AN UPDATE ON ROEDEAN
20 DECEMBER 2023
Earlier this month I published an essay entitled Roedean and the Mujahideen. In it I explained why Roedean’s decision to partner with a local madrassah called Ummah Heart was seriously troubling considering that organisation’s outspoken support for Hamas in the aftermath of the attack on Israel on 7 October 2023.
Shortly after publishing my article, the school’s Head, Ms Annabel Roberts, emailed me and invited me to meet with her and the school’s Executive Director, Ms Lindi Dlamini. So, the following day, I visited Roedean where we had a robust conversation on a number of topics.
Roedean’s Anti-Discrimination Policy
My essay on Ummah Heart was not the first public comment that I have made on Roedean. In August of this year, I published an essay entitled The Trouble with Roedean’s Woke Anti-Discrimination Policy. I explained how the policy’s reliance on “microaggressions” and other concepts from the world of Critical Race Theory was deeply problematic and rendered the school virtually unusable by anyone who desires to teach or to receive a classical liberal education.
Following the publication of my essay I noticed that the school removed the anti-discrimination policy from its website. At our meeting, I asked Ms Roberts whether this meant that the policy had been withdrawn. Ms. Roberts denied that the policy had been withdrawn, because she said it was never in effect in the first place as it was only in draft form.
I was puzzled by this, because the website’s URL clearly indicates that the document had been published as far back as February, 2022 (nearly two years ago) and that it was in its final form:
Ms Roberts explained that the document was currently undergoing review in various governance committees and sub-committees. I asked her how long this process would take. She could not give me a definitive answer. I asked her whether she could provide an assurance that the problematic aspects of the policy would not be reappearing in the policy’s final form. She said that she could not, as she does not run the school by edict, and that policy documents are the product of a collaborative and democratic process. When I pressed her on whether she agreed that “microaggressions” were unacceptable, she merely stated that “'unacceptable’ is an awfully strong word”.
Nevertheless, it was interesting to receive confirmation that the anti-discrimination policy had been drafted (at least in part) by BizArmour, a labour law firm that has been active in a number of Johannesburg schools which have been affected by allegations of racism.
Asanda Ngoasheng’s diversity and social justice curriculum
The next issue concerned the influence of a diversity consultant called Asanda Ngoasheng at Roedean. Last year, Ms Ngoasheng made national headlines following her appearance at Fish Hoek High School in Cape Town in which she had conducted a “diversity intervention” for students. This event was so disastrous that it left a number of children in tears and in need of counselling. It also prompted the Western Cape Minister of Education, David Maynier, to seek legal advice on whether a claim for civil damages could be laid against Ms Ngoasheng’s firm.
Ms Ngoasheng’s contribution at Roedean has been to introduce a “diversity and social justice curriculum” in the junior school.
Ms Ngoasheng is a self-described specialist in “decolonising the curriculum”, having helped to drive the “decolonisation” of a wide variety of subjects at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (“CPUT”) including journalism, architecture, and horticulture. According to Ms Ngoasheng herself, her “decolonised” course at CPUT was so unpopular that a number of parents complained about her teaching to the programme co-ordinator, stating that she was “divisive, racist and not fit to teach.”
Chillingly, she has also stated quite openly that “it’s important to note that when developing a curriculum for much younger students the emotional aspect needs to be considered. When I run my workshops, some of the things that young people tell me is that they really feel guilty – especially the white ones.” Ms Ngoasheng’s apparent public endorsement of violence during the Fees Must Fall protests raises further concerns about whether she is suitable to be influencing Roedean Junior School.
I asked Ms Roberts and Ms Dlamini whether they would make the full content of Ms Ngoasheng’s deliverable available to Roedean parents. Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain their agreement on this request.
The influence of other diversity and transformation consultants at Roedean
I have written a number of essays raising concern about various “activist-consultants” who have been very busy in South Africa’s schools. In addition to Ms Ngoasheng, another familiar face is that of Lovelyn Nwadeyi, who is a protégé of an American academic and author called Robin DiAngelo. I understand that Ms Nwadeyi has held a number of “diversity workshops” with staff and students at Roedean.
I asked Ms Roberts and Ms Dlamini whether they would reassess the school’s use of external consultants who promote the ideas and principles of Critical Race Theory. Ms Roberts replied by stating that the school does not currently make use of any consultants and, therefore, this was not a point of any practical significance.
The events of 2020 to 2022
Anyone who has the slightest affiliation with Roedean will be acutely aware that the school has been through a turbulent and distressing period over the past few years. Roedean’s present plight was caused by a wave of “anti-racism” activism which erupted following the death of George Floyd in the United States in June 2020 and the subsequent spread of the Black Lives Matter movement across the English-speaking world.
At Roedean, numerous teachers and children were subjected to appalling persecution. The victims of this bullying and intimidation were mainly – but certainly not exclusively – white individuals. Children and staff subsequently left the school in droves. Concerningly, a number of staff have been made to sign non-disclosure agreements. My view is that, if Roedean is to have any chance of re-establishing good governance and restoring trust in the community, then it is important that the events of 2020 to 2022 be properly ventilated, including the influence of diversity consultants and lawyers at the school.
Sadly, Ms Roberts does not share my view. She explained that she has only been in her position since the beginning of 2023 and was not involved with matters from preceding years. She confirmed that when she arrived at Roedean she entered an environment where there was a “very low level of trust.” According to her, several people at Roedean had indeed been very badly hurt. However, she saw her role as to “rub balm on the wounds” and try to rebuild the community. She was not interested in "dredging up matters from the past" and, therefore, was not supportive of my request to waive the non-disclosure agreements so that former teachers and parents can speak openly.
All of which brings us back to the issue that triggered our meeting, Ms Roberts’ email from 30 November 2023 in which she announced that:
“In the spirit of promoting true inclusivity and a sense of belonging for all pupils within our school, Roedean is appointing Ummah Heart as an external service provider for our Muslim community. They will be offering a “tailor-made” curriculum for Roedean pupils which includes holistic Islamic enrichment. These classes will be part of the new integrated school day forming part of the integrated timetable and will take the same slot as Choir, Hymn Singing and Chapel.”
Ms Roberts took issue with my assertion that Ummah Heart had, in fact, been appointed. According to her, the matter was still at an exploratory and consultative stage. Ms Roberts and Ms Dlamini also seemed relatively unmoved by the concerns which I expressed in my essay, in particular how the school’s commitment to women’s empowerment could be squared with the ideals of Hamas, a fundamentalist organisation which commits mass rapes of women and girls. Nevertheless, after about 50 minutes of arguing they informed me that the school would be publishing an email on the matter later that afternoon.
A few hours later, communication was sent out to parents in which Ms Roberts stated:
“Ummah Heart was initially suggested by the Muslim parents, who made this request, however, the parents have come forward to propose that we do not go through any particular school or organisation but rather engage individual teachers who will undergo the same vetting as Roedean teachers and coaches. We would also like to clarify that we will have sight of the curriculum and shall ensure that it aligns with Roedean values.”
And so a partial backtracking, of sorts, from Roedean. As with every other issue set out above, there is no acknowledgement of the fundamental ideological concerns which I raised. But, in any event, I can at least report that we have some progress, even if in achieving that progress it feels as if I have had to squeeze blood from a stone.
I am sorry to say that I came away from Roedean feeling disappointed and unsatisfied.
Ms Dlamini spent a great deal of time during our meeting explaining the constitutional context in which the school operates; that the school is “child-centred” and aims to offer a holistic education; and that transformation remains a constitutional imperative that cannot be ignored. Ms Roberts emphasised the school’s founding values, being Truth, Honour, Freedom and Courtesy – knightly ideals adopted from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. These are, of course, fine words, but in the absence of decisive leadership in respect of the issues raised above I am concerned that the school will drift further from its classical liberal foundations.
There is, of course, a great deal about Roedean to be admired and celebrated. The grounds and buildings are magnificent. Ms Roberts informed me that the school had achieved the strongest Matric results in the country last year and that it had recently won several accolades for sporting achievement. According to Ms Roberts, the school has a full occupancy.
No doubt, Roedean is one of the jewels of South Africa’s education system – all the more reason to fight tooth and nail to prevent it being corrupted by the worst excesses of Critical Race Theory and other toxic ideologies which have been imported into this country from abroad. But, as both Ms Roberts and Ms Dlamini noted, Roedean is a private institution and I do not have any standing at the school. I am not a member of the school’s governing council. I am not a former student or a parent.
Ultimately, I am nothing more than a mere outsider. I am just a guy who writes essays on the Internet – essays which, in Ms Roberts’ view, are “inflammatory”. But, South Africa is still a country in which freedom of speech is permitted – perhaps not according to the prevailing national culture which strongly incentivises self-censorship but certainly in terms of the letter of the law.
And, so, I am free to write and to speak; to advise, to explain and to warn; to shine a light in the dark in the hope that it enables those who are responsible for the governance of South Africa’s schools and universities to find a way to steer these institutions away from nihilistic identity politics and back towards some semblance of safety and normality.
This will only happen if members of Roedean’s extended community manage to deploy some courage and skill in the coming year – two attributes which, in recent times, have sadly been in relatively short supply.
 https://youtu.be/dNmSCLcM-kY?t=1175 at 19:35 to 20:00