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It can only happen in South Africa. Where else would you see a sign saying “No white students are allowed to enter”? It is almost a throwback to the apartheid days, but in reverse.

I am, of course, referring to a story that appeared in the local newspapers this week about an accountancy Olympiad that was for black high-school learners only.

The irony was that the offending parent, according to the article I read, was a white ANC member who sent her daughter to a black school intentionally and now she has to explain to her daughter that, while the other children at the school were allowed to go the Olympiad, she was not allowed.

The woman, Rhett Kahn, said her daughter was the only white learner at the school. Which begs the question: Why did the school find it necessary to put up the offending sign? Why did it not just tell the learner that she was not welcome?

I understand the reason for the “blacks only” ruling at the Olympiad completely: there is a need to change the demographics of the accountancy profession and there needs to be tough action to make this possible.

According to the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants, there are 27 000 accountants registered with Saica, of which more than 25 000 are white.

This little incident raises two important issues: the need to promote maths and science more aggressively at historically disadvantaged schools and the need to be sensitive in the way we are transforming our society.

It is common knowledge that maths and science education do not receive priority at historically disadvantaged schools. In fact, in the community that I come from, Hanover Park, there is not a single learner who is studying maths on the higher grade. This means that it will be difficult for these learners to get into university, let alone become accountants.

Those charged with our children’s education seem to be encouraging this scenario, because all they ultimately care about is to push the matric pass rate. So, if they think that doing maths on the higher grade is going to bring down the pass rate, then they encourage learners to do the subject on the lower grade.

Ultimately, we will have a much higher pass rate in matric, but it will mean nothing because so many of our learners would have been deprived of studying key subjects at the highest level, thus limiting not only their educational opportunities but also their career possibilities.

The second issue is probably as important and that is the need to be sensitive in the way we are transforming our society.

The fact that Rhett Kahn is an ANC member who sends her daughter to a black school gives me an indication that she is a progressive person who is probably very much in favour of the transformation of our society. But she must be shaking her head in disgust now that her daughter has become a victim of transformation. I have news for Rhett; this will not be the last time.

The problem is that, in our rush to transform our society, we are pushing anything that is black. And that is not necessarily good.

In fact, I believe that mindset should be an important factor with a lot of the appointments that get made in the government and corporate world. There seems to be a tendency that, if you are black, you will get appointed or promoted over white people.

My feeling is: if I have a choice of two people, a black conservative and a white progressive, I would choose the white person any day. There are many black people who are undoing the good work of transforming our society because of their conservatism. So I would rather have a white person who understands transformation at the expense of a black person who does not understand transformation.

A white person who understands transformation would probably do more to advance transformation, but would also do it with a sensitivity, unlike the people (and I was going to use a stronger word here) who put up “blacks only” signs.

Ja, boet, this can only happen in South Africa.


  • Ryland Fisher is former editor of the Cape Times and author of the book Race. This is his second book, following on Making the Media Work for You, which was published in 2002. He is executive chairperson of the Cape Town Festival, which he initiated while editor of the Cape Times in 1999 as part of the One City Many Cultures project. He received an international media award for this project in New York in October 2006. His personal motto is "bringing people together", which was the theme of One City Many Cultures. It remains the theme of the Cape Town Festival and is the theme of Race. Ryland has worked in and with government, in the media for more than 25 years, in the corporate sector, in NGOs and in academia. Ultimately, however, he describes himself as "just a souped-up writer".


Ryland Fisher

Ryland Fisher is former editor of the Cape Times and author of the book Race. This is his second book, following on Making the Media Work for You, which was published in 2002. He is...

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