South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid


Bantu Education

"In 1953 the government passed the Bantu Education Act, which the people didn't want. We didn't want this bad education for our children. This Bantu Education Act was to make sure that our children only learnt things that would make them good for what the government wanted: to work in the factories and so on; they must not learn properly at school like the white children. Our children were to go to school only three hours a day, two shifts of children every day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, so that more children could get a little bit of learning without government having to spend more money. Hawu! It was a terrible thing that act."
Baard and Schreiner, My Spirit is Not Banned, Part 2
The 1953 Bantu Education Act was one of apartheid's most offensively racist laws. It brought African education under control of the government and extended apartheid to black schools. Previously, most African schools were run by missionaries with some state aid. Nelson Mandela and many other political activists had attended mission schools. But Bantu education ended the relative autonomy these schools had enjoyed up to that point. Instead, government funding of black schools became conditional on acceptance of a racially discriminatory curriculum administered by a new Department of Bantu Education. Most mission schools for Africans chose to close rather than promote apartheid in education.

Centralization of schools under a new government department was not in and of itself opposed by school administrators, parents, and students. What the African community vehemently opposed was the creation of a separate and unequal system of black education rather than a single public schooling system for all South Africans. The white government made it clear that Bantu education was designed to teach African learners to be "hewers of wood and drawers of water" for a white-run economy and society, regardless of an individual's abilities and aspirations. In what are now infamous words, Minster of Native Affairs, Dr. Hendrik F. Verwoerd, explained the government's new education policy to the South African Parliament:
There is no space for him [the "Native"] in the European Community above certain forms of labor. For this reason it is of no avail for him to receive training which has its aim in the absorption of the European Community, where he cannot be absorbed. Until now he has been subjected to a school system which drew him away from his community and misled him by showing him the greener pastures of European Society where he is not allowed to graze. (quoted in Kallaway, 92)
The ideological framework for Bantu education had its origins in a manifesto crafted in 1939 by Afrikaner nationalists. Based on the racist and paternalistic view that the education of blacks was a special responsibility of a superior white race, this document called for "Christian National Education" and advocated separate schools for each of South Africa's "population groups"-whites, Africans, Indians, and Coloureds. Segregated education disadvantaged all black groups, but was particularly devastating for Africans. In a pamphlet released in 1948, the organization asserted: "... the task of white South Africa with regard to the native is to Christianize him and help him culturally... [N]ative education and teaching must lead to the development of an independent and self-supporting and self-maintaining native community on a Christian National basis" (quoted in Hlatshwayo, 64).

Bantu education served the interests of white supremacy. It denied black people access to the same educational opportunities and resources enjoyed by white South Africans. Bantu education denigrated black people's history, culture, and identity. It promoted myths and racial stereotypes in its curricula and textbooks. Some of these ideas found expression in the notion of the existence of a separate "Bantu society" and "Bantu economy" which were taught to African students in government-run schools. This so-called "Bantu culture" was presented in crude and essentialized fashion. African people and communities were portrayed as traditional, rural, and unchanging. Bantu education treated blacks as perpetual children in need of parental supervision by whites, which greatly limited the student's vision of "her place" in the broader South African society (Hartshorne, 41).

 
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