In a recent article, the Mpumalanga Department of Education has responded to alleged racism in education at Hoerskool Reynopark by dismissing several employees. The problem with removing employees is that it does not transform the culture of racism in Hoerskool Reynopark. The major reason that racism in education continues to exist is because the racial behavior is driven underground and does not provide teachers an opportunity to safely transform their prejudices.

According to, the Mpumalanga Department of Education has opened an investigation into claims of racist conduct at Reynopark High School in Emalahleni Local Municipality.

It is alleged that some teachers at the school called parents and learners baboons and used the ‘K’ word.

“The investigating team will look at the circumstances that led to the alleged developments and the manner in which the school management team had handled the matter,” the department said.

The department said it has, in the meantime, suspended the principal and two teachers, who will be the subject of the investigation.

“The department has appointed Deputy Principal Hennie Visser to manage the school, while the investigation proceeds. The department wants to put it on record that it will not tolerate any form of abuse and racism in any of its schools,” said the department.

It requested the community of Emalahleni to allow the investigation to take its course.

The Citizen later reported, a Grade 9 pupil at the school was allegedly called a “baboon” and the k-word by a teacher during class last week.

The child’s mother, who then called the teacher, was allegedly also verbally abused during a phone conversation between the two.

In an audio clip released on Monday, the teacher is heard swearing at and insulting the parent, calling her a “stupid” and referring to her as a “baboon”.

The response to the racism in education by the Mpumalanga Department of Education will only scratch the surface of the racial challenges that exist in the school. The outburst by the teacher and ensuing support by the principal is an indication of a dysfunctional organization.

A dysfunctional organization has five levels. The foundation for the dysfunctional organization begins with each person’s use of defense mechanisms for coping. Defense mechanisms are the unwritten rules an individual learns and utilizes to effectively deal with circumstances that are upsetting, embarrassing, or threatening.

The second level is skilled incompetence, which is the outcome of the defense mechanisms we have internalized. When the defensive behaviors we’ve learned are transformed into a learned behavior, that behavior becomes a skill – albeit an incompetent skill – that we consider necessary in order to deal with issues that are embarrassing, threatening, or upsetting. A skill that is learned from the regular application of a defense mechanism has a high degree of incompetence embedded within it, because we are unaware of how this skill will impact our future.

Skilled incompetence transforms into a defensive routine. Defensive routines are the third level. When the skilled incompetence is automatically exhibited at all times, the behavior is now a defensive routine.

Defensive routines lead to fancy footwork. Fancy footwork is the fourth level. Fancy footwork happens when individuals try to deny the behavioral inconsistencies they exhibit, or else they place blame on other people, which results in distancing themselves from taking responsibility for their behavioral inconsistencies.

Fancy footwork leads to organizational malaise. Organizational malaise is the final level. During this phase the individuals in the organization will seek to find fault within the organization rather than accept responsibility for their actions and correct their behavior accordingly. The individual continues the process by accentuating the negative and deemphasizing the positive in an effort to cover up their actions. The organizational malaise is further exacerbated by a refusal of one or all the members to discuss their area of responsibility.

How can the five levels of a dysfunctional organization impact racism in education at Hoerskool Reynopark?

Defensive Mechanisms

In this case, the defensive mechanism is racism. Racism consists of both prejudice and discrimination based in social perceptions of biological differences between peoples. It often takes the form of social actions, practices or beliefs, or political systems that consider different races to be ranked as inherently superior or inferior to each other, based on presumed shared inheritable traits, abilities, or qualities. It may also hold that members of different races should be treated differently. In order for a White South African teacher to continue to protect their livelihood and continue with the thinking that they are superior they must develop certain defensive routines. Before they develop those defensive routines, they must go through the phase of skilled incompetence.

Skilled Incompetence

During this time the racist teachers develop strategies to ensure that they continue to maintain their employment as a teacher and their racial values. They will test the limitations. Since most schools allow disciplinary infractions such as disrespect towards a teacher, classroom disruption, and open defiance to remain subjective instead of objective. Teachers have the authority to set standards according to their racial biases. From that they develop their defensive routines.

Defensive Routines.

In this phase, they have now developed automatic routines that are acceptable within the school’s system of rules but allows them to maintain their racist status in the classroom.

Fancy Footwork

Defensive Routines escalate into Fancy Footwork after there is a confrontation regarding the Defensive Routine. For example, if a parent confronts a teacher regarding racist policies in the classroom, the normal response is that “those are my classroom rules”. Many schools insist that teachers make classroom rules available for all students to see. This provides the racist teacher an opportunity to place the blame on the student instead of reflecting as to whether the enforcement of the rule is subjective rather than objective.

Organizational Malaise

During this phase, the racist teacher may extend their refusal to take individual responsibility by stating that my classroom rules are approved and supported by the school administration and if you have a problem with the rules then you should talk to the administrator. The racist teacher has now effectively covered up their actions. They will continue the conversation by talking negatively about the school and/or the students.

Hoerskool Reynopark will have to promote positive racial teacher student classroom relationships to offset the dysfunctional characteristics associated with racism in education.

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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
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