Given the seminal global events of 2020 thus far, I would like to encourage us all to take the time to reflect deeply on the national Constitutional imperatives that bind us, as a community.
We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past.
Our Constitution reminds us that it is the recognition of injustice, first and foremost, and our ability to identify unfairness or marginalisation that sets the foundation for a society in which all people experience true belonging. Sadly, far too often, the injustices are not of the past but the present.
#BlackLivesMatter and Police Brutality
The recent deaths of Collins Khosa, a resident from Alex, alongside Petrus Miggels, and Sibusiso Amos, and too many others, have been chilling. These deaths, at the hands of state security, demand that we revisit conversations about the nature of systemic racism and policing, which is a central feature of black communities in particular. These conversations, even in the midst of a global pandemic, are critical in drawing attention to the complex society in which we live.
Across the Atlantic, the death of George Floyd has brought many cities to a standstill. Many thousands of people from around the world are protesting and have given the necessary response to injustice: NO!
#BlackLivesMatter is just the tip of the iceberg. It began in 2013 and has since highlighted the plight of those who suffer violence from national and global systems of power and supremacy. #BlackLivesMatter points to the dismantling of racist systems of oppression and violence through individual action. #BlackLivesMatter reminds us that we must speak up for each other, and never be silent in the face of injustice.
South African schools have not been exempt from the conversation. We have seen young people and the alumni of various schools across South Africa speak out about their experiences. These difficult truths must be heard. They speak to the institutional cultures in our schools and the ways in which, if left unchecked, will cause more harm. Our Commitment Against Racism and Dignity and Anti-Racism Policy explicitly rejects racism and all other forms of discrimination. We have established structures in place to allow these conversations to happen safely, and with our support, and we encourage our community to share their experiences with us.
This moment compels us to relook at broader issues of social justice, and in our context, how the social injustices appear in the institutional cultures of our schools. Discriminatory ideologies such as racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia, to name a few, often feature in conflicts in schools across South Africa. When these are systemic, they can be silent and even seem friendly. They are present in the innocence of banter and jokes. The seemingly innocent and often unnoticeable injustices are the ones we must learn to identify and name, and attempt to remedy where we can. We must always teach each other in the ways of love.
What is a supremacist ideology? Anything that seeks to create hierarchy of value in the human family. Anything that tells us one group is of more value or worth than another. Supremacist ideologies use stereotyping and profiling. They say to us: “those people are not acceptable human beings because…” or “We’re better than those people…” They are fuelled by ignorance and fear of each other - we must do away with this way of thinking.
Social justice, in simple terms, is about what love looks like in public. It is about equitable access to rights and resources being shared and organised in a way that benefits everyone in society, irrespective of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability or religious affiliation. Social justice is key to us all, especially our young people who will need to build a better world than what they will inherit.
St John’s College
At St John’s College, we have acknowledged our history and the need to address issues of social justice and discrimination in our institutional culture. Our Dignity and Anti-Racism Policy continues to be our blueprint towards an institutional culture of higher consciousness. The contribution from students, staff, parents and alumni have made this document stronger. We will continue to hear the voices of those who have stories to share. St John’s College rejects racism in any form, overt or covert. We have acted and will continue to act, against discrimination of any sort, and most importantly, we will continue to teach.
In the past year, St John's College has offered Social Justice as a stand-alone subject for the LII to UIII students in the Prep. These ideas are then explored in more depth in the College through our Perspectives and our Divinity Classes as we strive to have social justice taught throughout College life. We have also implemented internal Staff Development Programmes to support staff in engaging in these topics in their classrooms, including talking to children about race and gender, and sexism awareness dialogues.
The Parent Conversation Series has provided a unique opportunity to engage with our parents and invite them to be part of this journey. Letters and statements do nothing if they are not coupled with shifts in perspectives and new behaviours. Our policies guide us in practising these new ways of behaving. Our Dignity and Anti-Racism Policy speaks directly to this. Please familiarise yourself with this document.
Our test, our challenge
We will continue to strive towards creating a strong and well-facilitated dialogue between students, parents and teachers in our programmes of continuous learning. We must not accept racist, sexist or homophobic pejoratives in ourselves, or each other. We must seek to evolve personally, and always ask ourselves: Am I thinking in a summative or stereotypical way about any group? Who among us is hurting? Who among us is oppressed? Who among us is dying? Who among us is hungry?
This moment in history tests us. These issues have been made more apparent during the global COVID-19 pandemic. But they were always there.
This moment tests our humanity by challenging us to respond with love to those who speak their stories and not seek to silence them. Their truth will build us if we let it. Their truth will make us stronger if we use it to realise the imperatives set in our own Dignity and Anti-Racism Policy.
It tests our commitment to justice by asking us to reimagine society so that no people are left in the margins.
It tests our faith by reminding us that holiness was never inside any walls or buildings, but that God is between and in each of us.
It tests our compassion by remembering the 1.4 million other children in the schooling system who have not been able to return to school or be able to access education online.
The privileges we enjoy in this community must be used to help those in need, even as we negotiate various losses caused by the pandemic.
We must use our privilege to protect the vulnerable. We must use our privilege to build a better world where the descendants of Collins Khosa and George Floyd are safe, protected and given a fair chance in life. A world in which all Johannians speak of a school they love, a school where they were embraced, and where they belonged.
We must use our privilege to hold the mic for black Johannians to be able to speak and be heard, assured they will be taken seriously.
Martin Luther King reminds us that “we must know love as the mortar of building justice”. Love as a political ethic — a moral imperative. Pope Benedict XVI writes “Love — Caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God…” God is love.
I challenge each of us, perhaps in a corner of our homes, to dare say the words of Isaiah 61: 1 knowing that God is love.
“The Spirit of the [LOVE] is upon Me, Because [LOVE] as anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; [LOVE]has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound”.
We must upgrade our human software to overcome viruses, both physical and ideological.
Once again, we invite you to be part of this journey and share your stories with us via [email protected]. There are also some links to videos and articles of interest below that I encourage you to watch, read, share and discuss with your families.
In closing, we mourn the loss of life caused by senseless violence. While we grieve with our Black-American brothers and sisters, we remember especially the South African families who have lost loved ones - the Khosa, Miggels and Amos families amongst them. May they rest in peace, their lives matter.
Light. Life. Love. May we experience each in fullness, may we give each in fullness.
Mr Allan Magubane
Deputy Head: Transformation & Community Engagement
Social justice may be our greatest antidote By Dr Agomoni Ganguli Mitra
Words that don’t belong to everyone by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Kimberlé Crenshaw on "Race, Gender, Inequality and Intersectionality"
A Public Dialogue Between bell hooks and Cornel West – The New School
Trevor Noah: On #BlackLivesMatter, Amy Cooper and Floyd George
Jane Elliott on the Rock Newman Show: Reflections on White Supremacy and Racism
The Question of Allyship
St John’s College Dignity & Anti-Discrimation Policy