Cape Town – Despite Western Cape schools having the option to change their apartheid-era names since 2015, there’s been little movement from schools to do so.
Recently learners at Rietondale High School in Gauteng, formerly known as Hoerskoool Hendrik Verwoerd, celebrated their school name change as they moved away from their apartheid-era legacy.
Verwoerd was named is considered the architect of apartheid. The new name, Rietondale was chosen by teachers at a meeting in 2018.
MEC for Gauteng Education and Youth Development, Panyaza Lesufi said that the move was not to destroy culture but to build a brighter future.
"We don’t hate Hendrik Verwoerd School, we just don’t want to be reminded of the past."
He said that he is not anti-Afrikaans but rather anti-discrimination.
The Western Cape has several schools named after colonial era and apartheid-era figures – Jan Van Riebeeck High School, D.F. Malan High School, Rhodes High School and Eben Dönges High School.
Back in 2015, MEC for Education Debbie Schäfer used her budget speech to highlight the matter: "Redress is important to this government, as we still sit with legacies of apartheid that make people feel excluded, even in our school system.
"We want to ensure that as a province, no school should feel that it is defined in any way on the basis of race.
"As it is the prerogative of the school to make such an application, today I would like to appeal to any school in the province that feels that the name of their school is still representative of an apartheid South Africa classification system, to now make an application to the WCED to change the name of the school to one that is inclusive."
Since her speech, only 12 schools within the province have applied for name changes, none of which have apartheid-era names.
The response from some advocacy groups has been that schools should themselves go through the decision-making process if they choose and that there should not only be a focus on the name change but a change in school culture.
Progressive Principals Association spokesperson, Faiek Abrahams said that "changing names of apartheid aligned school names does not take away our past".
"If a community feels strongly that they embrace corrective justice and social transformation they should have the liberty to change the name of their school. We will not do it for them but we will continue to advocate the lessons learnt through our eyes,” Abrahams said.
Equal Education’s Leanne Jansen-Thomas added that: "Renaming schools with apartheid-era names is necessary and is positive – it’s however also important to ensure that school culture is transformed and inclusive, from the code of conduct, to the composition of the staff."
Western Cape Education Department spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the department has called schools to apply should they want, and that the way to do so is through the School Governing Body which informs the department of its intention.
"The department will then consider the recommendation and if approved it is then changed on our Centralized Education Management Information System."