POLITICS

St John's Transformation Battle Will 'Spread To Corporate SA'

"Boys' schools have become breeding grounds for what happens in corporate South Africa," says Open St John's Movement member Mabine Seabe.

28/09/2017 17:19 SAST | Updated 28/09/2017 17:19 SAST

Tough debates on transformation currently underway at St John's College will soon spread to South Africa's corporate environment, says #OpenStJohns movement organiser Mabine Seabe.

People in business, like students at St John's, will "start challenging the status quo," he said. "People don't want just to be welcomed into an environment, they also want a seat at the table and to be in an environment that feels like home".

READ: Parents Demand Changes As St John's College Faces Its 'Worst Crisis' In 119 Years Over Race Row

Accelerating meaningful transformation at the school, and across the board in education, is part and parcel of reshaping broader society, including corporate spaces, in which some groups continue to be sidelined, Seabe told HuffPost SA.

"Boys' schools, in general, have become breeding grounds for what happens in corporate South Africa where women are sidelined, gay and lesbian people are sidelined," he said.

Seabe, who has been one of the key figures in the #OpenStJohns movement, said that while the racism row at St John's College in Johannesburg "may seem like something in an elite bubble", it was symptomatic of much larger societal issues.

'Less talk, more action'
In a recent letter to the St John's community, the Bishop of Johannesburg, Reverend Steve Moreo, announced the formation of the independent representative interim committee to address transformation at the school.

This was created in response to the crisis at the school in the wake of a racism row in which former geography teacher Keith Arlow was found guilty of making racist comments to students. The teacher was effectively forced to resign by Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, and a "town hall" meeting with staff, students, parents and management held to discuss the way forward.

Various consultations then led to the formation of the interim committee on 22 September which includes parent, staff, student, alumni and council representatives.

READ: Committee Set Up To Tackle Diversity And Transformation At St John's College

Making progress at St John's, Seabe said, requires this committee not become "another talk-shop".

"It needs to put forward not just a plan, but a programme of action that's going to go forward in terms of transforming the school,"' he said.

'Transformation doesn't mean erasure'

Transformation, he said, should include empowering African languages at St John's and other schools -- especially former Model C and private schools. It also includes revising syllabi across subject codes in which (South) African history, languages, literature and arts are largely eschewed.

One "extreme view" of transformation, he said, would be to completely remove Shakespeare in favour of local literature. According to Mabine, a more desirable path is to design curricula that are oriented towards creating global citizens.

"If we are going to produce global citizens, we must read Zakes Mda alongside Shakespeare. The syllabus [must show] that we operate in a South African and African context. This doesn't mean throwing everything out and starting afresh".

Cultivating an environment in which racism, homophobia, sexism and other forms of discrimination are not tolerated is also crucial to broader transformation efforts, he said.

'The students' interests must come first'

On the anticipated timeline for substantial change at the school, Seabe said change won't happen overnight and #OpenStJohns has battled considerable resistance in its efforts.

"The history of South Africa has shown that change is never easy, but it's inevitable. We are not looking for an easy ride, we're looking to put our best foot forward and ensure we have the best interest of the school and the boys at heart".

READ: Everything Must Change At St John's, Says Professor Sarah Nuttall | VOICES

Seabe said substantial numbers of students, parents, alumni and other members of the school community are genuinely committed to change and "although it won't be easy, [they] are ready to fight to pursue positive change".

"I think these boys have realised these challenges, not just at St John's College but in society in general. They want to transform their school into a world-class [institution] and also transform their society at large," he said.