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South Africa

Soweto and Its Aftermath

Tensions over language in education erupted into violence on June 16, 1976, when students took to the streets in the Johannesburg township of Soweto. Their action was prompted by the decision of Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of the Bantu education system, to enforce a regulation requiring that one-half of all high-school classes must be taught in Afrikaans. A harsh police response resulted in the deaths of several children, some as young as eight or nine years old. In the violence that followed, more than 575 people died, at least 134 of them under the age of eighteen.

Youthful ANC supporters abandoned school in droves; some vowed to "make South Africa ungovernable" to protest against apartheid education. Others left the country for military training camps run by the ANC or other liberation armies, mostly in Angola, Tanzania, or Eastern Europe. "Liberation before education" became their battle cry.

The schools suffered further damage as a result of the unrest of 1976. Vandals and arsonists damaged or destroyed many schools and school property. Students who tried to attend school and their teachers were sometimes attacked, and administrators found it increasingly difficult to maintain normal school activities. Some teachers and administrators joined in the protests.

The National Policy for General Affairs Act (No. 76) of 1984 provided some improvements in black education but maintained the overall separation called for by the Bantu education system. This act gave the minister of national education authority to determine general policy for syllabuses, examinations, and certification qualifications in all institutions of formal and informal education. But responsibility for implementing these policies was divided among numerous government departments and offices, resulting in a bewildering array of educational authorities: For example, the Department of Education and Training was responsible for black education outside the homelands. Each of the three houses of parliament--for whites, coloureds, and Indians--had an education department for one racial group, and each of the ten homelands had its own education department. In addition, several other government departments managed specific aspects of education.

Education was compulsory for all racial groups, but at different ages, and the law was enforced differently. Whites were required to attend school between the ages of seven and sixteen. Black children were required to attend school from age seven until the equivalent of seventh grade or the age of sixteen, but this law was enforced only weakly, and not at all in areas where schools were unavailable. For Asians and coloured children, education was compulsory between the ages of seven and fifteen.

The discrepancies in education among racial groups were glaring. Teacher: pupil ratios in primary schools averaged 1:18 in white schools, 1:24 in Asian schools, 1:27 in coloured schools, and 1:39 in black schools. Moreover, whereas 96 percent of all teachers in white schools had teaching certificates, only 15 percent of teachers in black schools were certified. Secondary-school pass rates for black pupils in the nationwide, standardized high-school graduation exams were less than one-half the pass rate for whites.

As the government implemented the 1984 legislation, new violence flared up in response to the limited constitutional reforms that continued to exclude blacks (see Constitutional Change, ch. 4). Finally, the government began to signal its awareness that apartheid could not endure. By 1986 President P.W. Botha (1984-89) had stated that the concept of apartheid was "outdated," and behind-the-scenes negotiations had begun between government officials and imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela. The gap between government spending on education for different racial groups slowly began to narrow, and penalties for defying apartheid rules in education began to ease.

The School System in the 1990s

Reorganizing education was one of the most daunting tasks the government faced as apartheid laws were being lifted in the 1990s. President Frederik W. (F.W.) de Klerk, in a speech to Parliament in January 1993, stressed the need for a nonracial school system, with enough flexibility to allow communities to preserve their religious and cultural values and their home language. De Klerk established the Education Co-ordination Service to manage education during the political transition of the 1990s, and he charged it with eliminating the bureaucratic duplication that had resulted from apartheid education.

In August 1993, de Klerk gathered together leading experts on education in the National Education and Training Forum to formulate a policy framework for restructuring education. Anticipating rising education costs, the government earmarked 23.5 percent of the national budget in fiscal year (FY--see Glossary) 1993-94 for education. It established new education offices and gave them specific responsibilities within the reorganization plan. When the new school year began in January 1995, all government-run primary and secondary schools were officially integrated, and the first stage of the transformation in education had begun almost without violence.

The new policies were difficult to implement, however, and many policy details remained to be worked out. Education was compulsory for all children between age seven and age sixteen, for example, but there had not been enough time or resources to provide adequate schools and teachers for the entire school-age population. The schools received government assistance for teachers' salaries only; they had to charge fees for equipment and supplies, but pupils who could not pay school fees could not be expelled from school.

In 1995 South Africa had a total of 20,780 primary and secondary schools. Of these, 20,303 belonged to the government, and 477 were private. In addition, 226 specialized schools were in operation for gifted pupils or students with special needs (see table 3, Appendix). More than 11 million pupils were enrolled, about 6.95 million in primary school and 4.12 million in secondary schools. The number of teachers in the regular primary and secondary schools was 344,083, of whom 226,900 were black. Of the white teachers, more than 60 percent were Afrikaners. Men teachers were paid substantially more than women; women's salaries averaged 83 percent of men's salaries for the same job with equal qualifications.

Data as of May 1996

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