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Protecting schools as tools of social cohesion

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Protecting schools as tools of social cohesion

Nompendulo Mkatshwa

14th September 2018

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The sad reality is that the legacies of the Apartheid Regime remain deeply entrenched in the everyday lives of South Africans. From the era of our beloved Former President Nelson Mandela to the era of our current President Cyril Ramaphosa the efforts of creating a socially cohesive South Africa remain a priority. From the ideals of a rainbow nation, to those of embracing the being of an African to the nationally popular ideals of “Thuma Mina” (send me), South Africa continues to strive to find itself.

I am of the view that various microcosms of society can be used as tools to achieve social cohesion in South Africa. These microcosms range from churches, sports teams, universities, big companies and schools among many others. It is my intent through this article to acknowledge the strides made within our schools towards a socially cohesive South Africa and raise alert to the stifling effects that the mis-diagnosis of our societal ills will have on the journey towards a socially cohesive South Africa.

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Where we come from as South Africa

When we speak of a socially cohesive South Africa we speak of a South Africa that acknowledges where it comes from in terms of its’ history of social division but aims to create a society where socially we are integrated. South Africa moves into this dream of social cohesion with a huge open scar of a distinctly separated social make-up. From schools, to clinics, to universities, to residential areas, to occupation, language and to any other form of institution one could possibly think of, South Africans existed separately. This separation socialised people in the most profound ways to the extent of which the division was not only achieved on a scale of whites versus non-whites but also among non-whites themselves; which, today I find to be one of the greatest cognitively hindering legacies of Apartheid.

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The then non-white races of South Africa today commonly referred to as black/African, coloured and Indian still live with complexes and nuances as a result of the hierarchical classification of non-white races given by the Apartheid Government.

Concordia

This was seen, and some may argue that there are still remnants of it, in the Concordia Township of Knysna. Concordia is a township in Knysna that was originally dominated by the coloured community. Over the years it has integrated into a coloured and black community. With the shortage of schools in the Knysna Townships in 2012 a school called Concordia High School was built in Concordia. This school was to be a parallel-language school. This would mean that there would be classes where the language of teaching and learning is English and a class where the language of teaching and learning is Afrikaans. This was the first of such a school in the Knysna Townships.

The Misdiagnosis

Soon after the school was open there was a lot of violence in and around the school, between learners of the school and learners outside the school. Out of this violence there was a great narrative within the community that insinuated that the violence was racially motivated. This narrative insinuated that coloured and black learners could not tolerate each other in an academic space.

The Actual Diagnosis

Speaking to one of the officials of the school, this narrative is not true but rather that the violence was community-based youth-gang related. So, gangs from a predominantly black community versus a gang from a predominantly coloured community fighting each other over gang related matters and not race related matters. This fighting then trickles into the school as some learners are members of these community-based youth-gangs. The various gang affiliations would spew a range of fights within the school; from fighting over who gets to wear a hat called “i-straggel” to a learner being stabbed across the stomach resulting in the learners guts hanging out in 2015.

So, according to school officials contrary to the narrative of some community members, the violence is not necessarily race-based but rather gang-based. However, this race-orientated narrative sticks within the community to the extent that when an outsider like me came to the area and engaged in discussions of education in the area, I am still told of the view that coloured and black learners are struggling to enjoy learning in the same environment.

Others hold the view that the process of teaching and learning was challenging when the school started as you had people of different cultures coming together to try to accomplish a common goal. In as much as educators are South Africans, they carry an identity of being black or coloured or Indian or white, young or old, liberal or right-wing; which means that they identify and socialise in different ways, particularly because of our past. As a result, others feel that the school struggled with being socially cohesive in the beginning because of this. These challenges ranged from educators of different cultures and race struggling with finding common ground on the expectations they had of the learners when it came to behaviour; to educators being referred to differently based on their race (E.g. a black educator being referred to as “Sisi” and a coloured educator being referred to as “Ma’am”).

Coming out of the storm

It was good to hear from school officials that these challenges have subsided over the years and that the learners relate in a more socially cohesive manner. This was due to various programmes and initiatives that presented room for these matters to be addressed. These programmes were for both educators and learners.

In the upcoming September school holidays a few learners who have been identified as in need of lifestyle guidance will be going on a week-long program to be assisted. These are learners who are seen as risks to their own personal potential as they engage on regressive activities such as drug abuse, gang activities and so forth.

In a nutshell

After my interaction in this community, I want to firstly acknowledge that indeed the journey towards a socially cohesive South Africa will be a rocky one; however it is possible to come out of the storm just like this school did. I am also of the view that as members of society we need to caution the language that we use as we observe various matters take place in our communities. Because of the manner in which we were socialised, we are very quick (rightfully so) to racialise issues. So, once the racial issue has been addressed we need to be able to identify what exactly the remaining challenge is. For example, the idea that we have achieved political freedom but not economic freedom, and thus without economic freedom we will not be able to enjoy our political freedom. In the case of this school, we have violence and at first, the violence could be said to be cultural-come-racial; however now that the cultural-come-racial issues have been addressed what exactly is the cause of the remaining violence? It has been identified to be gang-related.

So my concern is that, if we continue to mis-diagnose or over diagnose issues with a certain ill, the dark cloud that hangs over our communities will remain. We need to free ourselves of the negative propaganda that was forced upon us about each other in order for us to make some strides towards this ideal of a socially cohesive South Africa. As communities with schools existing within them, we need to acknowledge schools as one of the main tools that we can use to redress our societies.

If we can instil values and principles of social cohesion in each generation of matriculants surely some progress will be made on this call.

Written by Nompendulo Mkatshwa, a BSc Geography Graduate from University of the Witwatersrand, PGCE Candidate University of South Africa, Former President Student Representative Council Wits, Former South African Students Congress Chairperson at Wits and Former Deputy Chairperson of Wits ANC Youth League.

Nompendulo Mkatshwa is a regular Polity columnist.

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