On our Grade 12 girls’ first day back at school since the abrupt end to the First Term, I recorded my assembly message for the following morning. I used the opportunity to not only acknowledge the horrific death of Mr George Floyd in Minneapolis, but I referred to racism as being a pandemic more threatening than the Coronavirus pandemic. Amongst other things, I referred to the need for strong moral leadership, particularly in the weeks ahead.

Since the start of last week, the focus on racial injustice, and on racism in general, has widened rapidly, and rightly so. As many of you would be aware over the past week, the speed of transformation, or lack thereof, at South African schools is currently the subject of significant public discourse. St Anne’s is no exception, and is one of a number of independent and government schools where past and present pupils have used social media, in particular, to “call out” each other, and their respective schools, for ongoing racial practices and inadequate transformation programmes.

Our St Anne’s transformation journey is not a new one. We have sincerely attempted to be open to criticism, to be courageous in bringing about change and to eradicate injustices of which we may previously have been unaware. Racism is ubiquitous and to suggest that members of our community are never guilty of racist behavior, or that implicit bias does not impact on our actions or decision-making at St Anne’s, would be naïve. Furthermore, the value of admirable policies is diminished every time an individual experiences a contradiction thereof.

Mr Floyd’s death is proving to be an important catalyst in relation to what is being expressed by our pupils. In the midst of this tragedy, we have a golden opportunity to accelerate, possibly redirect, our St Anne’s transformation journey. Prior to me being aware of any criticism from past or current pupils, I had expressed my personal view that we need to make use of this opportunity. That need has become more obvious each day since then. I therefore confirm St Anne’s intention to use this opportunity to sincerely examine what is needed to ensure that we are a school where all agree, and confirm via our actions, that “Black Lives Matter”.

A number of crucial meetings involving certain staff members and representatives of the Grade 12s will be taking place in what remains of this term. There have already been initial meetings in this regard, and a particularly important one will take place this afternoon. If you, irrespective of your connection to St Anne’s, have a proposal that you believe will add value to our transformation journey, please feel free to share it, in writing, with Mrs Martin, Mr van Niekerk or me. I obviously cannot guarantee that every proposal will be implemented but I do promise that all inputs will be respected and considered.

I hope that it will not be long before I am able to supply you with the details of agreed changes. In the meantime, I sincerely request that you pray for St Anne’s as an institution, and for its pupils and staff. I hold on to the belief that the College can play an important role in the building of the kind of South Africa dreamed of by, amongst others, those pupils who protested in the streets of Soweto just a week short of 44 years ago. I also remain convinced that we can become an even better school, one where every pupil and staff member believes that she or he is truly valued … that she or he truly belongs.

D I Arguile
8 June 2020