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Youth News

Protests in SA: A teachable moment

  • March17
“The doors [of learning] will remain open.” This was said by General Director of the SA Board of Jewish Education (SABJE) Rabbi Craig Kacev after imminent anti-Zuma protest action sparked robust debate on whether Jewish day schools should close on Friday, April 7.
by NIA MAGOULIANITI-MCGREGOR | Apr 28, 2017

With Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein calling on South Africans to join him in the protest march to the Union Buildings to say “no to corruption and state capture”, queries grew from parents, on the right course of action for children at Jewish schools around Johannesburg.

After in-depth discussions with stakeholders, Rabbi Kacev, along with other board members, concluded that schools should be “a place of learning and not a space in which a particular political viewpoint is imposed”.

He said heads of schools were in the process of considering “how to assist students to grapple with what they see in the media”, with all views “respectfully considered”.

King David Victory Park High School principal Andrew Baker, said discussions centred on the question: “What does it mean to be an educational institution? We reached the conclusion that we should not lose this teachable moment.

“While the decision was taken to remain open, we also decided there would be no repercussions for those children who didn’t arrive.”

Principal of King David Linksfield High School, Lorraine Srage agrees. “Even on the subject of Israel, though we are a Zionist institution, we do not espouse any particular political point of view in the classrooms.

“Instead, taking into account that there are political complexities in South Africa that stretch beyond an anti-Zuma stance, on the Friday in question, we invited the founder of the Jewish anti-Apartheid Movement, Howard Sackstein, to give an overview of modern South African politics, which included the facts behind the Cabinet reshuffle which led to the protest action.”

As Sackstein says, “I gave a very factual talk about the players in South African politics and their various motivations”.

While Yeshiva College had closed on the Thursday before April 7 for Pesach, Principal Denese Bloch said the question of whether to close a school was, “a complex issue where the rights of the child and parents have to be taken into account.

“I completely endorse my children’s rights to protest peacefully,” she says. “While I’m not ruling out the idea on closing the school for a day in the event of future protest action, no unilateral decision would be taken without consulting parents and the Foundation board members. Parents would make the final decision after consultation.”

With Cape Town schools on holiday on the Friday, principal of Herzlia High School, Marc Falconer, was spared having to make a decision, but, he says he believes it’s “part of the educational process to allow pupils to explore their democratic responsibility to protest”.

Still, says Falconer, there should be no question that any pupil be forced into a protest. “Politics is tricky but if there were sufficient numbers who wanted to protest this kind of action, we could find ways of staging a protest in ways that would minimise the teaching disruption: an afternoon or weekend protest or a protest assembly or a protest march... Something of that nature while working with the leadership committees of the school.” 

As it turned out, few children arrived at King David Victory Park High School on April 7. “The main reasons included a practical fear of the commute,” says Baker. “Most of our children come from the eastern side of the M1 and a few take advantage of the bus system. Parents were concerned that roads might be blocked getting home.

“Some took part in the various demonstrations around the city while, no doubt, a few thought there wouldn’t be much happening that day anyway, so chose to stay away.”

Rabbi Kacev has suggested steering clear of a “spiral into negativity”. Calling South Africa “a democratic country”, he said it was “this same democracy that gives us a voice and ability to engage with issues and express our views freely”. 

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