A South African school has come under fire for forcing out its first black teacher in its 125-year history.
Nozipho Mthembu, a teacher, accused Rustenburg Girls’ Junior School in Cape Town for discriminating against her and forcing her to resign because the environment in the school was “intolerable and treated me in a discriminatory manner.”
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She took the case to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), where she said that the school made her feel incompetent and did not provide the support she needed for the ‘mentorship’ program for which she was singled out. The situation was so bad that she ended up in the hospital for stress and anxiety.
Months after arriving in the school in January to teach Grade 5, allegations were made that Mthembu did not know how to teach, and students who were not complaining would be bullied and excluded by their colleagues.
According to Mthembu, the parents “questioned my competency and were unhappy that I was teaching their children. One parent was apparently so unhappy that she decided to take her daughter out of my class to be home-schooled and only to return to the school next year”.
It was further revealed that the school claimed she had left for personal reasons rather than an unfriendly working environment.
The CCMA reached a settlement late last month and the school has since apologised to Mtembu that she did not feel adequately supported by the school.
The school further states that it would institute changes following Mthembu’s experience to make it more diverse.
Some parents have however felt that the school had perpetuated racial divisions in their treatment of Mthembu.
“We have been lied to, we have been misled, and I shudder at the thought that these people actually teach my daughter,” one parent said to Mail & Guardian.
“There are little girls running around the school now with the impression that black people can’t teach,” another parent said.
The group of parents, called Parents for Change, also expressed relief at the early retirement of the school principal, Di Berry.
While Mthembu accepted the school’s apology, she said that had the school admitted to its errors, she wouldn’t have gone to the CCMA and lawyers.
“I hope no teacher ever goes through what I went through. My experience and the ‘mentorship’ that I got at the school left me traumatised and broken than supported‚” she said.
“The discrimination was subtle‚ yet so painful. I was the only teacher who had to make additional lesson plans for everything that I taught. I was the only teacher to whom a ‘mentor’ could come any time of the day and teach my class on my behalf.”