St. John's College left traumatised by alleged k-word incident at Michaelhouse - Stuart West

Headmaster says he has planned a comprehensive counseling programme this week to support our students and staff

In reading the following letter please bear in mind that the allegation of the use of the k-word has been denied outright by the Michaelhouse boy accused of uttering it. The actual facts have yet to be established by an independent investigation. - Politicsweb

Letter from the St. John’s College headmaster to the school community, 31 May 2022

Community update: 31 May 2022

Dear St John's Community

It was with great sadness and disappointment that the long-awaited derby between St John's College and Michaelhouse was called off on Friday evening after an allegation that the K-word was used against one of our First XI hockey players.

Historically derogatory words, used to describe people in a demeaning way, have been declared to be hate speech by the South African courts and have no place in a constitutional democracy or school environment founded on the values of dignity and equality.

Yesterday morning, I addressed the staff with Mr Allan Magubane and Mr Thulani Khanyile, Chair of Council, followed by the College and Sixth Form students in the Amphitheatre.

We are aware that our community is experiencing a range of emotions in the aftermath of the incident. In these sessions on Monday morning we unpacked the weekend's events and the debriefing and counseling strategy devised by the transformation and diversity and pastoral teams.

I am acutely aware of the speculation relating to the weekend's events and the alleged racial slur. A lot of this speculation is ill-informed and malicious and I would caution parents and students to avoid such speculation and comment at this time.

Towards the end of the First XI Hockey match between St John's College and Michaelhouse on Friday evening, there was an allegation by a St John's player that a racial slur was directed at him by a Michaelhouse player.

The St John's student reacted to the racial slur and the umpire, unaware of what had transpired, issued a yellow card to our player for his reaction. On leaving the field, the St John's player reported the alleged incident to our coaching staff in the dugout as the match was concluding.An investigation by senior staff from both schools was initiated at the field directly after the game to determine the full extent of the allegation.

After the match, the wellness of the boys involved was our highest priority. A great amount of time was taken by Mr Allan Magubane and Mr Martin Huysamer to debrief and counsel the First XI Hockey team.

At the same time, St John's staff members were in the Sports Centre, supporting and debriefing the boys and staff there. Many of the senior students communicated through their coaches that the remaining fixtures could not continue in the light of the incident and trauma experienced as a school community.

I then met with Mr Anthony Clark, Rector of Michaelhouse, and we agreed that it was appropriate for the remaining hockey and rugby matches to be cancelled and that Michaelhouse, according to their disciplinary protocols, would immediately implement a formal independent investigation into the reported racial incident.

At this time I contacted Mr Thulani Khanyile, our Chair of Council, to apprise him of the incident. He expressed his unequivocal support for our decision to cancel the remaining fixtures and our cooperation as Heads of the two schools.

I then met with the students and staff in the Sports Centre to update them on the situation and decisions made. I was deeply moved and encouraged by how the boys and staff came together at that time to stand behind our values as a school, and raise their voices to never tolerate racism in any form.

On Saturday morning, a joint statement was issued to the St John's College and Michaelhouse communities, informing them of the alleged racial slur and the decision to cancel the remaining fixtures. Our students were then either placed in the care of their parents or safely bussed back to Johannesburg.

Our primary duty of care is to our students and staff. We heard the deep trauma expressed by our students on Friday night and understand that this has been a triggering sequence of events within our community.

We have planned a comprehensive counseling programme this week to support our students and staff. Students requiring support will be debriefed by a team of trained staff. The player directly involved and the Hockey First XI have already received specific support from the pastoral care team.

St John's remains committed to ensuring that we address all forms of discrimination that challenge the sense of dignity and belonging within our community. We will advance our efforts, deepen our resolve and celebrate the shared ideals we have built. As we engage with students, staff and parents, there are important learning moments here for us as a school community. We will take these forward as part of our internal review process.

You have my assurance that the Michaelhouse Rector and I are working together to ensure the integrity and due process of the Michaelhouse investigation. Michaelhouse has appointed an independent senior advocate to investigate the alleged racist incident. We will support that investigation by providing statements from the players and staff involved. We ask our community to be patient and allow the investigative process to do its work.

In closing, Father Jeremy Jacobs reminded us yesterday morning that at this time of Pentecost, as Christians around the world celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit — effectively establishing the Christian Church - we must remember that this encounter, perhaps more than any other, broke down the barriers that divide and drew people of many races, tribes, cultures and languages together in unity to witness the power of God's saving love and reconciliation.

He recalled the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu when he opened the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996: Freedom and justice must become realities for all our people and we have the privilege of helping to heal the hurts of the past, to transcend the alienations and the hostilities of that past so that we can close the door on that past and concentrate in the present and our glorious future.... God bless us in our high calling.


Stuart West

Executive Headmaster