South Africa Table of Contents
Many African societies placed strong emphasis on traditional forms of education well before the arrival of Europeans. Adults in Khoisan- and Bantu-speaking societies, for example, had extensive responsibilities for transmitting cultural values and skills within kinship-based groups and sometimes within larger organizations, villages, or districts. Education involved oral histories of the group, tales of heroism and treachery, and practice in the skills necessary for survival in a changing environment.
In many Nguni-speaking chiefdoms of southern Africa, highly regimented age-groups of young men acquired knowledge and skills vital to their survival and prestige under the instruction of respected military, religious, or political leaders. The socialization of women, although sometimes done within age-groups, was more often in small groups of siblings or cousins, and it emphasized domestic and agricultural skills necessary to the survival of the family. In all of these settings, the transmission of religious values was a vital element of education.
The socialization of African youth was sometimes interrupted by warfare or political upheaval. More serious disruptions occurred in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century, when government policies drew large numbers of adult men away from their homes for long periods of employment in mines or urban industries. Women were heads of households for months or years at a time. And after apartheid became entrenched in the early 1950s, security forces sometimes removed entire villages from their land and relocated them to less desirable areas in the interest of white economic development.
The earliest European schools in South Africa were established in the Cape Colony in the late seventeenth century by Dutch Reformed Church elders committed to biblical instruction, which was necessary for church confirmation (see Early European Settlement, ch. 1). In rural areas, itinerant teachers (meesters ) taught basic literacy and math skills. British mission schools proliferated after 1799, when the first members of the London Missionary Society arrived in the Cape Colony.
Language soon became a sensitive issue in education. At least two dozen English-language schools operated in rural areas of the Cape Colony by 1827, but their presence rankled among devout Afrikaners, who considered the English language and curriculum irrelevant to rural life and Afrikaner values. Throughout the nineteenth century, Afrikaners resisted government policies aimed at the spread of the English language and British values, and many educated their children at home or in the churches.
After British colonial officials began encouraging families to emigrate from Britain to the Cape Colony in 1820, the Colonial Office screened applicants for immigration for background qualifications. They selected educated families, for the most part, to establish a British presence in the Cape Colony, and after their arrival, these parents placed a high priority on education. Throughout this time, most religious schools in the eastern Cape accepted Xhosa children who applied for admission, and in Natal many other Nguni-speaking groups sent their children to mission schools after the mid-nineteenth century. The government also financed teacher training classes for Africans as part of its pacification campaign throughout the nineteenth century.
By 1877 some 60 percent of school-age children in Natal were enrolled in school, as were 49 percent in the Cape Colony. In the Afrikaner republics, however, enrollments remained low--only 12 percent in the Orange Free State and 8 percent in the Transvaal--primarily the result of Afrikaner resistance to British education. Enrollments in these republics increased toward the end of the century, after the government agreed to the use of Afrikaans in the schools and to allow Afrikaner parents greater control over primary and secondary education.
By the late nineteenth century, three types of schools were receiving government assistance--ward schools, or small rural schools generally employing one teacher; district schools, providing primary-level education to several towns in an area; and a few secondary schools in larger cities. But during the last decades of that century, all four provinces virtually abolished African enrollment in government schools. African children attended mission schools, for the most part, and were taught by clergy or by lay teachers, sometimes with government assistance.
Higher education was generally reserved for those who could travel to Europe, but in 1829 the government established the multiracial South African College, which later became the University of Cape Town. Religious seminaries accepted a few African applicants as early as 1841. In 1852 British officials in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State acknowledged the right of Afrikaners to establish their own institutions of higher learning, and based on this understanding, Britain's incoming governor--Sir George Grey--allocated small sums of money to help fund Afrikaner institutions. The government established Grey College--later the University of the Orange Free State--in Bloemfontein in 1855 and placed it under the supervision of the Dutch Reformed Church. The Grey Institute was established in Port Elizabeth in 1856; Graaff-Reinet College was founded in 1860. The Christian College was founded at Potchefstroom in 1869 and was later incorporated into the University of South Africa and renamed Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education.
Following the British victory in the South African War, the new representative of the Crown, Sir Alfred Milner, brought thousands of teachers from Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to instill the English language and British cultural values, especially in the two former Afrikaner republics. To counter the British influence, a group of Afrikaner churches proposed an education program, Christian National Education, to serve as the core of the school curriculum. The government initially refused to fund schools adopting this program, but Jan C. Smuts, the Transvaal leader who later became prime minister, was strongly committed to reconciliation between Afrikaners and English speakers, and he favored local control over many aspects of education. Provincial autonomy in education was strengthened in the early twentieth century, and all four provincial governments used government funds primarily to educate whites.
The National Party (NP) was able to capitalize on the fear of racial integration in the schools to build its support. The NP's narrow election victory in 1948 gave Afrikaans new standing in the schools, and after that, all high-school graduates were required to be proficient in both Afrikaans and English. The NP government also reintroduced Christian National Education as the guiding philosophy of education.
Data as of May 1996
South Africa Table of Contents