Recently, graduation season has seen the University of Cape Town, upper campus, Jameson Hall abuzz with smiles, gowns and degree scrolls.
For a moment, an aspect of what the youth of 1976 fought for comes to fruition decades later. Where students regardless of their race, culture or creed can have access to quality higher education, based on merit.
It has been approximately 41 years since 16 June 1976, 22 years since South Africa was declared a democratic country. Apartheid (created by the National Party) on the other hand existed for 46 years, for almost half a century. However, colonialism as a WHOLE in South Africa has existed for almost four centuries. From British colonial rule (mid 1600s-early 1900s) to British-Dutch colonial rule during early 1900s until 1948 where European settlers of Dutch descent i.e. Afrikaaner people won an election as the National Party. To institutionalize racism by way of the Aparthied regime.
Thus European settlers although the minority population lived privileged lives at the expense of people of colour. Especially, the black majority. The creation and maintenance of white privilege and oppression of non-whites (black, indian and coloured people) exhibited both systemic and literal violence on the basis of one not being white. It was through law, followed by the violent Apartheid police enforcement of said laws.
- Group Areas Act of 1950, was a law created by the National Party, Apartheid Government, that allocated different racial groups to different residential and business sections of urban areas. For instance, Cape Town as an urban area had places like Rondebosch that were classified whites only areas for exclusive white occupation and business. Where non-whites were only allowed with special permission through documentation like passes or “dompass” and a curfew that indicated that at a certain time non-whites were not be found in the area. Whereas townships like Khayelitsha or Mitchelle’s Plain were considered black or coloured areas. Consequently non-whites (black, indian and coloured people) occupied under-developed communities with poor infrastructure and public services. Well developed areas with access to resources like adequate infrastructure or public services was reserved and allocated to whites only.
- Separate Amenities Act of 1953 was a law of the racial segregation of public premises, vehicles and services. This meant that from public transport, entrances, to toilets, beaches and even benches were made separate for whites and non-whites.
- Native Resettlement Act of 1954, was the Act that legalized the forced removal of black people within or close to white areas. This law was initially seen in action during the Sophiatown forceful removals. Where homes were demolished, families were separated with brute force by Apartheid police. Then National Party head of state D.F. Malan on 9 February 1955 sent 2000 Apartheid policemen armed with guns, stunt grenades and demolition trucks to Sophiatown. Displacing about 60 000 residents to be relocated to a township called Meadowlands with no toilets, water and electricity.
Essentially, the white population received the best property , education, infrastructure and services. Racism was the law and non-whites the collateral damage thereof. As a result several resistance movements emerged during Apartheid throughout South African townships. To resist and combat violent institutionalized prejudice against non-white bodies. These movements with the leadership of certain political parties led various anti-colonial and anti-apartheid resistance movements that included the:
-Black Consciousness Movement pioneered by Steve Biko through the South African Students Movement
-Chris Hani’s Communist Party
-Robert Sobukwe’s Pan Africanist Congress
-African National Congress under Albert Luthuli later to Nelson Mandela.
For instance the protest Sharpeville in 1960 led by the Pan Africanist Congress was a call for black unity against the use of the passes and restricted freedom of movement in the native land of Africans. Similarly, several protests took place leaving massacres in their wake but by 1976 the youth of Soweto took the forefront. By demonstrating throughout the streets of Soweto against being educated in Afrikaans and being provided inadequate schooling facilities. The Bantu Education Act of 1953 as a policy was to educate black people enough to just be workers, laborers and servants for the white population. Schools attended by black people by law had the medium of instruction be English and Afrikaans. That of which majority of the population did not speak or understand. H.F. Verwoed, a significant National Party leader, justified it by stating:
“There is no place for the African in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. It is of no avail for him to receive a training which has as its aim, is the absorption into the European community”
When the said “European community” is established in a country with a black majority population (on the continent of Africa with millions of Africans) that are even recognized by the racist law as Natives. The question is then…
Imagine, a complete stranger barging into YOUR home & telling you that you do not belong there. Or that everything in YOUR home is now theirs & you are no longer welcome unless you there to clean, cook, babysit & garden for the said stranger. You do not have to though because it happened & in many ways is still happening.
Fortunately, members of the South African Students Movement were not complacent with the indoctrination of their dehumanization through Bantu education. Learners across the township of Soweto (about 3000 to 10 000) mobilized and organized to protest against being taught in languages they did not understand and against the oppressive Bantu educational system in its entirety. It was a resistance for access to equal and good quality education. However, since knowledge is power…
Their protest was met with violent hostility from Apartheid police with guns, live ammunition, stunt grenades and tanks descended upon Soweto. Where the number of students killed was unclear due to the Apartheid government’s endeavours to conceal, minimize & trivialize the actual tragedy of lives lost. The government reported 23 people killed whereas international media alluded to approximately 200 students being killed. One of which was the tragic death of Hector Peterson as shown in the image below.
In the same breath yet similar vain, 40 years later, the youth of 2016 took to Parliament in Cape Town to protest as members of the Fees Must Fall. A movement for free and decolonial education. Where again, the youth was met with violent South African police with rubber bullets, teargas and stunt grenades.
Free education because improvement of one’s circumstances is correlated to financial means to afford things like tertiary education. Also, historical impediments of restricted access to quality living spaces, education and jobs translates to limited socio-economic mobility. In other words limited access to opportunities like education and better employment provides a lack of substantial income to affect change. Thus creating and maintaining generational poverty. As well as preventing exposure and occupation of safer and productive communities and spaces. Research also shows that educated individuals tend to have better spending habits & less debt.
Decolonial education because of the Eurocentric standards of education that often entail problematic rhetoric. By prioritizing Western history, ideology and discourse. Which is often inapplicable and ineffective in the context of a developing and culturally diverse country like South Africa.
The major issue with Eurocentric epistemology is that by prioritizing Western ideals of science, literature and beauty. It teaches and perpetuates oppressive patriarchal systems that center cis gender, hetero-normative, able- bodied white men. Alienating any identity politics alternative to that.
Thus, creating a crippling psyche rooted in an inferiority complex that manifests itself as internalized racism, sexism, misogyny and general self hate as well as loss of esteem. When one believes themselves to be less than, one becomes complacent with inequality without the desire to resist and correct said oppressive ideology.
Ultimately, the protests both past and recent are for the humanization of black bodies and identity through accessible quality education. When you KNOW better, you DO better. That is why KNOWLEDGE is POWER and ignorance is not bliss.
Additionally, Apartheid was a heinous crime against humanity (especially towards people of colour) in South Africa. F.W. De Klerk should not have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending Apartheid. Apartheid should not have existed to begin with.