Outcry at girls’ school

Waterloo House, the Wynberg Girls' High School hostel.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) is investigating allegations of racial discrimination and misconduct at Waterloo House, the Wynberg Girls’ High School hostel.

This comes after a group of boarders posted a statement on Facebook calling for the removal of the head of the hostel, and for the role of the headmistress, Shirley Harding, to be investigated.

They also want the school’s transformation report to be released and for an assurance that the complainants will not be victimised.The Bulletin went to the hostel on Monday evening.

Arriving at Waterloo House a man stood in the gateway as one of the girls came to greet him.

Entering the hostel, built in the same sandstone and wood style as the junior and high school, the hostel head greeted me as I asked for one of the girls.

She asked if I was tutoring the girl to which I hesitated. “Are you here about the” she trailed off, obviously not knowing what to call it.

The Bulletin told her who we were and after assuring her that comment was wanted from her too she said she had to call the headmistress. She then kept repeating that she is not allowed to speak to anyone and the girls were under her care and definitely could not speak to me.

Accusing me of sneaking myself onto the grounds, she took a call and asked me to leave the building. As I stood outside she joined me, obviously distraught and told me to leave.

Stressing that we cover both sides of the story she insisted I leave. After exiting, I parked the car, heard a commotion and watched through the gate as the woman appeared to try to prevent some of the pupils from exiting the building.

They called to me, asking me to wait and one of them ran to the gate and handed over a sheaf of hand-written notes.

Much of what they wrote is included in the demands they posted on Facebook but it’s not only racist comments that concern them”We have been violated, broken repeatedly and we now feel hopeless.”

The girls claim that the hostel head has destroyed their self-esteem by calling them names, that she was racist and told them inappropriate stories. “She claims she has had more than five abortions, she claims that she used to be a drug addict and she claims she worships the devil,” the pupils’ statement reads. “We want to be left to be children, we are not trained counsellors, these stories are traumatising. She called us ‘bloody k******’ and has used the k-word when discussing us. She claims that we use it on each other and therefore should not be offended. We do not use this word at all.”

The girls are demanding a public apology and a criminal investigation. “The era of apartheid rule is over and we are born free. She said we (black learners) will make the hostel unhygienic, because there are so many of us staying in, we wanted to stay in during the weekend to study for exams. We are not dirty.”

The pupils also claim the superintendent told staff members that some pupils had sexually transmitted infections (STI). “We demand a clear hostel code of conduct, applied fairly, we are all children, love us equally. She has vendettas against certain learners, she messes our rooms to teach us a lesson, shouts at us without provocation, calls us stupid and publicly shames us but only apologises privately. We have been stripped of our dignity,” they wrote.

The hostel head is also accused of “slut-shaming” and handing out condoms to girls who did not ask for them and suggested a pupil had gone to the school’s astroturf to “engage in public sex”. The pupils have asked the school to address their concerns at a public meeting outside the boarding house on Friday.

On Monday, the education MEC’s office said the circuit manager had been sent to the school to speak to the disgruntled pupils. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) are also probing allegations of racial and verbal abuse as well as discrimination at the boarding house. When the Bulletin asked the school for comment we were sent a media release saying they have forwarded the girls’ statement to the WCED and requested their urgent intervention.

And they stress that pupils will not be victimised. Regarding the transformation process which has been underway at the school for the past six months, they had issued a report to parents on November 6.

As a result of this report, some changes have been made and others will follow after discussions with all groups and when the pupils are available – at present they are writing their final exams.

In a flurry of comments, past pupils tagged each other to attract attention to the Facebook post while others expressed disbelief.

Cayleigh Stefano tagged a friend and added: “What the actual f***?” Danielle Audrey Terblanche said: I don’t think we ever experienced anything but kindness from her at Rustenburg”. And “This can’t be the housemother we had? Right?” To which Audrey Terblanche replied “yes”.

Hannah Didelphis said: “As an Old Girl, this is deeply disturbing and depressing.” Nicole Comninellis replied: “I agree… and having been in the hostel before also” Jaimie De Klerk wrote: so hectic and so f***ed up. I’m proud of these kids for taking a stand.”

Kiara III said: “The pain these learners are feeling is so evident in this statement. I’m proud they are taking a stand and vocalising their concerns. I am shocked Honour Before Honours! As Wynberg Old Girls we should be supporting our sisters and protecting them against this kind of treatment and any victimisation that could follow.”

Tata Mundi wrote: “Another witch hunt. What is so deeply disturbing is that, of all the replies to this sickening and contradictory post, not a single person is asking about the validity of the claims… What happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty’? Or perhaps some evidence?”

On Tuesday the WCED said they are unable to provide timelines for the investigation as this is a thorough process that will involve interviewing all parties involved.