Vusumuzi Dube, Sunday News Reporter
A RACISM storm has rocked a Bulawayo girls-only private school — Girls College — with pupils and former students coming together to sign an online petition calling for the school head’s dismissal on racism allegations.
The head, Mrs Les Malcolm Ross, is accused of having subjected pupils to racist abuse, with the latest being a couple of weeks ago where it is alleged she ordered black pupils to cut off their hair as “it takes away their beauty”.
The online petition, hosted under change.org has to-date been signed by more than 1 500 students, both present and former.
“We all feel the racist remarks and behaviour by Mrs Les Ross, the headmistress at Girls’ College Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, towards the black majority in the school must be addressed. Our girls are feeling infuriated and diminished by her comments, conducts and systems but are afraid to speak out because of the ‘snitching system’ that she has implemented at the school.
“We are all affected as it is, our sisters, our cousins, our friends or our children, if not us, that have been directly (been) made to feel inferior because of our skin colour and our beautiful God given hair.
“Our forefathers fought just so we wouldn’t have to feel this way. You can’t tell a child that her hair ‘takes away her beauty’ or ask a child if she ‘keeps drugs in her hair’. It’s revolting to say the least. Our country does not take racism lightly therefore we want a public apology from her and she should also be removed from the position of headmistress. Enough is enough,” reads the petition.
The petition was reportedly sparked by a social media post exposing Mrs Ross’ alleged racism tendencies, with former students coming in to reveal their experiences under her leadership.
“Mrs Ross told the black girls at GC (Girls College) that natural hair takes away their beauty and they should cut it, my little sister is so upset,” reads a tweet.
The tweet attracted a host of responses, with former students revealing that this was not the first time that she had racially abused students at the private school.
“Some things never change, its high time she accepted that black girls are there to stay and the majority that has kept the school running,” wrote one Ms Nombuso Pam Malinga. Another woman who responded, Ms Helen Moyo revealed that she left the school almost nine years ago but witnessed that Ms Ross had back then used a number of racist statements but nothing was done to address the matter.
“Wait, but how does cutting hair enhance beauty? What does hair even have to do with beauty? And why does someone else’s beauty affect her?
Honestly when I left eight to nine years ago, this was an issue and years later, she still says such.
“I think all former Girls’ College girls (that are willing) should get together, write something, sign it and someone can send it off. Because most of us have heard her say this but it only takes us working together to fight for our siblings to embrace their natural hair and rock it. Constantly complaining about it and not taking action will allow her to continue doing such crazy stuff,” she wrote.
Other users alleged that Mrs Ross would say black students’ hair was too big, distracting and that the other girls could not see past it. It is further alleged that she would say the hair could attract worms and is also used to hide drugs.
A suspected teacher, Ms Sarah Townsend, responded on the post, claiming there was no evidence on the accusations being levelled against Mrs Ross by the students but immediately attracted a backlash from the students.
“I work at that school and won’t be accused of gas lighting and soul sucking, do you indeed have evidence of these things happening at the institution as a whole? If not, your remarks are defamatory. My career and income could be jeopardised by your comments and I for one will not stand for it. I am as educated as you are and, no, you do not have a mandate on intelligence either.
“As a breadwinner for my nine-year-old daughter I won’t have you refer to the institution I give my life to, referred to in such disgusting and derogatory terms. Do you think I get up at 5am daily to give my knowledge to young women as an experiment? Your comment refers to the school as a whole and this is why I am taking this up. People, real people, with feelings and lives and families are involved here,” she said.
Efforts to get a comment from Mrs Ross were fruitless as she was said to be continuously out of the office, with the secretary who answered the phone claiming that “the issue” will soon be discussed by the school board.
In a statement, the school’s board of directors confirmed that they investigated the matter after allegations were raised on social media. The board, however, noted that the school has strictly regulated the dress, appearance, conduct and demeanour of its students including their hairstyles while at school or school functions, thereby exonerating Mrs Ross of any wrongdoing.
“In issuing this statement the Board confirms that it has investigated matters including the grounds upon which the unsubstantiated initial allegation of racism was based. In doing so it has questioned Mrs Ross and has also conferred with the School’s Uniform Committee and a representative of the Parent’s Assembly.
“It is important to note that the College, from its inception, has strictly regulated the dress, appearance, conduct and demeanour of its students including their hairstyles while at school or school functions. It has not been, and is not, the School’s policy to insist upon or to recommend the cutting of hair by students of any race and the Board is satisfied that Mrs Ross did not breach that policy in the manner suggested or at all,” reads the statement.
Contacted for comment Bulawayo acting provincial education director, Mrs Ollicah Fikelephi Kaira said while she was not aware of the issue, she would immediately institute investigations so as to get to the bottom of the matter.
“That is a serious matter and I will handle it with the seriousness it deserves. If you are saying 1 500 people have signed it then it really has to be investigated, please may you forward me the link to the petition so that I can start investigating and I engage the school head and board,” said Mrs Kaira.