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Published: 05-Jun-2020

#TogetherInSpirit

There is an irony in fact that as the medical world continues to search for a vaccine or cure for Covid-19 - a disease which has brought the whole world to its knees - that the world finds itself simultaneously grappling with another “dreaded disease” - one that has infected minds and hearts of men for centuries and one for which society is yet to find a cure.

Mr Oosthuysen, Executive Head, St Benedict's

Dear staff

There is an irony in fact that as the medical world continues to search for a vaccine or cure for Covid-19 - a disease which has brought the whole world to its knees - that the world finds itself simultaneously grappling with another “dreaded disease” - one that has infected minds and hearts of men for centuries and one for which society is yet to find a cure.

The scourge of racism continues to shape our daily interaction and destroy our lives as human beings. It continues to limit the richness of our true potential. Daily, we continue to witness man’s vicious brutality to man. It happens far too regularly when people in and with power speak and act from a position of unconscious prejudice and institutionalised racism. Regrettably, more often than not, those in power fail to recognise their own limitations and lack the intelligence and sensitivity to appreciate the nuances of the terrible situation within which we find ourselves. When will it end?

The long walk is not yet over.

I am a white South African man who is the son of a carpenter. My first “political” memory remains vivid. I was walking home with my mother from Park Senior School in Turffontein when I saw rising plumes of black smoke on the distant horizon. When I asked my mother what was burning, she explained that the school children in Soweto were rioting. It was 1976. I was ten. It was the first moment in my life that I became fully aware that there were “other” children out there, black children whose daily lives, opportunities and futures were very different from mine - for no reason other than the fact that they were born with a different skin colour.

I am where I am today - afforded the privilege of leading our wonderful school - because I was advantaged by a political system that protected and empowered my parents as poor whites. I am where I am today because I was advantaged by an Apartheid government that funded my education. I am where I am today because I was afforded employment opportunities that were not afforded to people from other races.

There are millions of black people - South Africans and those further afield - who then and now continue to be denied the opportunity of a decent home, a meaningful education and gainful employment.

I am also where I am today because there were teachers - language and literature teachers, in particular - who throughout my education had the courage to lift the veil of indoctrination that an unjust society had threatened to impose upon me. Teachers at Sir John Adamson High School and lecturers at the University of the Witwatersrand’s English, Afrikaans and African Literature Departments had the courage to teach me to understand and appreciate an alternate South African reality that ran separate from and parallel to mine. They opened my ears to the voices of black authors and poets who fundamentally shifted and shaped my perspective as a young white male in South Africa. I listened and discovered voices that had been stifled since the earliest days in our country. I listened and they were voices that rang true for me. I listened and heard voices that spoke against the established order of the time and drew me into a world that was rich and warm; colourful and welcoming.

One of the saddest things for me is that, as I enter the latter half of my life, I continue to live in a world where all are not treated equally; a world where all are not afforded equal opportunities. That is why, at this moment in time and going forward into the future, it must be #blacklivesmatter because, you see, white lives have mattered all along.

Irrespective of how long we have lived in a democracy, the injustices of the past continue to permeate our society: they cut deep into the daily lives and experience of our black pupils and their parents as well as all our black staff.

Do we - as citizens of South Africa and of the greater world - dare to hope and dream that as we and the world emerge from the Covid-19 lockdown, we will emerge too into a world where we are bound by our common humanity more strongly than ever before? A world where race is not something that restricts and limits and causes hurt and injustice but becomes an unseen force that broadens and enriches experience; something that celebrates equal opportunity for all and dynamic human interaction.

To claim that we have been a school entirely free of racism would be ludicrous - we are, after all, a microcosm of the society of which we are a part. We have and will continue to deal with such matters when they occur and are brought to our attention. Through it all, it is our ethos that is the lodestar that shapes how we strive to treat one another on a daily basis. It was Jesus who taught us that the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.

There are occasions on which we as sinners fall short and I would like to apologise most sincerely to any boys, parents and staff who have experienced even the slightest discriminatory or racist treatment whilst they were a part of our school community.

I call upon the boys, parents and staff of our school to take a united stand against racism. It is abhorrent thinking that leads to reprehensible behaviour. It warrants no place in our school, our community or our world.

It is contrary to all that we are taught to believe by our Faith.

Now is not the time to judge.

Now is the time to listen.

Now is the time to stand in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters who hurt and whose pain we will never fully understand.

Accept each is different, each plays his own game.

In God’s care, we shall love one another in prayer.

We all belong here.

#TogetherInSpirit

Andre Oosthuysen
Executive Headmaster

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