St Stithians to St Capture

This is the third article in a series by Martin Humphries about the “school capture” of  St Stithians by its program of Diversity Equity and Inclusion which is underscored by the ideology of Critical Race and Gender Theories.

In an article ‘Why I am suing St Stithians over false allegations of racism’, I provided an overview of the legal action that I have instituted against St. Stithians College and three of its officials. 

I explained that all four parties acted with intent and negligence, in my opinion, and that I am suing for the costs of defending my daughter against false, unfounded, and defamatory allegations of racism. After a four-phase battle during 2020, the independent chair of the appeal ruled in her favour and dismissed the findings of guilt and sanctions imposed.

When writing about ‘The costs of identity politics at St Stithians’ my focus was on the numerous false accusations of racism against teachers and students over June 2020, and the opportunistic introduction and enforcement of untested foreign ideologies about race, gender, and sex. 

Beyond 2020

In an open letter to St Stithians and Dr Sally James, an alumnus of the College, Mr Ian Macleod, wrote on 14 June 2022 with support through a petition from over 400 “concerned alumni, parents and other members of the Saints community”:

“We, members of the Saints community, have noted recent developments at the school with concern. Chiefly, we see red flags in the policies outlined in the 13 April 2022 newsletter (link) from the office of the Head of the Girls’ College, Sally James. As signatories, we kindly request your responses to the questions listed below, with a view to opening a productive conversation.

While we heartily support healthy transformation around race, gender and sex, our worries lie in the nature of the approach taken at Saints. More specifically, the theoretical underpinnings, transparency of policy formulation, and safeguards to ensure safe, effective implementation.

We have formulated some initial questions we would much appreciate engaging with the school on.”

That letter asks sixteen very reasonable and important questions, of which I quote three that are most relevant to my view of the costs of the identity politics at St Stithians:

Question 3. “Several of the resources listed on your Gender and Transformation website (link) discuss puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgery. Does the school play an active role in any decisions a pupil may be considering with regard to taking puberty blockers or undergoing gender reassignment surgery? If so, what are your procedures and rules?”

Question 12. “How much time are teachers expected to spend on race, gender and sex training and policy implementation? How are they compensated for this? To what extent does it detract from teaching duties?”

Question 14. “What is the extent of the resources being used to drive the new policies? Will you provide us with accounts showing the amounts spent over the last reporting period on:
– Race, gender and sex consultants/training.
– New facilities, such as bathrooms, to accommodate gender and sex policies.
– Legal fees for disputes arising from race, gender and sex disciplinary action.”

Over 140 comments were also received, together with feedback from Mr Macleod about his interactions with St. Stithians:

21 July: “Apologies for the silence. I have received a letter from Sally James. She advises that the Saints Council will address the 16 questions at their meeting on 4 August. And the advises I deal with OSA chair Israel Skosana on this matter. I find the delay very poor form. These are basic questions. Most ought to have been answered before any policy or decision was even made. That from a simple governance perspective.”

29 July: “Here’s the latest from the OSA. I welcome the sentiment. However, I am alert to the possibility that this is part of an effort to delay and hope the hard questions go away. I won’t let that happen.”

7 September: “I’ve received an email from St Stithians rector Celeste Gilardi. She has requested some clarity on my questions. I have attempted to provide this. I have asked for a commitment to answer the questions.”

13 September: “I have received a response from the rector, Celeste Gilardi. I am mostly unsatisfied with the answers and have asked for clarification. I will share the information once I’m satisfied I have done what I can to get clarity.”

26 October: “I have received an email that purports to answer the questions” 

The sixteen questions and their purported answers may be read via the links provided.

The questions are highly relevant and the fact that management has failed to provide clear and defensible answers in over four months is deeply concerning. Shocking, in my view, are the responses from three senior officials. 

GC Head, Dr James, seems unwilling or unable to answer for the very policies and theories that her Girls’ College has been actively promoting since 2020.

The College Rector Mrs Gilardi’s purported answers substantially contradict multiple 2020 communications to parents and current evidence. She repeats that Mr Macleod must deal with the Head of the Old Stithian Association (OSA), but I observe that a small group of alumni were permitted to deal directly with the executive and non-executive during 2020 and so too must other alumni be afforded the same opportunity now.

The Head of the OSA, Mr Israel Skosana, provides substantially the same purported answers that contradict St Stithians’ 2020 communications to parents and current evidence. But very big red flags fly when I read that “the college has responded to the extent that it is comfortable” and that the college is applying new legal disclaimers to the effect that St Stithians takes no responsibility for its new curricula and thereby places full responsibility on parents for any negative academic, sporting, emotional, or health outcomes.

I was, however, happy to read Mr Skosana’s affirmation that St Stithians’ governance process is “transparent and auditable” by “any of our formal constituents, parents, church, and alumni”.

Anecdotes sometimes become facts

I hear anecdotally, from several sources, that the myriad of identity politics and ideological interventions are not going down too well with many teachers, students, parents, and alumni. Many are just too scared to say anything at this time for fear of retaliation.  It is of course possible that not everything I’m hearing is correct, but if the anecdotes prove to be true, then the (financial) cost estimates I have already made are rather low.

  • There is increased peer pressure on girls to become bisexual or transgender. A wave of girls no longer wish to identify as heterosexual or lesbian, apparently several want to start with pharmaceutical interventions away from womanhood. A seemingly recent trend, with at least one distraught parent suggesting it is tied to the new curricula and sessions starting 2021. 

This anecdote seems to concur with news from America that says students identifying as ‘non-binary’ have skyrocketed by 582% in 2 years. Data from the Montgomery County Schools in Maryland show that in 2019, only 35 kids considered themselves as outside of the gender binary – but this rose to 239 out of 423 students in 2021. If those same ratios are applied to St Stithians GC, it suggests that about 282 of 500 girls in grade 8-12 could be gender confused in 2022, versus 41 in 2020 (allowing for a 1-year lag behind this data from America). I’ve not yet heard of any girls seeking irreversible surgery but if other American trends are observed, it’s only a matter of time.

  • Some children, thinking they may be animals, are encouraged and permitted to wear tails, howl at the moon, leave class at any time to roam the campus unsupervised, and may have their own litter boxes should they prefer.
  • Boys are encouraged and permitted to enrol at the girls’ college and use their facilities, join their camps, and compete in their sports. I am not aware of any injuries, or if the girls are permitted to enrol at the boys’ college, but I’m left wondering – why not just merge the two campuses? Co-ed schools work perfectly well and would probably be more cost-effective for St Stithians.
  • Girls are permitted and perhaps encouraged to visit teacher’s residences on campus, sometimes during school time.
  • While spending on identity politics and its associated staff and consultants is up, spending on infrastructure for the children is down. For instance, the much-vaunted new residence for girls will no longer be built, and the small existing boarding house for a handful of scholarship girls from disadvantaged backgrounds is being abandoned; after the present occupants have matriculated it will be converted into another staff house. Yet the boys continue to enjoy two boarding houses with some of the associated conveniences and advantages.
  • Students and teachers are silenced and told they will face disciplinary action if they say or do anything about any of the above, or any of the other anecdotes. Staff have been warned not to add their signature to Mr Macleod’s open letter and threatened with consequences.
  • More than 20 grade 9 girls are rumoured to be leaving end 2022.

Truth can be inconvenient 

The ‘Bell Pottinger style PR spin’ that was comprehensively exposed in the national ‘state capture’ saga is perhaps still alive at St Stithians. Parents may continue to believe it for a while longer, but I know they are asking questions. It aligns with my experiences of management who really don’t seem to want truth to prevail.

Adv. NH Maenetje SC wrote in his 5 October 2020 ‘Findings on Appeal’ against St Stithians and its officials and, by implication, against their legal advisors:

“24 – The learner has also never been involved in any other incidents involving discipline, and has been described as an exemplary learner by a number of her character referees”.

“38.6 – There are simply too many [un]answered questions on the evidence presented in the disciplinary hearing and the written submissions of the school to result in a finding of guilty as charged…. and whether or not there was any fabrication of (or in) the WhatsApp communication. It was common cause that such fabrications indeed do occur in social media platforms.”

“39 – For [all] the reasons above, I am unable to agree with the Findings that it was established on a balance of probabilities on the evidence presented that [daughter] is guilty as charged. My finding is that the school failed to prove the charges against [daughter]. This of course is not the same as a determination of where the truth lies. The school was required to prove the charges against [daughter] once she pleaded not guilty. This is required by the provisions of the Code of Conduct that I have referred to above, especially paragraphs 51 to 58.” [my bold emphasis]

“40 – The Code of Conduct does not permit a finding of guilty based on a hunch, intuition or unsubstantiated opinion. It would, in the circumstances, be manifestly unfair to find [daughter] guilty of charges that were not proved, in relation to a matter of such significance that might affect her future in a material way.”

“41 – It does not seem, however, that all has been lost. The reading of the book Waking up White may have given [daughter] a lifelong benefit. I would encourage her to use the lessons learnt from the book to be a champion for positive change in her immediate community, South Africa and the world. Race relations remain a significant socio-economic problem throughout the world. As a young person, the world is [daughter’s] oyster.”

“43 – For all the reasons that appear above, I uphold the appeal by [daughter]. This means that the written warning must be removed and ended.”

Victory fresh in hand, I emailed the Rector on 12 Oct 2020 requesting that the outcome of the appeal be announced in concert with the precedent set by St Stithians:

“It is quite clear from Adv. Maenetje’s ruling that he agrees with us that [daughter’s] name should have been removed from the outset of this matter on or about 31 May or very soon thereafter.” 

“We are of the opinion that the process of clearing [daughter’s] name must now commence urgently, using at least the same formats and channels that were used by St Stithians College since 31 May including those mentioned above.”

“We therefore require that St Stithians College attend to the attached announcement via email and WhatsApp by no later than close of business Wed 14th October 2020, and in the next edition of The Seriti on or about Friday 16th October 2020.” 

“Please ensure that the announcement is made to all the of the abovementioned addressees via each of the abovementioned channels.”

Mrs Gilardi ignored my request, but I did receive a bugger-off email from St Stithians’ attorneys.

The way forward

I don’t agree with Adv Maenetje that “race relations remain a significant socio-economic problem”. I believe that most South Africans get along quite fine, especially children, that is until the race-baiters are given airtime. I hope that my daughter will continue to rise above the race-baiters and race-hustlers and make a significant and positive contribution to the inclusive economic growth that South Africa and Africa need and deserve.

I will continue calling upon St Stithians to start the process of revealing the truth about June 2020 and beyond. Based on experience however, I expect to hear crickets or threats. 

I have comprehensive evidence from my own investigations together with evidence and testimony from others, which will most likely vindicate the teachers and students who were accused and abused. Unique to the students however are some special cases, for instance the daughter of a senior member of staff and another girl with a special relationship, receiving more favourable outcomes – yet they too stand to be vindicated by the truth.

Some evidence will also show how a small group of alumni, staff, and external individuals conspired to cause damage, capture, and profit from St Stithians and its community. It appears surprisingly similar to some of the processes and destructive outcomes ventilated through the ‘state capture’ commission and reports.

A comprehensive digital forensic investigation should be conducted  but who should attend to and supervise this? 

It cannot be the college itself. The industry associations are conflicted and the Department of Education has limited jurisdiction. St Stithians has no ‘master franchisor’ to enforce standards. The church has been trumpeting management during this difficult time. The only channel that I see is for a formalised group of constituents such as alumni and parents to attain recognition and deal with the matters. Parents are in a very powerful position in relation to their contracts with private schools as has been tested at the Constitutional Court. But it’s difficult for parents to speak out directly, so this is where the alumni will need to continue with their challenge.

I agree with the term ‘school capture’ used by lawyer and St Stithians alumnus, Mr Richard Wilkinson, for the work he is doing to investigate and report on this disturbing trend in several private schools in South Africa. The benefits accruing to the perpetrators of ‘school capture’ may not be as bountiful as those of ‘state capture’, but I suggest that the impact on children and the economy may be more perverse.

I believe in South Africa as a constitutional democracy and in all its beautiful people from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and religions – all having one thing in common – the desire for a prosperous future for themselves, their families, and for humankind. I’d prefer us to spend our time supporting hundreds of small businesses and thousands of new jobs, but ‘school capture’ is a battle which must also be won if South Africa is to exploit its potential on the world stage. All the way to the Constitutional Court if need be. 

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

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