I went to Pretoria Girls’ High…


So on the Pretoria Girls’ High issue and my two cents…

First, when I saw the headlines, BEFORE reading the articles, I didn’t quite know what to think- because I went to Pretoria Girls’ High- at the time it was considered one of the best schools in the country with decades of tradition behind it- one of those traditions was the immaculate manner in which we were all compelled to conform to.

ALL girls, regardless of race, had to have their hair tied back- the rule was: if your hair reached your collar it needed to be tied up.

It was only in my senior years at Girls’ High that, for the first time, black girls were allowed to have braids. White girls could not.

No jewelry was allowed- no hair dye, no extensions, no nail anything- we weren’t even allowed to wear our jerseys outside of school without a blazer on top of them!

School started at 7.20am sharp- one minute late and we got detention- no if’s or buts and no excuses were allowed for late coming- ever.

We were to give way to adults and our school seniors.

If a teacher or adult entered the room we had to stand and greet them.

Chewing, while standing or walking, outside of school premises was strictly prohibited.

Our bags had to be a certain colour and strapped on both shoulders- a school bag was never allowed to hang off our shoulders.

Pretoria Girls’ High was super strict. In a weird way I liked it and appreciated that.

I enjoyed the boundaries and the high level of excellence required of us.

To this day I feel that high standard required from learners is desperately lacking in far too many schools today.

Most schools I visit now- young people have zero manners- it’s not expected of them to greet or show any respect to elders. I don’t know how many times I’ve visited a school and I’m pretty much run over by the kids in the school! That would NEVER have been heard of in my time at Pretoria Girls’ High.

In my opinion, should black girls be allowed to have their hair loose in all it’s glorious beauty? Yes, if it’s allowed for all students- so Indian, Chinese, White, Coloured learners with fine hair- should also be allowed to have their hair down.

BUT if it’s school regulation that long hair be tied up- then those rules need to be adhered to-

and that is Not racism it’s adhering to the rules- Something I feel we’ve taught kids these days, doesn’t matter.

We wonder why kids have gotten so out of hand? Because we allow them to do whatever they want- look however they want with far too few boundaries, if any.

Having said that, there were OTHER issues black learners at Girls’ High raised that cannot be ignored and I’m glad the Department of Education is investigating.

Did I experience any kind of racism when I was at Pretoria Girls’ High. I’d have to say yes. Two stand out most for me.

One was that in my earlier grades at the school only black girls were sent for ‘extra’ English classes.

It never seemed, to me, that this was a case of who needed the classes but it was assumed that if a learner was black she needed the classes-

I’d been an English first language speaker all my life, so… and I’m sure there were other girls from different races who may have benefited from “extra” English classes- but these classes were reserved only for us, blacks.

Whether the school meant it as racist or not- it was.

Learners must be treated equally- opportunities should be made available to all.

The second instance, which I felt was either utter racism or inexcusable ignorance was that in one of the ‘extra English classes’ our teacher told us her rendition of what had happened on June 16, 1976.

We all know the story- however back then- I was ten- had just moved to South Africa- had zero clue of much of the country’s history- apartheid or even the Youth Uprising.

The extra English teacher told us of how a “mob of black people” had marched into a suburb, some time in the day- “most parents were at work” and the young white children panicked watching this black mob moving in on them that they begun to shoot! Yes, she said that. A grown woman told us that story. As part of our class with her.

That was her rendition of young, unarmed learners, being brutally murdered by fully grown, gun carrying forces sent out by the government to crush them and force them into accepting an education system that sought to enslave them.

It was only later that I discovered the truth of what had really happened.

And again, that truth was taught to me in the very same school at Pretoria Girls’ High. We were shown Sarafina! in one of my classes.

I wept through it because I’d had no idea! And I felt so cheated by the extra English teacher- but also grateful to the teacher who’d showed us Sarafina! and the school as a whole for making the truth of what truly happened part of our learning.

As soon as changes begun to happen in our country’s political landscape- I remember Pretoria Girls’ High following suit in our studies- from teaching us the poetry of Struggle activists like Sol Plaatjie- to assignments on Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo-

These men were portrayed to us as heroes and of such importance to where we were in South Africa.

It was at Girls’ High where we had to learn the National Anthem as soon as it’d changed from ‘Die Stem’ to what we now know as our National Anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

It was at Pretoria Girls’ High I learned of Struggle activists being tortured, unlawfully detained and their “bizarre” deaths in detention. It was Pretoria Girls’ High that taught us the absurdity of the explanations given of how those deaths had occurred- and it was our teachers at Girls’ High who had called those deaths what they truly were: Murders. At the hands of the apartheid government.

That was Pretoria Girls’ High.

When I was there, high-performing black learners, whether it was in academia or sport, were just as recognised and awarded as their white counterparts…

During my time in school there were times when they’d be strikes and stay-aways and black learners were at risk of being attacked if they were seen in uniform going to go to a school that, at that time, was considered a “white” school.

During those stay-aways I remember, at Assembly, our Principal explaining why some learners had been allowed to wear their normal clothes to school on those days- it was for their safety. If the school had cared more about rules than black learners or their rights- I doubt very much they’d have done that.

It’s interesting how we don’t mention that some of our own black fellows would’ve been willing to attack and beat school going children for going to a school they wanted them to stay away from…

Is Pretoria Girls’ High racist now?

It’s been over twenty years since I left the school so I don’t know.

Are the black learners’ arguments founded? Much of what they said was and must urgently be attended to.

However, I feel it’s so vital, especially in a season where it’s so crucial that we as individuals heal, that specific issues not be taken out of context.

If the rules about hair at Pretoria Girls’ High are anything similar to when I was there- then learners need to adhere to them- all learners.

And we as adults should not support learners wanting to break the rules in the name of “infringing” on our rights as black people when it’s merely the tradition of the school expected from all students, regardless of race.

Ask me now if Girls’ High was racist during my time there- I’d have to say there were incidents I deemed racist like the ones I explained- and I’m sure other black learners may have had their own experiences of racism there too- but at the same time the benefits of being at a school that stood for something based on tradition, honour, integrity and a call to excellence were of tremendous benefit to me.

And something I wish schools were not under pressure to do away with!

Was my overall experience of Pretoria Girls’ High and my perception of the school to be “racist”?

I’d have to honestly say: No.

I’ve sported my natural hair for a while now- I LOVE my fro in all it’s splendour! And I’m teaching my daughter to love her beautiful wild hair as she grows- but should my daughter end up in a school where she’s expected to, like all other students (regardless of race), tie her hair up because it’s school regulation- I will support the school in that.

Hannah Viviers is the Host and Creator of the Dream BIG TV Show


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