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24 days to capture St Stithians
SSC part 5
This is part 5 of my story as I uncover the truth about what happened at St Stithians College (JHB, South Africa) in June 2020, bring the perpetrators and accessories to account, and try to stop the ongoing damage that is being done to children and teachers. Other parts are archived here.
Updated on 25 November 2022 with emails between my daughter and Ntombi Langa-Royds on days 16, 20 and 21.
St Stithians College had an impressive track record of diverse and inclusive growth since its founding in 1953. In part 4, I mentioned some of the research that I had conducted in 2017 prior to my daughter’s enrolment for grade 10 in 2018. Several resources support the view that it was a leading and progressive institution continually working to do better, including:
The 19 March 2009 ‘St Stithians College Statement: Transformation at the College adopted by the College Council’;
The 26 March 2015 ‘Strategic Plan 2025’, ‘Planning Framework 2015-2025’ and ‘Statement of Intent and Purpose’;
And the 4 August 2017 ‘St Stithians Statement on Race and Racism, Transformation and Diversity: promoting a community of belonging which is transformative, inclusive and diverse’.
But apparently, none of this was good enough for some stakeholders who gathered to form an unofficial ‘Capture Committee’ and whose successful project commenced on 31 May 2020 and ended 24 days later. Within this committee, governors, senior members of staff, consultants, and advisors conspired and colluded with a matric student and a group of ‘old girls’ to cause harm to students, teachers, and staff, and to cause damage to St Stithians and its community with ongoing rewards for individual committee members and their friends and family.
Mission accomplished, members of the ‘Capture Committee’ (CC) went on to form a second unofficial ‘Implementation Committee’ (IC) which, from 24 June 2020, has effectively managed St Stithians, monitored progress, and reported back to the governing CC. I estimate the CC consists of at least 25 people, several of whom also sit on the IC. The formal governing and managing structures now serve to rubber-stamp decisions of the CC and IC and to provide the appearance of continuity, credibility, and legitimacy.
In this part 5, my focus is on the early work of the Capture Committee (CC).
Day 1 of capture – 31 May 2020
Following the initial Sunday 31 May announcement by St Stithians on Twitter, followed by multiple subsequent announcements, the Rector Mrs. Celeste Gilardi wrote on 18 July 2020:
“On the 31st of May, the school was made aware of disturbing video footage being widely shared on a number of social media platforms. The videos featured College students whose behaviour brought the name of the school into disrepute. Our immediate response, on the 1st of June, was to send a letter to our community…”
From the outset it was clear to anyone looking, that the distribution of the “disturbing video footage” was through the efforts of a matric student at the Girls’ College (GC) whom I’ll refer to as Ms. A. Using various social media platforms to launch a series of vitriolic and racist attacks on several of her white peers, Ms. A was also openly hostile towards any black peers who didn’t quite see things her way. The videos she collated and shared show black and white boys and girls having fun at parties, dancing, and singing along to rap songs with lyrics containing the word ‘n***a’.
During her many rants, Ms. A falsely accused several of her peers of racism, including Ms. B, C, and D, due to their singing of those lyrics.
Ms. B, a close family member of the Rector, presented a conundrum for the Rector and several members of the CC who were immediately conflicted and compromised – and therefore willing or not – became permanent members of the CC and IC. The problem compounds when Ms. B was not charged and sanctioned.
Ms. C was not brought before a disciplinary hearing because she had a ‘n***a-pass’ from her friend (such as this may have been necessary between consenting friends).
Ms. D and her mother fought bravely but stood no chance against the pre-determined outcomes. Despite a similar situation to that of Ms. C, which included n***a-pass permission, Ms. D was charged, put through a disciplinary hearing, and sanctioned.
The CC needed to be seen to find some students guilty.
Ms. A also made accusations of racism against Mr. E, F, and G, all scholars at St Stithians Boys’ College; I assume they were similarly charged, put through disciplinary hearings, and sanctioned. Ms. A emailed at least one similar communication regarding St Peter’s College. Extracts from some of Ms. A’s social media posts which include pictures of her email ‘sent items’ folder are available here.
My daughter did not appear in the “disturbing video footage” referenced by St Stithians, nor did she appear in Ms. A’s barrage of social media posts. She was separately accused on 31 May by the Head of GC, Dr. Sally James, who produced a fake screenshot of an alleged WhatsApp text message allegedly of a conversation between two alleged friends allegedly using the word n***a. As noted by the external Chair of the successful appeal, Adv Ngwako Hamilton Maenetje SC, it was common cause at the disciplinary hearing that the screenshot was fake; he was also very clear that my daughter should not have been formally charged in the first place.
The same fake screenshot was sent, within minutes of Sally James’ email, by Ms. A to a WhatsApp friendship group named “Missing My Babies” consisting of 14 matric girls, 11 black and 3 white including my daughter. Despite knowing nothing of this “conversation” but feeling the pressure, my daughter rushed into making an apology to the members of the group – a mistake that Ms. A, Sally James, Ms. Leanne Horwitz, and the rest of the CC, have tried to use against her ever since. Not only did most of the black girls in the group send her private messages of support, but Adv Maenetje also addressed this “apology” comprehensively in his report and concluded:
38.2 “For her part, Ms Langa-Royds wanted to know why [daughter] had apologised when “I got the feeling you didn’t sen[d] that message.” [Daughter] offered an explanation for her apology which Ms Horwitz and Ms Langa-Royds did not question. On the contrary, the Findings reflect an acceptance of the explanation for the apology. In those circumstances, Ms Langa-Royds could not treat the apology as proof of [daughter’s] involvement in the use of the n-word.”
Day 2 of capture – 1 June
Monday 1 June sees my daughter being forced to attend a preliminary meeting with Leanne Horwitz and two other teachers. From the statement she read out at her disciplinary hearing on 12 June: “I was not allowed to have anyone attend the [1 June] meeting with me and I must say it was a very intimidating experience especially when my key statements of innocence were getting ignored. I nonetheless always tried to appease the situation and remained respectful and humble” and “I was placed under extreme pressure”.
Day 6 of capture - 5 June
Friday 5 June sees an open letter from Mr. Gary Morolo, Chair of St Stithians College Endowment Fund Trust; Mr. Carel Nolte, Chair of St Stithians College Council; Mrs. Ntombi Langa-Royds, Deputy Chair of St Stithians College Council; and Mr. Motseki Majake, Chair of St Stithians College Council Transformation Committee:
“The College has taken swift action following revelations that deeply troubling social media clips involving some of our students have been widely shared. The College has just completed formal investigations and considers the findings of the investigations to warrant a disciplinary process and charges are now being drawn up. In this process we have relied on the expert assistance of well-respected lawyer Shamima Gabie [sic].”
“Our campus Head of Diversity and Transformation, Noma Shange is working with our Rector Celeste Gilardi and the Saints community will be afforded opportunities to contribute to our visible fight against racism, racist behaviour and other scourges such as homophobia and sexism.”
“While structural change is not the only part of our journey, it is an important one. Our Council (the ultimate governance body) membership is predominantly black and female. Our learner intake continues to grow with the number of black students that choose our College. As we continuously advance our Equity plans and diversify our staff compliment we remain conscious of the work that remains to be done.”
The letter also assured everyone that “the welfare of our students is always paramount” and that “any process will respect the rights of the learners and families concerned as set out in our country’s constitution”.
Day 13 of capture – 12 June
Friday 12 and Saturday 13 June brought the disciplinary hearings for the investigated and formally charged students. My daughter’s hearing was on 12 June with Ntombi Langa-Royds as Chair and Leanne Horwitz as investigator and prosecutor. It ended earlier than expected as the screenshot was accepted as fake, no witnesses were named or called, and no new evidence was presented. Despite my daughter and I being fully prepared to defend charge number one (racism) and charge number two (digital distribution), there was no need to shadow box any further as we had in effect been debating accusations of an alleged WhatsApp text message, allegedly involving my daughter in ‘conversation’ with a ghost, albeit an apparently friendly one.
The following is from my daughter’s 4-page statement with which she also provided 6 annexures of supporting information:
“The way this entire matter has been handled thus far and the language used by the school is very intimidating, threatening, and scary. It becomes terrifying when I also read that the school are retaining the services of multiple lawyers, Advocates and Senior Counsel. I therefore feel that it is only fair that I be provided with further facts and information as to this conversation and the person with whom it allegedly took place.”
“I do not understand why Dr James chose to ignore my pleas, as did other staff and advisors who have been involved since. The fact that I have, since the outset, questioned the source and authenticity of the screenshot, surely means the answer would have been forthcoming before today's hearing. Surely 12 days are sufficient to procure and share the requested information with me?”
Despite all the evidence put before Sally James, Leanne Horwitz, and Ntombi Langa-Royds, my daughter was found guilty and sanctioned on 23 June, whilst evidence supporting the investigation of others including Ms. A was ignored.
Day 16 of capture – June 15
My daughter emailed Ntombi Langa-Royds, Sally James, and Leanne Horwitz on Monday 15 June:
“It is now a matter of further record that there is no evidence relating to this matter brought by the College against me. The charges must be urgently and immediately withdrawn by the College, and I look forward to receiving written confirmation also on an urgent basis.”
But instead, the CC turned its attention to the teachers.
June 15 witnesses the launch of the Twitter account ‘Racism At St Stithians Girls College’ (@RacismAtSSGC) and the hashtag #BeingBlackAtSaintsMeans which ‘represents the personal accounts of racism experienced by current and previous students at St Stithians GC”. On 19 November 2022, the account followed 3, had 88 followers, and had made 92 tweets, the first on 15 June 2020 and the last on 31 July 2020. The account contains several posts with statements, accusations, and various names including the alumni mentioned later, and links to a folder ‘Racism at SSGC’ on Google Drive.
The alumni also created dedicated Facebook, Instagram, and Gmail accounts. When checking again on 19 November 2022:
Instagram account RacismAtStStithiansGC has 89 posts, 709 followers, and follows 9, and links to the Google Drive folder.
Facebook account Racism at St Stithians Girls College has 62 likes, 67 followers, links to the Google Drive folder, first post 15 June 2020, last post 31 July 2020.
These accounts and the Google folder contain several 15 June statements and accusations by alumni of the GC, a list of demands to St Stithians, and practical steps and timelines for action and monitoring. The alumni state:
“We have put a lot of thought into the areas of change needed” and “For there to [be] effective change we've included practical steps and time-lines for these demands to be met – SSGC would be responsible for these changes, but we need involvement and oversight to ensure this is done correctly.”
The alumni also declare:
“When interpreting the meaning of offensive remarks, actions or slurs, the appropriate standard to be applied is that of the reasonable person’s interpretation of the meaning of the words or action. This is an objective and not a subjective test. As such, the intention of the perpetrator is an irrelevant consideration.”
Amongst the alumni’s demands are 21 practical steps and demands for introducing and teaching untested foreign ideologies about race, gender, and sex. There is now increasing evidence that these bodies of ideologies and experimental procedures are causing a lot of harm.
15 June also sees 17 alumni including close family members of the Head of Diversity and Transformation, Mrs. Noma Shange, sign a letter to the Rector and the Heads of Council, GC, GP, and OSA, entitled ‘Racism and Prejudice in the St Stithians Girls College Community’. The letter, which is available in the ‘Racism at SSGC’ folder on Google Drive, sets out various demands and 67 accusations (again including close family members of Noma Shange) against 15 teachers - 3 teachers who’d already left prior to 2020, 7 teachers of 2020 all of whom have since resigned, and 5 teachers of 2020 who have remained.
These attacks on students and teachers in June 2020, and the longevity of their outcomes, should also be viewed in the context of a school spanning 3 generations of diverse and inclusive growth, with over 1200 girls and 1400 boys, and over 380 teachers and staff.
Day 19 of capture – June 18
18 June sees “the Girls’ College instructed attorneys Cheadle Thomson & Haysom Inc. to assist with an investigation into various allegations made against staff as shared by the group of alumni in their memorandum to the College” as per Rector Celeste Gilardi’s letter dated 18 July 2020.
No teachers were found guilty, however, as announced by Celeste Gilardi on 15 October: “Cheadle Thompson & Haysom Inc Attorneys findings were that further investigations of these matters were unnecessary in light of the assessment of each complaint.” Although, as I highlighted within part 2, the attorneys did provide an opinion that ALL teachers and staff are somewhat stupid, practicing racists, and require ongoing re-education. The legal report remains unavailable.
Day 20 of capture – 19 June
My daughter emailed Ntombi Langa-Royds again on Friday 19 June:
“I continue to be prejudiced by this situation, accordingly I must repeat my request that the charges be urgently withdrawn. I also request a formal letter of retraction, please.”
Day 21 of capture – 20 June
Saturday 20 June sees a marathon meeting between “key stakeholders” of St Stithians. It includes some online attendees and several external parties including L&N Advisors whose motto is “Embedding social justice in your daily practices”.
The alumni provide some updates on their Twitter account:
June 18 “on Saturday 20 June 2020 we will be attending a virtual meeting with St Stithians school exec and council with Lovelyn Nwadeyi [L&N Advisors] as our facilitator”
June 30 “latest update: on Saturday the 20th of June 2020 we had a virtual meeting [with] the St Stithians college exec and council which was a promising first step towards achieving transformation at St Stithians Girl’ College”
7 July “the notes of the meeting held with St Stithians exec and council as well as the apology issued by the school regarding racism in their institution can be found [in the Google Drive folder Racism at SSGC]”
The notes by St Stithians and L&N Advisors are entitled "Meeting Notes: St Stithians Girls’ College Key Stakeholders Session held on Saturday, 20 June 2020 from 10:00 – 14:30” and are also available on St Stithians’ website.
Sifting through those 9 pages, my overarching observation is that St Stithians’ leadership is no longer in charge and perhaps acting illegally. I observe several discussions about new ideologies of race, gender, and sex, being deemed acceptable for immediate implementation, with handholding from consultants. Current and future use of consultants and advisors are regularly noted and includes ongoing reviews of the school’s governance structures, policies, and procedures.
Specifically discussed on Saturday 20 June were harsher punishments for ‘racist’ students and teachers, with outcomes that must be acceptable to the accusers and consultants:
“Council Head provided clarity on this issue: On 31 May – social media clips emerged featuring various St Stithians pupils. Senior staff members were appointed to investigate this matter. Based on the investigation, recommendations will be made for how the learners will be punished. The punishment is confidential as Saints is following the law to protect minors’ rights. However, this does not mean that the school’s process is not transparent. The school has included an external body in the disciplinary process. There was a hearing after the investigation where students and the school shared their perspective. Hearings were concluded last Saturday (13 June). Thereafter findings were collated and there will be recommendations for sanctions.”
At 6:08 pm, Ntombi Langa-Royds responded to my daughter’s two emails:
“I shall be in touch during the next week to let you know the outcome of your hearing. Thank you for your patience.”
Sanctions were delivered to students 3 days later.
Day 24 of capture – 23 June
Tuesday 23 June sees the investigated students attend “feedback sessions” following their disciplinary hearings of 12 and 13 June, with verdicts and sentencing by Ntombi Langa-Royds, Sally James, and Leanne Horwitz.
Imagine my shock when my daughter is judged guilty on all charges with double sanctions including possible immediate expulsion in her matric year, and discrimination on the basis of her race, despite the chair admitting that she had not been able to find my daughter guilty. Adv Maenetje, in his 5 Oct ‘Findings on Appeal’, agreed and concluded:
43 - “For all the reasons that appear above, I uphold the appeal by [daughter].”
Adv Maenetje’s full report, in my opinion, is a serious indictment of St Stithians’ handling of my daughters’ matter and highlights multiple instances of very poor judgment. I also view it as another barometer of catastrophic failures of governance at St Stithians College.
23 June also saw an open letter of special thanks from Celeste Gilardi to “our group of past students” (I presume this to mean the accusers and 17 signatories) and 12 senior officials for their participation and support of management and its achievements.
By Tuesday 23 June the capture of St Stithians was effectively complete. Management embarked on the future journey instructed by the CC, with some members of the CC able to take a back seat while others were empowered for ongoing benefit.
Day 1 of St Capture - 24 June 2020
24 June 2020 is day 1 of a captured St Stithians, now St Capture, with the first announcements made on Friday 26 June 2020.
In the capture committee (part 4), I stated my opinion that the St Stithians capture project was executed by an unofficial Capture Committee whose primary membership consists of at least 1 student, 17 alumni, 2 governors, 2 managers, 1 teacher, and 2 consultants. Over a period of 24 days between 31 May and 23 June 2020, this committee steered intentional, malicious, and illegal attacks on at least 7 students and 15 teachers.
St Stithians College is trying to sweep the truth and the potential outcomes under the table, including attempts to delay the litigation described in part 1.
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