Brackenfell High School matric function
I have received a report from the WCED following the furore that erupted regarding a matric event attended by Brackenfell High School learners.
The facts that have been ascertained are set out below, and corroborate the initial reports that this was a private function.
On 11 September, the school sent a letter to parents, advising them that the school’s matric farewell had been cancelled, because of an instruction from the education department.
Subsequently, a parent of one of the learners then decided to arrange a function for her daughter and some of her friends, as she wanted to do something special for her following the cancellation of the school’s farewell.
The event was arranged at a private venue (a wine farm) on 17 October 2020. Tickets cost R500 each. I have seen the invitation, and there is no reference to the school at all. It specified that it was limited to 100 people, after the venue advised that they could increase the number of attendees from 50 to 100 as a result of the relaxation of Covid regulations.
The invitation was widely circulated, via WhatsApp groups. The parent asked class representatives to circulate it to their class WhatsApp groups, and the principal has confirmed with them that they did so. The invitation was also posted on the parent organiser’s Facebook page, so was open to people outside Brackenfell High as well. As a result, there were 42 learners from Brackenfell High School and 30 from other surrounding schools who attended.
A separate WhatsApp group was started for those who had replied that they wished to attend. This would explain the allegations of some who claim to have been excluded from a WhatsApp group.
Allegations were also made publicly that the Head Girl did not attend “because no learners of colour were attending”. According to the report, both the Head Girl and Head Boy were invited, but did not attend, as they had other plans on that day and were organising their own farewell functions.
Four teachers were invited in their personal capacities, as they had close personal links to the organising parent. The school was aware that the event was happening, but the school and the organisers regarded it as a private event. It was thus not necessary to seek approval of the principal or the SGB.
Supervision at the event was strictly maintained by parents only.
It is thus clear that this was a private event that was organised by parents of learners, who were disappointed that the formal school farewell had been cancelled. The fact that people from other schools attended, shows that it was not a “school event”. It was not held on school property, as has been widely reported, despite repeated corrections.
The media service provider, who is also used by the school, was asked to take photos at the event, and uploaded images from the event on the school’s website in error. Objections were then raised by other parents. The school did not give permission for this to be done, and the photos were removed.
The evidence is thus that invitations were circulated to all matric classes. There is no evidence that people were excluded based on their race.
There are also no grounds to take action against teachers who attended the private event.
The above notwithstanding, this incident has highlighted other incidents of racial tensions at the school. The school has freely acknowledged that. They have done and will do the following to address the issue:
- They had already formed a Diversity Committee in June this year, after allegations of racist behaviour by some individuals. The activities were interrupted because of Covid-19, but will now be fast-tracked.
- The SGB will consider whether a policy needs to be adopted to address some of the issues that have arisen out of this event.
- Structures will be created to allow more feedback from parents.
- A number of RCL activities are being planned to improve learner leadership and improve relations between learners of different backgrounds.
In addition to this, the district will also arrange a series of diversity workshops facilitated by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, for all the staff at the school.
The WCED remains committed to inclusivity and a celebration of diversity. We are also concerned, though, that people use events to mobilise racial tensions without ascertaining the facts. This is a dangerous practice that is more likely to exacerbate racial tensions than break down barriers.