This week in 1994: Democracy 25

Poster on equal education
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This week we focus on government’s decision to cut funding in former Model C schools.

Then Education Minister Professor Sibusiso Bhengu dropped the bombshell on 31 October, 1994. The move sought to reconstruct a deeply fragmented and discriminatory education system.

The end goal was to establish an equal and unified national system, which reflects the principles of a new South Africa.

Minister Bhengu also set aside R20 million for 1994-1995 to assist poor students at tertiary institutions.

He further promised to upgrade Black schools, which were in bad shape and lacked basic services like water, electricity and in some instances toilets.

The project, which included a primary school nutrition scheme, kicked off in 1995.

Government also did away with racially defined education departments and replaced them with a national system.

Same country, glaring differences

The experience of White and Black learners had vast differences prior to democratic South Africa. Initially, White schools had more than 10 times funding per pupil than those serving Black children.

Although the National Party government increased the budget for the township and rural schools as time progressed, on average it spent R1 211 for each White child and R146 for their Black counterparts in 1982.

White teachers were also paid more. However, salary scales are now the same for all educators, despite their race. The only distinguishing factor is a teacher’s level of education.


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Inferior education

The quality of education for the Black majority was also bottom of the class. Schools lacked resources and teaching aids like textbooks, laboratories and stationary.

While White teachers had university degrees, only 2.3% of their counterparts from the Black community had a university qualification. 82% of the Black teachers had no matric and were also not qualified in key subjects, like Mathematics and Physical Science.

The aim was to ensure that Black children grew up to join their parents in low-paying occupations like farm and domestic work.

Then Natives Affairs Minister who later became South Africa’s Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd argued in 1953, “There is no place for (the Bantu) in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. What is the use of teaching the Bantu child Mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?”

Most Black learners dropped out of school due to various reasons, including lack of motivation as opportunities for further education were fewer for them.

Those living in rural areas generally started schooling late, if at all. They had extended burden of travelling long distances and dangerous terrain to get to school as well as assisting with household chores like herding livestock.

Researchers say while the country has succeeded in establishing racial equity in the schooling system, overhauling apartheid’s deep-rooted systemic and structural inequalities remains a challenge.

Poor infrastructure, lack of toilets, reliable electricity and water remain a headache and an impediment to quality teaching and learning, especially in rural areas.