South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

Bantu Education

Bantu education schools suffered terribly from government's neglect. Enormous disparities in funding between white and black schools and student-teacher ratios adversely affected the quality of education for black students. The Bantu Education Account of 1955 made matters worse by mandating that African education be funded by the general poll tax collected from Africans rather than from the General Revenue Account used to fund white education. Even after the separate account was abolished in 1972, education of African children still remained grossly under-resourced, receiving one-tenth of the money afforded to whites and struggling with 56:1 student-teacher ratios (Hartshorne, 41).

Dilapidated school buildings, overcrowded classrooms, inadequate instruction, poor teacher training, and a lack of textbooks plagued African education. Students struggled to learn under such conditions. As former teacher Eddie Daniels observed, even the sports fields at white schools were far superior to those at black schools: "the first thing that strikes me at both [white] schools was these huge stretches of green fields. Hell man! And in black schools you've got nothing, and I look at this it's just vast. You've got huge playing fields, tennis courts… It's painful, painful." Watch Daniels interview segment]

In an interview in 2006, Obed Bapela described his experience in overcrowded Bantu education schools in Alexandra township (in Johannesburg's northern suburbs):
… the school that I went to was an overcrowded school, there were quite many of them in Alexandra that were overcrowded, there were not enough schools to take care of all of us so we used to share classes. There would be a morning class that goes up to 11 o'clock and then we'll go home and then other kids of the same grade will come after 11 o'clock up to 2 o'clock and therefore the teachers will then run two sets of class … in some situations they will even use a tree in the schoolyard… We were around 70 to 80 [pupils in class] when I was in grade 1 and grade 2. [Watch Bapela interview segment]
A racist educational system perpetuated South Africa's social hierarchy in which skin color was very closely correlated to class. But Bantu education also brought a huge increase in the number of pupils attending primary (and later secondary) schools. Black students rose in protest in 1976 when the Department of Bantu Education mandated that higher primary and junior secondary students would have to learn some key subjects in Afrikaans – the language of the oppressor. This decision sparked a youth uprising in Soweto, which then spread nationwide and become a watershed event in the struggle against apartheid.


Baard, Frances, and Barbie Schreiner. My Spirit Is Not Banned. Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1986.

Hartshorne, K. B. Crisis and Challenge : Black Education 1910-1990. Cape Town: New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Hlatshwayo, Simphiwe A. Education and Independence : Education in South Africa, 1658-1988. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Hyslop, Jonathan. The Classroom Struggle: Policy and Resistance in South Africa, 1940-1990. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1999.

Kallaway, Peter. Apartheid and Education : The Education of Black South Africans. Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1984.

Kallaway, Peter, ed. The History of Education under Apartheid, 1948-1994 : the Doors of Learning and Culture shall be Opened. New York: P. Lang, 2002.
AODL African Studies Center MSU Matrix NEH