WCED project of prejudice

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South Africa - Johannesburg - 26 October 2020 - The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Violent videos on social media these days are popular. The videos of the racist attacks on people at Brackenfell High School were no different. Soon these videos were flooding our phones and our social media timelines.

According to media reports, the Economic Freedom Fighters were marching on the school after a matric function was attended by only White learners and their parents. We are also told that the school’s staff complement has not been reflective of the demographics of the province and even less so of the country; this, twenty-six years after the dawn of our democracy.

The protests in Brackenfell happened on Monday. The previous Saturday, a group of organizations and individuals sat down to a fundraiser dinner under the banner of the Progressive Organizations’ Formation. This too was a protest of sorts.

While the protests in Brackenfell sought to address the symptoms of racism within our provincial education system, the dinner in Bellville endeavoured to raise funds in order to take on the provincial education department for pursuing its racist project within our education system.

Standing firmly behind Heathfield High School principal, Wesley Neumann, the Progressive Organizations’ Formation realizes that in their pursuit of defending Neumann, who simply sought to protect his learners against Covid-19, they were taking on the edifice of Western Cape Education Department and the systematic racist agenda the provincial department has been pursuing.

There should be little doubt that the case against Wesley Neumann is a political one. He dared to take on the WCED and go against their instruction to call learners back to school at a time when schools across the globe were closing given the threat of Covid-19.

Brackenfell, like the incidents at San Souci, Rustenberg Girls High, Malibu High School and so many other episodes of racism at our schools in the Western Cape, is only symptomatic of the systemic racism promoted by the WCED. Predominantly poorer schools are targeted and treated to different standards than former Model C or White schools.

Yet the real fight comes in the availability of resources and organization to tackle the structural racism that is actively pursued by the current political leadership at the Western Cape Education Department. A flare-up is easy. The real challenge comes inconsistent and coordinated challenges to the WCED; especially legal ones.

The two protests are very different. The one makes a noise, makes headlines for a day and gets its videos to go viral. In a week, the sensationalist occurrences, as horrifying as they are and which must be condemned, will no longer be in the news. Instead, the other protest which is quieter, slower and which takes daily blood, sweat, toil and tears to pursue will continue. Yet it is the latter which must be supported if we want to see real change in education in the Western Cape.

Veteran educationalist Brian Isaacs, secretary of the Progressive Organizations’ Formation, is a thorn in the side of the WCED. Together with a number of educators and parents, he has only one thing in mind: ensuring our children, no matter what their background, receive a good quality education. A racist WCED is not going to provide that kind of education to our children.

It is time that we think better of our way of protesting. The time for violent confrontation whether person-on-person or person-on-property must come to an end. We cannot continue to protest on an ad-hoc basis. Instead, we must organize and ensure that we change our society through the democratic means available to our communities.

Voters must realize the link between voting in a party that perpetuates past prejudice and the targeting of leaders in our society, like Wesley Neumann, who dare to take them on. Unless we tackle the systemic racism and systematic targeting by the WCED, the violent videos will sadly continue to flood our phones.

Dr Wesley Seale taught politics at the University of the Western Cape and Rhodes University.