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11 September 2019 in General

A few words from our Executive Headmaster, Mr David Knowles, at the opening of our Founders' Day Assembly...

"Before I go into the reasons for us gathering here today, and the celebratory mood that accompanies such an important and indeed seminal event in our annual calendar, I do want to reflect briefly on our current national context. As you know today has been called "Black Friday", to highlight the scourge of gender-based violence in our country. Indeed, this whole week has seen protests and marches and gatherings as people come together to express their feelings about the recent incidents of violence, rape and murder of women, particularly the violent deaths, at the hands of men, of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana and boxing champion Leighandre Jegels

I stand before you as the son of a woman, the husband of a woman, the brother of a woman, the father of a young woman and the uncle of a young woman, who happens to be a first year student at UCT, in the same residence as Nene, who was a friend - my niece spoke at the gathering at UCT on Wednesday, along with the Chancellor, Dr Graca Machel, and others, which in some way made it more personal. I am a colleague and former colleague of some amazing woman with whom I have had the privilege of working over the course of my career.

I am angry that this scourge of violence, which sadly is not new in our country, continues, seemingly unabated, and that the women I have mentioned and love and know, as well as millions of women I don't know, are unable to feel safe, and are unable to be safe, in our country.

I am fearful that I am not able to safeguard and protect those women I know nor prevent an attack on them, or even that they should need protection from men at all. In that sense I feel impotent. And in the final instance I am angry that this violence is done by people of my gender, although clearly not in my name.

I am conscious that this issue, this scourge of femicide, this problem, this epidemic - words that somehow don't seem enough to describe what is happening – this crises, perhaps - is something that men must solve - we cannot stand back and expect women to solve this alone. Whatever we might have done in the past clearly was not enough.

As an advocate of boys' schools, and working as we do in a boys' school, which is intentional in its aim of producing "good men", I know that we need to redouble our efforts, be more proactive and more vigilant for any sign of misogyny or gender disrespect. We must be unambiguous in our message that the current situation and mind set has to change, and as individuals and as a school community, I believe that we need to reflect on how we treat women in our own lives and take responsibility of our own attitudes and our unconscious bias. We need to reflect on our current culture, our attitudes and our actions, as men, and indeed all of us who work and learn here, and role model the behaviour we want to see.

As teachers and as a learning community we know the power of education. It’s not that education changes the world, but rather that education changes people, and people change the world. As such we commit to educating our boys to be good men, who will be good boyfriends, good husbands and partners, good fathers, good citizens and good people, who will speak out and make a stand when they witness any such abuse. We commit to the values of respect, care and dignity, and strive to build a community where compassion and the concept of gentlemen in its truest sense are foremost in our hearts and minds.

At this stage, words are not enough, but as an individual man and as one of the leaders of this school, I stand in solidarity with those who have spoken out and marched this week. The boys and staff have worn black or are wearing black arm bands in solidarity. I'd ask that you stand with me now to hold a moment's silence, as we remember those women who have suffered in any way at the hands of men, and pray for the strength to create a society and a future that is simply devoid of this curse."

- David Knowles