High school initiation turns ugly

The principal was ‘surprised’ by parents’ claims of initiation gone too far, and said the process was meant to foster camaraderie, respect and pride.

14 January 2022 | Education

ADAM HARTMAN







SWAKOPMUND

Parents of grade eight learners at Namib High School in Swakopmund have threatened legal action for alleged cruel and abusive treatment of their children during the school’s annual initiation process.

The parents, through their legal representative Richard Metcalfe, on Wednesday said their children were subjected to “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” from other learners – all under the guise of initiation.

The parents are accusing teachers at the school of turning a blind eye.

Every year, grade eight learners must wear their school uniforms inside out, don plastic grocery bags as socks, are forced to keep their heads bowed in an act of subservience and do physical exercise.

Besides this, the parents are claiming that their children were forced to carry heavy objects, provide gifts and food to older learners and spend long periods of time in the sun.

The initiated learners were also allegedly told to write apology letters to the head girls if they could not afford to pay for the food and gifts demanded.

“Some of the so-called initiation procedures simply amount to criminal offences punishable by our courts,” a letter from Metcalfe to principal Roosmarie September read, adding that some initiation practices allegedly caused physical harm necessitating medical intervention.

The parents are calling for the school to “immediately ensure that your school ceases and desists with the current initiation”.

‘Surprised’

When approached for comment, September said she was ‘surprised’ by the letter she received yesterday. According to her, some parents called her, and she invited them to meet with her, but then she was served with the legal threat from Metcalfe instead.

She added that the initiation process creates a sense of camaraderie amongst the learners, as well as respect and pride for the school, its values and tradition.

September said the grade eight learners are also kept separate from the rest of the school, and that initiation only takes place, under supervision, with the prefects.

“It’s minimal activity, especially also because the grade 11s are writing their exams, so disruptions are avoided,” she said.

On the alleged injury, she said one of the learners fell from a step, but was immediately provided with medical attention. Whether the fall was an accident or a result of the initiation, she could not say.

She, however, confirmed that one of the aggrieved parents’ children was removed from the initiation process for peace of mind for the learners and the parents.

“The children are not injured; in fact, they enjoy the process very much,” she said, adding that this culminates in a concert for the whole school.

Stop it

Erongo education director Ernfriede Stephanus said her office was awaiting feedback from Namib High School, and added: “The point is, the whole initiation process must be stopped, whether it is done well or not. There are times when the teachers are not present, and things happen that are not right.

“It must just be stopped because we cannot waste our time with these issues,” she said.

Both Metcalfe and Stephanus referred to a circular from education executive director Sanet Steenkamp to all schools in 2017 in which she addressed initiation practices in Namibian schools. “The practice is unlawful and cannot be permitted to take place in any school as it is a violation of human dignity… No persons shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” Steenkamp wrote at the time.

The circular added that “no person must subject any learner to mental harassment, physical punishment, or conducting or participating in any form of initiation practice against another learner”.

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