In South Africa, at the Curro Waterfall preschool, Black Women teachers demand justice

A half hour out of Johannesburg and “a breezy 23 minutes” from O.R. International Airport lies a place called Waterfall, “one of the fastest transforming suburbs in South Africa” Waterfall boasts “soaring investor confidence …, burgeoning residential, commercial, mixed-use and retail precincts”, Waterfall City, The Mall of Africa, brand name restaurants, malls, schools … and, according to recent reports, racism with a large component of sexism. Specifically, the Curro Waterfall pre-school,  known as a Curro Castle School, has had a practice of slotting Black women as assistants and White women as teachers, often despite respective qualifications, and then segregating assistants from teachers. They are referred to differently, and they have segregated staff rooms. As today’s Mail & Guardian notes, “The signs on the staff rooms did not read `whites only’ or `blacks only’ but teaching assistants were segregated from teachers.” Within a month, three Black Women teachers resigned from Waterfall Curro. The teachers are going under the names of Sibongile Khumalo, Juliet Bongo, Lerato Makhubela. Concerned parents raised a ruckus as did teachers, and now an independent investigation is underway.

While this is clearly an issue of racial discrimination on the part of the school’s management and some of its staff, the events also speak to the importance of an intersectional approach. Where are the women? Everywhere. Three Black Women resigned within a month. White Women teachers told their children to call anyone who was White a teacher, and to call anyone who was Black an assistant. The children age from three months to five years. What are they learning at the juncture of race and gender?

Black women are slotted into lower paying positions and then forced to accept them. Black women are demeaned and told by the administration to tough it out. When Sibongile Khumalo perceived that she was being treated differently than her White colleagues, she went to the executive head of Curro Waterfall, Graeme Waite, who told her she could stay or she could go. “It was a way of killing my confidence or something because, by that time, I was destroyed. Only resilience kept me going. I told myself that I’m not going to leave this school until I can prove a black person is competent,” explained Sibongile Khumalo.

The three Black Women teachers stayed, and stayed in the assistants’ staff room. Finally, a group of parents began investigating and found racist practices in employment and culture. They wrote to Curro Group CEO Andries Greyling and demanded that Waite be fired. As of now the staff rooms are allegedly no longer segregated by `rank’ and Waite continues as executive head of the preschool.

The issues raised here – salary, culture, dignity, happiness – affect all workers and all people, but not necessarily in identical ways or with identical impact. Women workers struggle with the killing of their confidence in ways that are particular to their being positioned as women workers. What happened at Curro Waterfall was racist sexist, with the two parts intensifying each other and the whole. When it came to the three Curro Waterfall teachers who demanded justice, remember this: All the women were Black, all the Blacks were women, and all of them were brave.

 

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian / Wikus de Wet)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.