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South Africa Table of Contents

South Africa


South Africa's small Muslim community of about 400,000 is gaining new members, especially among black South Africans, in the 1990s. The majority of Muslims are of Indian descent, however, and a small minority are Pakistanis or people of mixed race. Most live in or near Cape Town, Durban, or Johannesburg. The Africa Muslim Party won 47,690 votes, less than 1 percent of the total vote, in the April 1994 nationwide elections.

Most South African Muslims are members of the Sunni branch of Islam, although a small Shia sect is becoming more vocal in the 1990s. The Muslim Youth Movement, the Muslim Student Association, and several other Islamic organizations have small branches in South African universities. Diplomats and other visitors from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait have contributed to the building of mosques and other efforts to promote Islam. The desire to proselytize in the region was an important topic of discussion at the first southern African conference on Islam, which was held in Cape Town in April 1995.


Schools in South Africa, as elsewhere, reflect society's political philosophy and goals. The earliest mission schools aimed to inculcate literacy and new social and religious values, and schools for European immigrants aimed to preserve the values of previous generations. In the twentieth century, the education system assumed economic importance as it prepared young Africans for low-wage labor and protected the privileged white minority from competition. From the 1950s to the mid-1990s, no other social institution reflected the government's racial philosophy of apartheid more clearly than the education system. Because the schools were required both to teach and to practice apartheid, they were especially vulnerable to the weaknesses of the system.

Many young people during the 1980s were committed to destroying the school system because of its identification with apartheid. Student strikes, vandalism, and violence seriously undermined the schools' ability to function. By the early 1990s, shortages of teachers, classrooms, and equipment had taken a further toll on education.

South Africa's industrial economy, with its strong reliance on capital-intensive development, provided relatively few prospects for employment for those who had only minimal educational credentials, or none at all. Nationwide literacy was less than 60 percent throughout the 1980s, and an estimated 500,000 unskilled and uneducated young people faced unemployment by the end of the decade, according to the respected Education Foundation. At the same time, job openings for highly skilled workers and managers far outpaced the number of qualified applicants. These problems were being addressed in the political reforms of the 1990s, but the legacies of apartheid--the insufficient education of the majority of the population and the backlog of deficiencies in the school system--promised to challenge future governments for decades, or perhaps generations.

Data as of May 1996