Furore after diversity training at Fish Hoek High School

Fish Hoek High School.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has vowed to review policies that govern the department’s procurement of services by external diversity consultants following a diversity workshop at Fish Hoek High School that left parents fuming and children seemingly traumatised.

Education MEC David Maynier said in a statement on Tuesday that an investigation was under way to ensure accountability and that the events that happened last week never happen again. He said the department is also seeking legal advice regarding the conduct of the service provider and if there is scope for a civil claim for damages.

The workshop, run by Asanda Ngoasheng, who describes herself as a speaker, diversity trainer, facilitator, political analyst, and academic, was organised by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) after an incident in May where a teacher was suspended for allegedly using a racial term during a lesson (“Teacher suspended over racism claim,” Echo June 2).

However, the teacher was found not guilty by an external law practice, (“Teacher accused of racism found not guilty,” Echo July 7), and parents say the diversity training sessions should have been cancelled following the outcome of the investigation.

On Monday October 31 about 800 pupils from Grades 8 to 11 attended a two-and-a-half-hour workshop by Ms Ngoasheng and a team of WCED psychologists. Teachers were asked not to be present in order to create a neutral environment during the session, according to Fish Hoek High School principal Steve Joubert, but pupils from the newly elected student representative council (SRC) were present.

According to pupils interviewed by the Echo, the first part of the workshop went well, but pupils became “worked up” when Ms Ngoasheng said reverse racism does not exist and only white people can be racist.

In addition, she said people of lighter skin colour (coloured people) are not as badly affected by racism as black people and she read a poem, Water, by Koleka Putuma, in which Jesus is described as “blue-eyed and blond,” and “bowing to a white patriarchal heaven,” and finally “the disciples could have been queer, and the holy trinity some weird twisted love triangle and the Holy Ghost transgender.”

According to pupils, they were not told they may not make recordings or take photos as has been reported.

In a recording, Ms Ngoasheng can be heard saying [Black people] can be mean, they can be cruel, they can be prejudiced, they can be nasty but they can never be racist against white people. This is very important. So when you talk about an incident that you’ve had with a white person, when the black person was the perpetrator, that is a valid experience, but know that it is not racism. It is prejudice, it is nastiness, it is meanness, but we cannot call it racism because racism requires power. We would need to have 400 years [of] oppressing white people….”

Pupils said that when other pupils stood up to challenge her they were belittled and humiliated.

A Grade 9 pupil said what upset her the most was that Ms Ngoasheng said that black people can’t be racist and that people of colour with lighter skin are not as badly affected by racism.

“I was scared to go to school the next day as I thought I was the only one feeling that way, but it turned out a lot of other pupils felt the same,” she said.

A Grade 10 pupil said he too felt upset when Ms Ngoasheng said that only white people can be racist. He said when students opposed the idea that racism can be reversed by bringing up farm murders, she denied that killing white people was racism.

He said she became frustrated with pupils wanting to share their opinions and it seemed that her only goal was to have them accept what she was saying.

The mother of a Grade 8 pupil, who asked not to be named in order to protect the identity of her daughter, said her daughter had black and white friends and she was not opposed to the diversity training although she had wondered why it was necessary, especially after the teacher who was accused of racism was found not guilty.

She said it was communicated to parents in a letter dated Friday October 28 that the workshop would address “intersectionality, racism, and discrimination within the school”.

“I didn’t think it could do any harm at the time,” she said.

However, when her daughter told her that racism against people of colour was not as bad as it is for black people, she was furious.

“Who gives this woman the right to come up with such nonsense and in the same breath she belittles Jesus? We are people of God, and we want to know how the department could have allowed this woman to try and brainwash our children,” she said.

She said her daughter had asked her several questions like “Do you think Jesus was gay?” and “What does queer mean?”

The father of a Grade 10 pupil said he found it hard to believe that the WCED or the school did not know what the content of this diversity training was.

“I want to know if the material was vetted and more importantly, was the person delivering this racist diatribe not scrutinised? A brief glimpse of her social media pages reveals her to be, in my opinion, a radical ideologue, obsessed with power, sex, and race. No intelligent person would see her as fit to address anyone on diversity, let alone the kids at a school,” he said.

He said he had raised concerns in June when the issue of the diversity training had first come up but had had no response from the school.

“As far as I’m concerned, the WCED and the minister for education need to be held accountable and at a local level, the principal, staff, and school governing body have a case to answer. They are the protectors of our children at the school, and pleading ignorance is not going to get them off the hook. The principal and teachers could have removed the children from the situation once they were informed what was transpiring, but failed to do so,” he said.

Despite several attempts by the Echo to reach Ms Ngoasheng, she had not responded by the time of going to print. However, in response to an article by another media outlet, which she shared on her Facebook page, she said: “We need to have conversations to be able to move beyond the pain into healing. We cannot bury our heads in the sand. Racism exists and is being experienced by people of colour all over South Africa every single minute of the day. Being made aware of past and present injustices is often painful for kids of all races, but it always needs to be seen in the context of pain and hurt of racism inflicted on people of colour that is so normalised and invisiblised.”

Johann Kikillus, director of Soteria Ministries, said he had written to the principal to ask if he could give an alternative talk on diversity but had had no response.

“This is not the first and won’t be the last time that Christianity is mocked and taken out of context. Sadly this sends confusing messages to the next generation. We are told to be tolerant of other people, but in the same breath, other people’s religions are mocked. We need to protect this at all costs and teach our young people to respect all people regardless of religion, beliefs, or world view,” he said.

In a statement, Mr Joubert said that the diversity session, which was driven by the WCED had evoked a strong reaction, and he had requested counselling support from WCED to assist pupils with the impact. He referred any further questions to the WCED.

The provincial education department confirmed it had suspended the diversity workshop after parents expressed concerns. Mr Maynier said he understood parents’ concerns and frustrations and the matter was taken “very seriously”.

However, the department ignored the Echo’s questions about who vetted the content of the programme, why it was needed despite the teacher who had been accused of racism having been found not guilty and why the department had allowed a workshop, seemingly packed with political content, to be presented at a school when the South African Schools Act and the Western Cape Provincial School Education Act state that individuals and organisations may not conduct political activities during school time.