And there it happened.
Critical Race Theory zealots in South Africa struck the wellbeing of children – white and black – hard.
The incident happened at the High School Fish Hoek in the Western Cape province, which is the only mainstay of liberalism in South Africa. At the helm of the Western Cape is the Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa’s (only) bona fide non-racial and (more or less) classical liberal party. On the other hand, the ruling ANC has evolved into a de facto blacks-only party, while the DA has a more diverse membership and leadership of various races and ethnicities. This makes the incident so much more disheartening as it seems that even South Africa’s non-racialist party founded on liberal ideals has now also been infected with an anti-racism’s vitriolic racialized narrative. The incident epitomises and highlights the sad truth that non-racialism has all but died in South Africa as the octopus of anti-racism has extended its tentacles into all political persuasions.
The incident took place on 31 October 2022 when a diversity expert and social justice educator, Asanda Ngoasheng, was requested to provide diversity training (which, of course, is informed by the ideologies of critical race theory) for a general assembly at the Fish Hoek high school in the Western Cape. This was precipitated by an occurrence where a teacher was said to have uttered racist words, the K-word, and the N-word. The racist words stemmed from a book titled Fiela se Kind (English: Fiela’s Child), wherein the words appeared. Although she later apologised to the school for using the words, the students offended did not accept the apology as it was in their not sincere. The context within which the said word was used is not clear – even when accusations of racism and Islamophobia were raised. In any event, the words were regarded as offensive by some learners and resulted in a protest at the school under the slogan ‘Enough is Enough.’
Subsequently, Ms Ngoasheng was requested by the Western Cape Education Department to conduct ‘diversity training.’ As part of the ‘diversity training’, grade 8 to 11 learners were called to a general assembly, at which no teachers were allowed in order to create ‘a safe space’ for students to vent their feelings. (The latter is a recurring theme amongst ‘diversity trainers’ and should have raised suspicions as there would not be adults present to express concerns of safeguarding during such training. Only vulnerable children would be present and they would not be intellectually equipped to speak up.) The scheduled programme was to have a first assembly wherein certain topics were introduced. Part of the content was to claim that ‘only white people could be racist’ and that ‘black people have no power.’ Whatmore is that white children were told that they cannot be anything else than racist because they have power. A plethora of anti-white rhetoric followed, which forms part of the stock narratives against white – and black – people. (One learner also told his mother he was called a ‘white patriarchal supremacist’ by one of the facilitators and it was said that white people are born racist.)
The facilitator did not restrict herself only to the issue of racism in South Africa, she also ventured into the territory of religion when she read a poem by Koleka Putuma entitled water. Amongst other things, the poem described Jesus Christ as “this blue-eyed and blond-haired Jesus” and Heaven as a “white patriarchal heaven.” This even incensed many Christians to the extent that the African Christian Democratic Party addressed a letter to the Western Cape MEC, David Maynier, expressing their displeasure at the ‘blasphemy’ in the poem. (In my personal view this was more an incident of pure race baiting than a religious slight.)
The session was recorded by some of the learners and it caused outrage amongst parents. Many parents were ad idem that there was a place for diversity training, but not in a manner that would antagonise children of different race groups, such as was subsequently done. The sentiment expressed was that diversity training should be based on a reconciliatory approach. As is known from South African history, the country long suffered under the brutal government-enforced policies of racial segregation, called apartheid (meaning ‘apartness’ in Afrikaans.) One of the intentions behind the post-1994 settlement was to mend relationships between racial groups in South Africa and, in my view, the best manner to achieve this would be for black and white children (and adults) to form friendships across the colour divide.
After the incident became known, a WhatsApp group of 150 multi-racial participants was created around the topic. Interestingly, some black persons weighed in in favour of the accused teachers, whose conduct originally triggered the incidents that led to the ‘diversity training.’
Various political parties entered the arena and the matter – unfortunately – became highly politicised. One must bear in mind that unlike the United Kingdom, which have activist organisations opposing this sort of ‘training’ in schools, such as the Don’t Divide Us (DDU) group, there is no real equivalent organisation in South Africa. The complaints of parents are usually taken up by political parties, which cause the matter to be even more divisive. This highlights the enormous importance of organisations such as DDU and the work they do in stemming the tide of racially polarising rhetoric. It also accentuates the gaps in South African civil society.
At the short end of the stick is, of course, school children, who previously had friendships across racial lines – something desperately needed in a deeply dysfunctional society. Now those friendships have all but soured. Both black and white learners subsequently had feelings of resentment towards each other. One parent mentioned on the said WhatsApp group that the diversity training has caused fights and arguments between learners who were previously friends. This means that the trauma and division caused by the diversity training have effectively created a toxic environment which is hurting children. Of particular concern to all schools – here in the UK and abroad – is precisely the aftermath of ill-advised attempts to introduce diversity training, namely that children of all race groups suffered psychologically. After the incident the children, who were exposed to the training, were so traumatised that they had to receive counselling. This in itself is good cause to immediately disallow and discontinue any such training, but in South Africa, which is ruled by an illiberal, black nationalist government, such appeals would most likely fall on deaf ears. South African school curriculums are riddled with political content intended to advance the cause of black ethno-nationalism at the expense of minorities – especially the white minority.
One can only guess how race relations in the school would have panned out had the false allegation against the teacher not been levelled and the subsequent training not been imposed. A good guess would be that there would most probably have been more social cohesion than after the reckless exercise in political propaganda. Social cohesion is an indispensable element for a flourishing society and in South Africa, with its deeply troubled and acrimonious past, it is even more so.
This raises another major point of concern: If schools (and tertiary institutions) would roll out diversity training and its woke affiliates on a grand scale there would be an even greater threat than only the safeguarding issue that the training had on a micro-level. Imagine the conflict caused at a school by CRT escalated to a national level when all sectors of society militantly implement woke ideology. This is not far-fetched as it is already happening. A multicultural, muti-religious, and multi-ethnic society easily cracks along identity lines as the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda have shown us. Social cohesion is more than a matter of flourishing, but also a matter of security. In the United Kingdom social conflict recently reared its ugly head in Leicester with the tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities. This was a stark reminder that the potential for groups to erupt into violence is a reality even in the tolerant United Kingdom with its high premium on tolerance and freedom founded on centuries of political tradition.
In short, schools, workplaces, universities and probably even the streets could potentially become places of conflict should there woke ideology be relentlessly imposed on a moderate populace.
Finally, to me as a lawyer, the incident at Fish Hoek High School also left a sense of bitterness having to see the supreme legal document of South Africa being so heartlessly betrayed. The constitution of South Africa was drafted in the aftermath of apartheid and the revolutionary ‘people’s war’ through consensus between erstwhile foes. It was hailed as an exemplary constitution by many and seen as the crowning achievement of the New South Africa and its young democracy. A crucial section of the constitution is the Bill of Rights containing many liberal freedoms and rights.
But importantly, it specifically sets as one of its goals the creation of a unified South Africa by placing it on the political agenda. One of the ways to achieve this would be to:
One can hardly argue that ‘diversity training’ has the net value of healing divisions between people which was caused by revolutionary violence and the mechanisms of a cruel system. In fact, diversity training has opened old wounds of mutual resentments again and, contrary to popular wisdom, not all wounds will heal.
They might remain forever.
(1)The novel tells the tale of a white child being raised by a family of colour during South Africa’s oppressive system of racial segregation called apartheid and is a classic anti-apartheid work of fiction.
(2) It was reported that the teacher was found ‘not guilty’ at a disciplinary hearing, but she resigned nonetheless. This should have been dispositive of the complaints and no further interventions should have been required.
(3) One learner did manage to leave the hall and told a teacher of how they were being traumatised. The teacher then entered the hall to put a stop to the training. She was later dismissed for her ‘disruption’.
(4) The mother reported that prior to the diversity training he never referred to his friends by their skin colour, but after the ‘intervention’ he started mentioning his schoolmates’ race. The parents had to sit him down and have a discussion with him regarding the issue.
(5) Worth-mentioning is that the South African Institute of Race Relations, a liberal think tank, initiated a campaign aptly called ‘educate, not indoctrinate’, which invited people to sign a petition protesting the smuggling of CRT into school curriculums. How successful this was, is not known to me, but it is interesting to note that classical liberalism forms a bulwark against race-obsessed theories in South Africa.
(6) Jeffery, Anthea 2015 People’s War. Jonathan Ball Publishers Johannesburg and Cape Town
(7) Unfortunately, the reference to social justice has rendered the South African constitution partly a woke document and the undermining of the hard-earned liberal rights are under threat by a transformative approach to constitutionalism.
(8) The complete preamble is available on https://www.gov.za/constitution