by Patrick Kidd
Historic Gqeberha-based high school Collegiate Girls’ High School has come under heavy scrutiny recently after a problematic speech written by a grade 11 pupil was allowed to be published in the school’s annual magazine.
The student’s piece titled “Black Lives Matter/Environmental Justice Speech” revolved around the topic of environmental activism, but the denouncement of the Black Lives Matter movement and racist depictions of China and Chinese culture within the pupil’s argument have attracted public criticism.
In the speech, the student urges for the immediate response to the Earth’s numerous climate crises, “Why have we not found solutions to the enormous environmental problems we have?” However, immediately following this important question she seeks to undermine the various inequalities and brutalities that the World’s racial justice movements are constantly fighting for, “Perhaps I should be asking, why are we still protesting for racial equality?”.
Obviously the looming impact of Climate Change requires swift reaction, but humans are allowed to protest for more than one cause at a time. Denouncing the struggle that Black people face globally in order to elevate a cause you feel strongly about is a particularly problematic route to take and the condemnation that the speech has faced is just.
Another shocking citation found within the student’s speech references China and Chinese culture. In her speech, the pupil concerningly describes China’s occupancy in Africa, “When the Chinese rape our coastlines and dump their plastic waste”, and makes unwarranted sweeping claims about Chinese culture, “The Chinese appetite for bushmeat and bats”.
Not only does the pupil cast full blame on the Chinese for Africa’s plastic usage and disposal, but she has the gall to make a comparison to rape. With gender-based violence being so rife in South Africa, to use language like this is worryingly insensitive and out-of-touch.
Furthermore, the sweeping claims made about Chinese culture and cuisine are alarming, not to mention completely inaccurate. It is clear that this student requires immediate education in sensitivity and empathy.
But the most potent question is how this speech ever came to be published. Upon first listening or reading, the teacher in question should have realized how disgustingly insensitive, inaccurate and unjustifiable the speech is. Not only was the speech seen as acceptable, it was praised and recommended for publication. On top of this, the speech went through a rigorous editing process where not once did any staff member think it inappropriate for publication. It appears that not only the student, but also some teachers require the basic schooling of the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong.
In response to the publication of the speech a former Collegiate student started an online petition seeking for the high school to take accountability for the publication. The petition asks for the reprimanding and counselling of the Grade 11 pupil as well as racial and sensitivity training for those who worked in publishing the school’s magazine. The petition currently has over 3500 signatures.
It is clear that educational intervention is needed for those that wrote and published the speech. Hopefully the student and teachers involved in this reprehensible broadcasting of racism and insensitivity will be held accountable and will learn from their actions.