Teaching resumed yesterday after protesting parents stopped pupils from attending classes on Monday.
"It's not racism if we go to a black township, you won't get a coloured principal. we fought for this country and we are standing up for ourselves," said resident Christopher Martin.
But Lesufi condemned the use of race to deal with certain issues.
He school principals are hired on the basis of their qualifications and not race.
Black pupils' hairstyles in the spotlight again
Meanwhile, Lesufi on Tuesday gave Windsor House Academy three months to formulate new policies that promote equality, following a controversy over pupils’ hairstyles.
“There’s is no learner who will be expelled because of issues dealing with hair. No one will be victimised,” Lesufi said while addressing the learners of the Kempton Park-based girls private school.
Around 11 black learners were chased off the school’s premises on Monday for having “unruly” hair.
Lesufi said: “Nominate four girls who will sit with management and I will come back here in three months’ time to ensure that you have new policies that everyone will respect.”
Siyabonga Ngwenya, an aunt of one of the girls who had been chased away from the school, said this had happened before to the children and it was not the first time she had been alerted about various reasons for her niece having to change her hair when it was natural or when it had extensions.
She said the principal, Mariette Van Heerden, told the girls that they should not think they would trend like Pretoria Girls because this was her school.
Last year Pretoria Girls High School was in the news after black learners were told they could not have afro hairstyles.
“They were told should their hair not be appropriate today they would not be allowed in school, but I brought my niece today,” Ngwenya said.
Ngwenya said there were no set rules on the hairstyles that were allowed at the school and when she requested the code of conduct she was told she could not have it because she was not the biological parent of the learner.
Lesufi allowed the girls to address him after he spoke to Van Heerden privately to get an understanding of what had occurred.
“The code of conduct changes all time. How are we meant to handle our hair? A girl had an afro and she was told it’s unruly,” said one of the black learners who was sent home for having braids.
“When a situation ‘gets out of hand’, management acts how they feel in the moment and depending on how they feel that day and it’s unfair. I am in matric and missed a whole day of school and I was told to unplait my hair, then I’m told the next day that it was appropriate,” another disgruntled learner said.
When given an opportunity to respond to the learners’ grievances, Van Heerden said: “Discipline is order, whether we appreciate or oppose it.”
Lesufi said: “We can see that it’s all schools having these issues, but I don’t think it’s out of control. The only problem was in private education that’s why we rushed here. You can hear the girls are going through difficulties, they need help and I will get my team to assist.”