August 11, 2021

Rector’s eNews – 11 August 2021

/ Rector's eNews

One of the memorable features of the past week was the news that Jean van der Westhuyzen, an Old Boy who left in 2017, achieved an Olympic gold medal and broke an Olympic record representing Australia in the Canoe Sprints in Tokyo. This is, in itself, an amazing achievement, especially for one so young and further accolades were to follow when we heard yesterday that Australia have minted a stamp representing Jean in his moment of triumph. I wonder how many 22 year olds across the world have a stamp minted in their honour? Clearly, Jean has trained immensely hard over the past few years, but it was less than five years ago that he was supported here at school by Messrs Richard Snowden and Paul Snyman as he grew in strength and skill. Congratulations go to Jean and our thanks to those who influenced him in his formative years. Our Director of Admissions and Marketing, Murray Witherspoon, has written an enchanting portrait of Jean’s journey to the top. See attached Annexure A for this article.

It is, perhaps, no coincidence that Jack Edmonds and Matt Millward have been selected to represent South Africa Under 18 in the World Junior Canoeing Marathon Championships in Romania very soon. This is another huge achievement in the sphere of paddling and we wish them success as they compete against the best in their age group in the world.

On Monday, we celebrated Women’s Day at Michaelhouse in various ways. There was a talk given online by Dr Mamphela Ramphele on the important role of women as people who nurture others and the contribution which women have made to the lives of others in South Africa. A parent who is known across South Africa for her singing, Audrey Mbuyazi, led a question and answer session with Dr Ramphele and some musical items, including songs by Audrey Mbuyazi, and our boys followed. Thank you to our Music Department and to Audrey for their promotion of this event.

Then, in our Amphitheatre, firstly our Senior Prefect, Kwande Dhlomo, spoke extremely eloquently and without a note on the origins of Women’s Day when, on 9 August 1956, there was a march on the Union Buildings in protest against the Pass Laws.

Jason Makhele, Second Prefect, then took up the baton on the issue of violence against women. This was one of the most mature and forthright talks I have ever heard from a schoolboy over the many years I have been in education. This is what he had to say:

“Uyinene, a 19 year-old woman, a student at the University of Cape Town, on 24 August 2019, was raped and murdered by a 42 year-old man.

Hannah Cornelius, a 21 year-old woman, and a student at Stellenbosch University was allegedly kidnapped, raped, and murdered on the 20 February 2020.

Anene Booysen was a 17 year-old woman who was walking home from a friend’s house in a well-lit area at night – her life was taken, and her body was found one week later.

Boys, this speech today is different, and it is the hardest one I have ever had to write. Not because it is difficult, but because it is heart-breaking. Too many of my friends, our friends, too many of my loved ones, your loved ones, and too many women around South Africa are victims of sexual assault. The narrative needs to change. It feels like no matter where we look, this issue is not at the forefront of everyone’s mind, but why not? Why is it like this? For me, it cuts too close to home. Even my own grandmother, at the age of 11, against her will, was sexually abused before she learned about the birds and the bees. Are you brave enough to ask your grandmother about her experience? What about your sisters? Your mother? Friends? We shouldn’t have to ask women these questions. And I wish I was growing up in a South Africa where the narrative that one in three women will be physically or sexually abused at some point in their life wasn’t true. But it is.

Why is it that almost every day we hear of new cases and examples of abuse against women? How can it be that even with all of our money and laws, every day women around our country continue to be abused, raped, psychologically vilified, and denied the basic human rights that most males take for granted?

The time for action is now. As we move through adolescence, we begin to discover our independence, but with independence comes responsibilities, not just responsibilities but an understanding of basic civil rights. It’s time to educate ourselves about sexual consent, the most urgent being the responsibilities that each one of us has at Michaelhouse to be a better man.

Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent should be clearly and freely communicated. A verbal and affirmative expression of consent can help both you and your partner to understand and respect each other’s boundaries.

To make it easier, the five key concepts of consent can be remembered by the acronym FRIES: FRIES stands for freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and specific.

Remembering that freely given indicates that there was no intimidation involved and the person agreed to the particular activity of their own free will.

Reversible: means that a person may agree to an activity earlier in the day, or week, and then realise that they no longer want to proceed. If someone reverses their decision to partake in an activity, that means you should not guilt them into proceeding. Their decision to stop must be respected!

Informed: this means knowing exactly what is happening before, during, and after the activity.

Enthusiastic: this is one of great importance in our lives at Michaelhouse, because only “yes” means “yes.” If there is any uncertainty or hesitation, then stop.

Specific: This means to be firm in setting boundaries and making it clear about what you will or will not engage in.

But what consent really needs is basic acceptance and respect – and that, boys, is on all of us. If a woman wants to say no, and she says no, we must listen, understand, and accept this.

The issue of rape culture so prominent around the world, especially amongst teenage boys, is so deeply ingrained into today’s society, and it needs to be addressed. As good as this message is coming from public speakers or staff, it’s up to us: the boys. We need to accept this injustice against women and stand up for what is right. This means if you have ever objectified a woman based on her looks, talked about females in a misogynistic way or taken advantage of without consent, you are part of the problem. Seemingly harmless comments can have such devastating effects. Boys, don’t allow yourself to slip into complacent denial by disregarding the seriousness of this issue.

Let me tell you the numbers. The stats say every day there are over 120 rape cases in South Africa. Before the age of 16, one in five women experiences some form of sexual abuse. And 97% of sexual offences are from men. This is not solely an issue of protecting women but an issue of educating men. Stop being boys, be human.

Every person in this space must not just be an advocate for equality, but in our every action and deed we have to be proactive in stopping the abuse. This starts with putting an end to slurs and derogatory comments about women. It means standing up to any man, no matter how big they are. And holding our mates accountable, no matter where it may be.

Each one of us has an obligation to each other not to follow the ways of the past, and to take our future on a new path – a path that uplifts and values women for who they are, appreciates their intelligence, strength, inner beauty, and most importantly, empowers them to live a life where they can walk at night without fear, they can wear whatever they want without judgment, and feel supported to be themselves, not change to be anyone different.

I am so fortunate to have grown up in a school where I have had strong female role models who have had such a positive influence on my life.

To those who have gone through an incident of sexual abuse, thank you for being so strong. To all the mother figures, especially in the boarding house … thank you for being there for us. And to all women,
I am so inspired by you.
Happy Women’s Day

It now remains for our boys to take heed of Jason’s comments in their lives.

His powerful talk was then followed by Nick Holt, a prefect in West House, who spoke of a practical way in which boys could make a difference to the lives of girls by donating towards reusable sanitary towels as I outlined in last week’s eNews. Nick has spearheaded this initiative, started by Tegan Noach and Ffionn Evans of Redhill School in Johannesburg and the funds raised by Michaelhouse will be used through our own Community Partnership Trust to assist girls in our less advantaged communities here in KwaZulu-Natal. R24 000 has been raised by the boys to do something positive for these girls/young women in the schools which our CPT supports.

I warmly congratulate those boys on stepping up and demonstrating courage as well as making a practical difference to the lives of girls and women on this significant national day.

In terms of vaccinations, we are investigating the possibility of registering all of our boys who are 18 on 1 September for their Covid vaccinations: it is not immediately apparent as to exactly how we will do this, but we have contacted the Department of Health in this regard and are awaiting their response. We will follow up next week if we do not hear from them. In the meantime, should there be any parents of 18 year old boys who, for some reason, do not wish their son to be vaccinated, please liaise with our sanatorium in this regard. We sincerely hope that all boys over 18 will be vaccinated as this will help us and them begin to put an end to Covid-19.

Paul Fleischack, Senior Deputy Rector and our Master-in-Charge of our Outdoor Education, will be in charge of the Inhlosane Hike which is due to take place on Saturday 21 August. This is essentially for the D Block who were not able to have the experience of this hike last year when they were in the E Block, as well as any E Block boys who would be walking with their cops on this traditional event. Many Old Boys reflect with appreciation and pride on this very significant challenge and I trust that this year those participating will feel no different.

Read the full Rector’s eNews here

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