Boer education, black education

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    Nat Quinn

    There was a racial commotion at the Laerskool Danie Malan, Pretoria, at the beginning of this school year. On SABC TV I saw two groups of angry parents, one white, one black, confronting each other outside the school gates. There was a heavy police presence, with guns and dogs. The EFF joined in.

    I listened with interest to the arguments, often at the tops of their voices, of both sides, and found myself rather confused about the facts of the case. But it confirmed completely my earlier assessment that you cannot really understand South Africa’s problems unless you understand the history of our education under the Boers and under the blacks.
    At Danie Malan Laerskool, the nominal cause of the uproar was that many black children had not been placed in the school this year. Spokesmen for the school claimed that this was because their parents had applied too late, when the school had already been filled. Some black parents said it was because the school was racist and didn’t want any more black children. One black parent said there was no racism at all at the school and that her daughter had been happy there for seven years.
    There were different claims about who was in the catchment area (or “feeder zone”) for the school. Were there some mainly black schools nearby but black parents did not want their children to attend them? I don’t know. There were arguments about the language of instruction. The school had originally been Afrikaans only but now did some teaching in English. The black parents wanted more English teaching. Very significantly, I heard many white parents wanting to defend their culture, which one of them explained very emphatically meant, ‘our Boer culture’, but I heard no black parents wanting to defend their African culture. And certainly none of them wanted teaching in an African language. Quite the opposite. This is highly significant.
    A bit of history is required. The Afrikaners – the Boers – have a three-century history of fleeing from restrictive governments in search of their own freedom, their own culture, their own language, and their own country. They moved away from repressive Dutch rule in the 18th Century and then repressive British rule in the 19th. They established their Boer Republics, until the British imperialists, greedy for more possessions fought to seize them by force. The Boers resisted heroically but the British, with overwhelmingly bigger armed forces eventually overcame them – but at great cost and with permanent damage to their empire.
    In the 20th Century, almost accidentally, the Afrikaners ruled over the whole of South Africa, which had never been their intention in the Boer Republics. They ruled uncertainly from 1910, and then emphatically from 1948. Once they had the power to do so, the Afrikaners established their own schools and their own universities, with teaching in Afrikaans. Afrikaner leaders sent their own children to their own Afrikaans schools. They became excellent schools and universities, of world class. The Afrikaners were proud of them, and proud of their culture and, above all, proud of their language.
    In 1994, black Africans took over South Africa. Their education policies could not have been more different from those of the Boers. They made no attempt to establish their own schools and universities teaching in black African languages. They wanted children to be taught in English, the colonial language. They seemed to want British culture. They seemed ashamed of their own culture and their own languages.
    Under the ANC’s education department, the schools serving the majority of the population had mainly black teachers, teaching in English, mainly in the townships. Most of these schools were dreadful, often with unqualified black teachers more interested in attending SADTU trade union meetings than teaching the children they were well paid to teach.
    The black African elite, including all ANC ministers and all EFF leaders, avoided these schools like the plague for their own children. They sent them to elitist private schools or Model-C schools (known as “white schools” among the black workers) with mainly white teachers.
    Black parents want to send their children to Afrikaans schools because they know the dedicated Afrikaner teachers will care for their children much better than most black teachers (not all) in township schools. From Cyril Ramaphosa to Julius Malema, from Naledi Pandor to Blade Nzimande, they all would be horrified at the thought of their own children being taught by mainly black teachers. The result has been the devastation of education for most children in South Africa, whose lives have been ruined by ANC education and whose hopes of employment have shrunk to close to zero. Why has this happened? Why the dramatic difference between Boer education and black education?
    The answer lies in the class system (as Karl Marx realised in a very different context, for wrong reasons, and to which he proposed an even worse remedy). The Afrikaners are probably the least class-ridden society on Earth, and black Africans almost certainly the most class-ridden. The Afrikaners, descended from Flemish and Dutch peasant farmers, forged themselves into a tightly knit, highly liberal, egalitarian nation as they trekked across vast, arid, hostile plains and fought grim wars like a band of brothers. They had no kings or barons or aristocrats, only veld cornets and landdrosts. “Heer” was occasional. Their highest common appellation of respect was “Oom”, and this implied age not class. By contrast, black Africa was highly traditional, very hierarchical, with kings and chiefs, an elaborate system of aristocracy, and elaborate rituals of deference by the low classes to the high. The black commoner had to pay ostentatious homage to his black lord.
    When the Afrikaners took over South Africa, they carried on with their almost classless ways – although strictly within their own ranks. Under apartheid, the Afrikaans ruling class cared very much about the Afrikaans working classes. They found mass employment for them in their railways and post offices. They promoted industrialisation, which enriched the Afrikaner lower classes. Above all, they gave them a very good education. Generations of dedicated, hard-working, highly disciplined Afrikaner teachers advanced the Afrikaans lower classes by giving them good skills and literacy. The Afrikaans rulers often sent their own children to the same schools that the Afrikaans lower classes attended. It is true that under apartheid the Afrikaans leaders oppressed the black majority in a cruel and stupid way, resulting in awful suffering and humiliation, but they always supported their own people, however lowly.
    The black ruling classes that took over South Africa in 1994 showed utter contempt for the black lower classes – the same contempt that has been shown in almost all Sub-Saharan countries when they changed from colonial rule to black majority rule. Education is the worst manifestation of this contempt. The ANC elite doesn’t give a damn about the plight of working class black children dying in pit latrines in horrible township and rural schools. I have heard it said by some older black people that ANC education for most black children might be even worse than Bantu education in the past. The black upper classes regard a school with white teachers as the most important mark of their superior status. Mercedes, BMW, Gucci and Louis Vuitton are all very well, but you’ve only really made it when your children go to a “white” school.
    Up to now the ANC has assumed – quite correctly – that poor black people, especially in the countryside, will continue voting for them no matter how badly they betray them or however contemptuously they regard them. But the screw seems to be turning (and turning on the rather surprising issue of electricity failure). The ANC is panicking. When the screw turned on Robert Mugabe in 2008, and he lost the election by a landslide, he simply sent in his boot boys to reverse the decision of the electorate. He sent in his police and army, both highly efficient at spreading terror and breaking bones. He also appealed to the ANC for help in crushing his black people – help which the ANC eagerly provided. But under the ANC, the police and army are so useless I doubt they’d be any good even at simple terror and repression. And the ANC has no neighbour that despises human rights to help them defy the voters.
    Back at Laerskool Danie Malan, I heard arguments about language and culture, and the role of state schools as opposed to private schools. One of the white Afrikaans parents wanted the school to defend his “Boer culture”. Somebody else, black, said that since Laerskool Danie Malan is a state school, it should not be defending or promoting any culture. I have heard arguments from parents of black children at elitist private schools that the schools did not respect their African culture (which is paradoxical because they sent their children there precisely because they wanted them to escape African culture). Should a government school be defending any culture? And if there should be no culture, what does no culture look like? Like a bland American family TV show, with English language, Coca-Cola, and mum and dad with two raceless children? If any specific culture is to be adopted, which one should it be? Or should all cultures, African, Afrikaans, Indian, Christian, Jewish, Moslem and animist, be accepted in the same schools?
    Some of the black parents at Danie Malan were complaining that white and black children seemed to separate at break times. They obviously object to the idea of “safe spaces”, where various groups can congregate among themselves and feel safe and at ease in their own company. They want them all to be forced together in one common mass and culture. But what culture might that be?
    The EFF says that ‘Class allocations must reflect the demographics of the society and be in line with the country’s transformation agenda’. Well, then take the demographics of language. The percentages of home languages in South Africa are as follows: Zulu 24%; Xhosa 18%; Afrikaans 18%; Sesotho 9%; English 8%. Does the EFF want 24% of our schoolchildren to be taught in Zulu? Does it want twice as many schoolchildren taught in Afrikaans as in English? Surely it can’t possibly want all children to be taught in English, the colonial language, which is spoken as a first language by only 8% of the population? But apparently it does. So much for reflecting the demographics.  “Transformation” means kicking out the whites. But if all the white teachers were kicked out of Laerskool Danie Malan and all the teachers were black, no EFF leaders would want to send their children there.


    Boer education, black education – Daily Friend

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