Hoërskool Rustenburg in the North West province has reportedly punished a learner because she attended a drag show (Photo: Facebook)
Story update – 9 August 2022: Hoërskool Rustenburg (Rustenburg High School) has withdrawn all sanctions against the student. Read the details here.
A North West matric student has been stripped of some of her school honours after teachers saw a video of her celebrating her 18th birthday at a drag show.
In January, Hoërskool Rustenburg learner Desiré Duvenage and a handful of friends marked her birthday at the Pretoria branch of Beekcakes, an LGBTQ restaurant and drag show venue.
During the performance, one of the drag artists went up to Desiré’s table and as part of the act briefly simulated grinding their crotch on the surprised student, who although a little uncomfortable laughed it off. One of Desiré’s friends later posted a video clip of the moment, in addition to a few photos of their night out.
“It was fantastic, the drag performers were amazing and we all enjoyed it. It was just a good time to forget about everything, all the stress and my school work,” Desiré tells MambaOnline.
A high-achieving student, Desiré is also an active and awarded member of the Land Service youth movement through her high school. After her birthday, she spent the following months focusing on her studies in preparation for her exams.
On 23 July, during a Land Service session at the school, a teacher called Desiré aside and told her the school had seen the video of her at the drag show. “She showed me the video on her phone and said that it’s very negative for the school and they don’t want this getting into the media,” says Desiré.
The teacher informed her that because of the video, Desiré would be removed from the school’s Land Service management team and her role as chairperson. Desiré claims the teacher further told her that she was also likely to be stripped of her school honours for her Land Services achievements.
The Land Service (Landsdiens in Afrikaans) is a national organisation that helps young people develop leadership and life skills with a focus on the protection of the environment. It’s been an integral part of Desiré’s life since primary school
“I started crying because I was so upset. Land Service was my everything. I met so many people because of it. I worked so hard for it, so how can they just take it away from me,” asks Desiree.
She alleges that during the conversation with the teacher, the topic of a recent headline-grabbing video of several of the school’s pupils doing the Nazi salute came up. “I asked if my video was as bad as that. She said that the Nazi video was quite innocent and playful, that it was not meant to be harmful and my video is much worse. I was speechless.”
“I wasn’t behaving immorally. How is going to a drag show immoral?”
As a result of her suspension, she had to remove her Land Service pin from her uniform and was humiliated by constantly being asked by her fellow school pupils about what had happened. “It was so embarrassing. I had to explain the story every time,” she says.
Since that conversation with her teacher, neither Desiree nor her parents have received any formal communication about the matter. Her godmother, Melanie van Aarde, a paralegal based in Canada, contacted the Land Service requesting clarity on what had transpired.
In an email dated 26 July, Elise Kleynhans, Chairperson of the North West chapter of the Land Service, told van Aarde that Desiree’s “unacceptable” actions were viewed “in a serious light”. She confirmed Desiree had been found guilty by the school of breaching the Land Service code of conduct with a “Category A” offence (the most serious category) for “immorality”.
Kleynhans also sent van Aarde the Land Service disciplinary procedures, which include a tribunal process that must be conducted if a member is accused of an offence. None of these procedures was followed in Desiree’s case.
Kleynhans further urged van Aarde in the letter to convince Desiree to accept the school’s decision so as not to disrupt her studies and preparations for her upcoming exams.
Desiree has no doubt about what was behind her suspension from the Land Service. “It’s plain homophobia. I think it’s because it’s a man dressed as a woman. What a scandal! And also because Beefcakes is an LGBTQ plus safe space,” she says.
Desiree is not asking for much from the school, simply for it to act fairly. “I wasn’t behaving immorally. How is going to a drag show immoral? I would like a chance to actually represent myself and know that I tried to get back what I earned and deserve,” she explains.
MambaOnline contacted both the school’s principal and the Land Service to clarify what exactly was “immoral” about Desiree’s behaviour and why the Land Service disciplinary procedures were not followed before punishing her.
Kleynhans replied on behalf of the Land Service that “the school will contact you”. After three days and a follow-up mail, the school has neither acknowledged our request nor replied to our questions.
In May, four learners from Hoërskool Rustenburg sparked outrage after a TikTok video of them giving a Nazi salute while singing a German war song went viral. The incident took place during a karaoke competition at the school.
The chairperson of the school’s governing body, Bernhard Visser condemned their behaviour at the time, promised disciplinary action against the pupils and asserted that “discrimination at any level is unacceptable as it infringes on others’ space to grow.”