Grade 8 initiation turns sour

Parents threaten with legal action
Otis Daniels_Finck
Swakopmund • [email protected]

Parents of Grade 8 learners at Namib High School in Swakopmund on Wednesday threatened legal action against the school for alleged cruel and abusive treatment of their children during the school annual initiation process.

The parents, through their legal representative Richard Metcalfe, said that their children were subject to “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” from other learners – all in the guise of initiation. The parents are accusing the teachers of turning a blind eye to this.

Every year, Grade 8 learners must wear their school uniforms inside out; wear 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 also claiming their children have to carry heavy objects, provide gifts and food to older learners and are being exposed to the sun while having to remain motionless, for lengthy periods.

The initiated learners were also allegedly told write ‘excuse’ 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,” the letter from Metcalfe to the school’s principal, Roosmarie September, stated, adding that some initiation practices allegedly caused physical harm necessitating medical intervention to some of the Grade 8 learners.

The parents are calling for the school to “immediately ensure that your school ceases and desists with the current initiation”. If not, the matter will be taken further.

Erongo 24/7 reached out to September, who said she was surprised by the letter she received on Thursday as she was still waiting for the parents to meet with her and discuss the allegations. According to her, there were parents that did call her, and she invited them to meet with her, and while they indicated that they would meet, she was served with the legal threat from Metcalfe.

She explained that the initiation process served the purpose of creating a sense of camaraderie amongst the learners, and respect and pride for the school, its values and tradition.

September added that the Grade 8 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.”

As for the alleged injury, she said that one of the children apparently fell from a step, but was immediately given medical attention. Whether that slip was an accident or a result of the initiation, she could not say.

She however confirmed that one of the complainant’s 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, and this culminates in an acceptance concert done in front of the whole school to the enjoyment of everyone.

Erongo education director Ernfriede Stephanus told Erongo 24/7 that her office was awaiting feedback from Namib High School to understand the claims by the parents. “The point is the who initiation process must be stopped, whether it is don well or not. There are times when the teachers are not present, and things happened 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 addresses the initiation practices in Namibian schools, and specifically states that “the practice is unlawful and cannot be permitted to take place in any school as it is a violation of human dignity, and that no persons shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

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