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South African education is in serious trouble

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South African education is in serious trouble

Under apartheid, education in South Africa was deliberately skewed against the indigenous black people. Twenty years into black majority rule, education is still failing the indigenous black people. From Johannesburg, our correspondent Pusch Commey tells why things have not changed much.

There is a public outcry that South African education is in crisis. This came to a head when in January this year, a 6-year-old Grade R (Reception) pupil fell into a pit latrine in a rural school in Limpopo Province and drowned in faeces. Prior to that, in 2012, there had been a big scandal. Textbooks meant to be delivered to school kids in the same province arrived months after the start of the school year. Some did not arrive at all, they were dumped on wasteland. Meanwhile, the contractors who were given the delivery job had pocketed their fat cheques. 

These are some of the symptoms of a general malaise, however, there are indications that there are wider problems than pervasive corruption, negligence, and apathy. And the roots of it go a long way back to the Bantu Education Act of 1953 (Act No. 47 of 1953; later renamed the Black Education Act, 1953). This is often cited as the original sin.

Pioneered by a man who many call the father of apartheid, the former Prime Minister (later President) Hendrik Verwoerd, the Bantu Education Act was a segregation law which legalised several aspects of the apartheid system. Its major provision was enforcing racially-separated educational facilities, and the design of a curriculum meant to keep blacks at the bottom of the food chain. 

But often ignored are other methodologies that affirmed and uplifted the minority Afrikaner cultural universe and language, as a driving force of success.

In 1977 when the Afrikaner powers that ruled the country tried to impose their language on blacks to solidify their superiority and domination, it led to an uprising in the Soweto township of Johannesburg, during which 87 school children were killed by the police. 

Today the empowerment of the Afrikaner is complete. Throughout the country, the Afrikaner-centredschools and universities of excellence built with state resources around the Afrikaner language, culture and knowledge systems stand as testimony. Needless to say, Hendrik Verwoerd was a cum laude student in philosophy and psychology, and completed his masters in those subjects. 

For a long period of time, Verwoerd was part of governmental organisations that tackled the problem of poor white Afrikaners, who played second fiddle to the English population, then the dominant force in the economic landscape of South Africa. 

When the National Party of the Afrikaner came into power in 1948, Verwoerd, the psychologist and philosopher, embarked on a “Moses mission” to lead the Afrikaner to the land of milk and honey, at the indigenous Africans, Indians and Coloureds was not free. In the 1970s, the per capita governmental spending on black education was one-tenth of the spending on white education.

As the minister of native affairs before becoming prime minister, Verwoerd claimed that the aim of Bantu education was to solve South Africa’s “ethnic problems” by creating complementary economic and political units for different ethnic groups. 

But his intentions were clear when he declared: “There is no place for the Bantu in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour … What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?”

The schools reserved for the country’s white children were of First World standards, and the education was both mandatory and free. Meanwhile, a good 30% of black schools did not have electricity, 25% no running water, and less than half had plumbing. The education for the indigenous Africans, Indians and Coloureds was not free. In the 1970s, the per capita governmental spending on black education was one-tenth of the spending on white education.

The Black Education Act was repealed in 1979 and replaced with the Education and Training Act of the same year which continued the system of racially-segregated education. Segregation became unconstitutional after the introduction of the Interim Constitution in 1994, and most sections of the Education and Training Act were replaced by the South African Schools Act of 1996.

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