An open letter in support #PretoriaGirlsHigh from its Old Girls

We, alumni of Pretoria High School for Girls stand in solidarity with the bold and courageous learners of the school, who have spoken out about rank racial discrimination at our old school.

We are emboldened and inspired by their brave and principled stance in upholding the values the school was established on. These are encompassed in the mission statement of the founding headmistress, Ms Edith Aitken, who established the school with the honourable goal of educating young women so that we may leave our mark on the world, shape agendas and fight for equitable change when called upon. Many of the school’s alumni have answered this call over the years. Ms Aitken’s values are self-evident in many of the esteemed public figures, big and small, which spent their formative years at the school. Among these are educationists, public interest lawyers, the public health system’s doctors and nurses, and other professionals.

So, whilst many of us were familiar with some of the school’s more archaic practices in our day, it is with dismay that the country’s attention was drawn yesterday (Monday 29 August) to present-day racism, bullying and patently race-based shaming of black women’s bodies by staff at the school. Some accounts point to black staff members being demeaned as well, and so we level our dissatisfaction at the school’s poor track record with regard to transformation of the staff-body that is not commensurate to the changing body politic of the school.

We pledge our support to the crop of young women-leaders who have brought national attention to issues we are sorely aware are rampant not only at PHSG, but across the country’s Model C schools.

Girls, we are with you in spirit, minds and bodies, and we assure you that as Old Girls you have all of our support. We are here to share with you our experiences of the school and situation you find yourselves in, and are a call away should you seek any guidance, assistance and other practical services. Among us are lawyers, student activists, psychologists, doctors and members of the media. We are also academics at tertiary institutions, teachers and nurses. Call on us if you need to, but remember also: you have inspired us. There is much we’d like to learn from you, too.

Signed: (more names to follow)

1. Sibongile Hill (Class of 2002) – Medical Doctor 2.

Tidimalo Ngakane (Class of 2002) – Lawyer

3. Katy Hindle (Class of 2002) – Lawyer

4. Akhona Pearl Mehlo (Class 2002) – Lawyer

5. Janet Jobson (Class of 2002) – Civil Society

6. Angelique Terblanche (Class of 2002) – Manager

7. Letebele Tsebe (Class of 2004) – Scientist

8. Shanti Aboobaker (Class of 2004) – Journalist

9. Jocelyn Evans (Class of 2004) – Engineer

10. Nqobile Simelane (Class of 2004) – Economic Development Manager

11. Christine Emmett (Class of 2004) – Academic/Commonwealth scholar

12. Yonda Siwisa (Class of 2004) – Advertising Executive

13. Ncumisa Sakawuli (Class of 2004) – Banker

14. Anushka Singh Bhima (Class of 2004) – Lawyer

15. Linda Lesu (Class of 2004)

16. Tali Cassidy (Class of 2005) – Epidemiologist

17. Lindelwa Skenjana (Class of 2005) – Marketing

18. Nadia Ebrahim (Class of 2005) – Scientist and Teacher

19. Leila Ebrahim (Class of 2005) – Dentist

20. Diale Maepa (Class of 2007) – Medical Doctor

21. Lerissa Govender (Class of 2004) – Lawyer, Civil Society

22. Moipone Moloantoa (Class of 2004) – Advertising and Marketing

23. Carla Dennis (Class of 2002) – Actress

24. Thuli Zuma (Class of 2003)

25. Katie Miller Beyers (Class of 2002)

26. Olympia Shabangu (Class of 2002) – Lawyer

27. Pilani Bubu (Class of 2002) – Entrepreneur, Singer-Songwriter

28. Leila Badsha (Class of 2005) – Entrepreneur

29. Thabisile Tilo (Class of 2006) – Teacher

30. Danielle Kriel (Class of 2004) – Lawyer

31. Olympia Shabangu (Class of 2002) – Lawyer

32. Dina Lamb (Class of 2002)

33. Tessa Kerrich – Walker (Class of 2002) – Entrepreneur

34. Myna Pindeni (Class of 2004) – Women Empowerment Programmes Officer

35. Julia Eccles, (Class of 2003) – Advertising professional

36. Jenni Myburgh (Class of 2004) – Author and app founder

37. Erin Hommes (Class of 2004) – Activist and senior researcher

38. Jessica Schnehage (Class of 2004) – Entertainment consultant/Business Owner

39. Nuraan Muller (Class of 2000) – Director

40. Refilwe Tilo (Class of 2002) –

41. Chantelle Gilbert (Class of 2002) Restaurant owner/chef

42. Laura Ilunga (Class of 2003) – Pilot

43. Princess Magopane (class of 2002) Lawyer

44. Desré Khanyisa Barnard, 2003, Master’s student, ad hoc lecturer

45. Tshegofatso Phala, 2004, Pro Bono Attorney and Human rights activist

46. Lethabo Maboi (Class of 2003) Creative Director at Styled By Boogy

47. Sanja Bornman (Class of 2000) Lawyer

48. Dieketseng Boshielo (Mokake) (Class of 2002) – Entrepreneur, supply chain & logistics

49. Palesa Motau (Class of 2004) Stakeholder Manager

50. Zimkhitha Malgas (class of 2005) procurement/logistics coordinator

51. Trish Stewart (class of 2004) advertising

52. Jessica Schnehage – (Class of 2004) Entertainment Consultant / Business Owner

53. Leila Badsha (Class of 2005) Entrepreneur

54. Maropeng Ralenala, 2003, Clinical Psychologist

55. Renée Hlozek, 2001, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Toronto

56. Kopano Marumo, 2003, Writer

57. Nobantu Nhantsi (Class of 2004) – Community Programme Co-ordinator

58. Shiluba Mawela (Class of 2004) – Impact Investor

59. Dr Francoise L.Y Goga (Class of 2006) – Medical doctor

60. Marli Roode (Class of 2001) – Author and journalist

61. Kuraisha Patel (Class of 2010) – Lawyer

62. Meka Ravenhill (Class of 2002) – Partner/Owner of Ravenhill Productions SA

63. Caileigh Pentz (Class of 2005) Industrial Designer

64. Katie-Lynne Roebert (Class of 2004) Lecturer in Higher Education

65. Amy Schoeman (Class of 2002) – Product developer

66. Dr Francoise L.Y Goga (class of 2006)- medical doctor

67. Oreratile Mogoai (Class of 2006) Research Specialist

68. Karin Heijboer ( Class of 1998)

69. Estee Burger (Class 2002) Brand Manager – South African Breweries

70. Fikile Nkosi (Class of 1998) HR Consultant – Archway Consulting

71. Ingrid Cloete (Class of 2005) – Lawyer

72. Larissa Meckelburg nee Focke (Class of 2001) MA student at Freie Universität Berlin

73. Jana van den Munckhof (Class of 2002) – Minister

74. Sithabile Mokgokong (Class of 1998) – Interior Architect

75. Meg Hendry (Class of 1998) Reflexologist

76. Sarah Richmond (Class of 2002) – University Lecturer

77. Bridget Corrigan (Class of 2002) Conservation Manager

78. Jane-Anne Kokkinn (Class of 2003) Film Producer

79. Lusanda Shimange (Class of 1998) OBGYN

80. Makosha Maja, (Class of 2000) Head of Insight (M&C Saatchi Abel)

81. Pamela Ilunga (Class of 1999) HR Director

82. Lebogang Mahlare Chemical Engineer

83. Jade Perumal (class of 2005), Operations Manager

84. Sanja Bornman (Class of 2000) Gender Rights Lawyer at Lawyers For Human Rights.

85. Genevieve Cator (Class of 1984) Former staff member at PHSG and Publisher

 

“Pamberi ne Chimurenga” – Forward with the revolution

Decolonising Wits is a documentary that was filmed last year at Wits by independent filmmaker Aryan Kaganof. In the documentary he follows Wits EFF students as they navigate their way through student politics and questions of black alienation at the university. 

THE REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED: Decolonising Wits follows a group of students who raise a number of concerns regarding matters of racial transformation at Wits.                                          Photo: Aryan Kaganof/Kagablog

A year has passed since the filming of the documentary, Decolonising Wits by South African filmmaker Aryan Kaganof. It was filmed around the time of the SRC elections at Wits, and the hot debate at the time was the residence admissions policy.

One of the first scenes is of a passionate Wits Economic Freedom Fighter’s (EFF) Chairperson Vuyani Pambo surrounded by a group of students, speaking in an almost preacher-like tone, “But it is not only about us, we are creating an epoch here!” This sets the tone for the film.

In the documentary, Kaganof follows a group of Wits (EFF) members as they navigate through the messy conundrum of student politics and questions of black alienation at historically white institutions. We see students from different political parties – EFF, Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) and Project W, fighting amongst each other, and then working together to “fight” management.

Next we see students discussing the prioritisation of white students at Wits. We see Wits EFF members sombrely singing the well-known struggle song – Senzeni Na? while one of the members says, “Comrades, we must never celebrate being at Wits, and think that you are a better Black. You must never celebrate assimilation comrades.”

Later Pambo says, “I’m saying for the mere fact that there is no consequence for messing around or playing with a black body, racism is perpetuated… I want to be able to speak my mind without having to reference or align myself to whiteness.”

A prominent theme in the documentary is the plight of black service workers at Wits. The students speak about the poor treatment of workers, highlighting the segregation of service worker toilets as a signal of Wits’ disinterest in creating a holistically fair environment.

“The explosion will not happen today. It is too soon”

Extracts from Frantz Fanon’s influential books The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks, are generously sprinkled throughout the documentary. The most quoted chapter though is, Concerning Violence, a chapter from The Wretched of the Earth which has caused much contention and debate around academic circles about what Fanon meant by “revolutionary violence.”

The lines “The explosion will not happen today. It is too soon… ” from the introduction of Black Skin, White Masks are repeated throughout the film, Kaganof seems to be alluding to the nascent anger  bubbling under in South Africa. An anger that is infused with militant and revolutionary rhetoric.

A short appearance by former EFF MP Andile Mngxitama brings home the message of black assimilation in white institutions.

Mngxitama speaks to a point also raised by Panashe Chigumadzi at the Ruth First Memorial Lecture last Monday. He says, “Over the years black people have come to understand that to be civil, to be acceptable, to make progress within the system you cannot raise the black question. We are policing ourselves very well.”

Decolonising Wits should not be viewed as a formulaic documentary with a beginning, middle and an end. It should rather be viewed as an important piece of history. A living archive.

The film cannot be explained, but should rather be experienced. It documents a moment when students of the radical tradition are at the forefront of racial discussions around the country. At the forefront of what others would call ‘transformation’.

Kaganof, a white male, moves as if wearing an invisible cloak between the majority black students. The same Black students that have centred their experiences of blackness at the core of their political discourse. It begs the question, who can document the black struggle?