Re: Kaffir, darling...

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Posted by Lilly from ? ( on Monday, July 08, 2002 at 11:43AM :

In Reply to: Re: Kaffir, darling... posted by panch from ( on Monday, July 08, 2002 at 10:54AM :


by Mark Mathabane, non-fiction


When I was growing up in Alexandra, an overcrowded black ghetto about ten miles north of Johannesburg, I often heard the name of Dr. Hendrick Verwoerd mentioned among adults. It was one of the most hated.

I wondered why. All I could glean was that Dr. Verwoerd was a bad white man who had something to do with black education. And at the government-controlled tribal schools I attended we were taught nothing about Verwoerd and he had done. It was not until my brother Mark (known as Johannes in the book) brought me to America in 1993 to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a nurse that I finally learned more about Dr. Verwoerd.

He thoroughly deserved to be hated. He was an avowed white supremacist. He staunchly believed in apartheid, South Africa’s system of legalized segregation and oppression, which Afrikaners created after they came to power in 1948. To insure that whites, who made up only 14 percent of the population, dominated blacks, who made up 74 percent, Dr. Verwoed advocated the creation of the most detestable pillars of apartheid: Bantu (black) Education. More than anything else, Bantu Education wreaked incalculable damage to generations of black children in order to insure their subsevience.

I can only weep at the lives and human potential it wasted, and marvel at how I survived its insidious poison. It wasn’t easy. For instance, after I arrived in America, I found out that even though I had matriculated from high school after fifteen years of study, hard work, setbacks and sacrifice, I didn’t know material seventh-graders in American high schools had already mastered. Under Bantu Education the government had determined what subjects black children should be taught. I knew a lot about domestic science, sewing and gardening but I lacked the basics. Especially in the sciences, courses I needed to study nursing.

The only way to gain that essential knowledge was to go back to high school. I was already twenty-three. Attending eleventh grade with sixteen-and seventeen-year-olds, many of whom took education for granted, was a hard thing to do. Particularly because I was already a mother of a six-year-old son, a fact I felt compelled to hide, for fear of being ridiculed.

I persevered in my studies toward an American high school diploma at East Forsyth High School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I received a great deal of encouragement from wonderfully sympathetic teachers, especially the late Mrs. Watson, my English teacher. Mrs. Watson taught me more than how to communicate effectively and how to appreciate literature. As a black woman, she became a powerful role model. I often confided in her my doubts, fears and what I had endured under apartheid. She was constantly urging me to work hard, to aim higher and not let my past handicap me. I received my high school diploma in 1995, the proudest day in my life. Two years later I received a nursing assistant degree from Forsyth Community College. I’m now studying to be a registered nurse. I have, so to speak, a new lease on life.

But for all my success, I often think of how my life, and the lives of the millions of black children in South Africa, would have turned out if Dr. Verwoerd had not taken over black education in 1954. Would our schools have been as well-funded and supportive as American schools? Would all those talented, determined and hard-working students who dropped out because their parents couldn’t afford the money to keep them in school have achieved great things? Would all those thousands who died fighting for a better education system be still alive?

What would their contributions to the new South Africa have been? And if black children had had the same educational opportunities as white children, for whom education was free, would there be fewer criminals, rapists, carjackers and murderers in the new South Africa, and more teachers, lawyers, writers and nurses?

The answers to these questions may never be known. But one thing is sure. Bantu Education was nothing more than slave education. It’s aim was to make blacks more subservient to white people. And Dr. Verwoerd minced no words about this being his ultimate goal. In a speech before Parliament, he said:

"When I have control of native education, I will reform it so that natives will be taught from childhood to realize that equality with Europeans is not for them. There is no place for him (the black child) in European society above the level of certain forms of labour…What is the use of teaching a Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?"

Before Bantu Education came along, mission and private schools had taught black children mathematics, English and the sciences. They had striven against great odds to provide generations of blacks with a quality education that prepared them for participation in a modern South Africa. In the process they had produced teachers, nurses, doctors, writers, lawyers and leaders Nelson Mandela.

After black schools came under Dr. Verwoerd’s control, they began emphasizing tribalism, obedience to authority and rigid discipline. The government now decided how many black schools there could be, where they should be located and who should attend them. Most insidious, the government now hired, promoted and fired teachers and principals, and determined what black children should be taught and at what rate.

Bovet Community School in Alexandra also came under government control. An independent school that had been founded Swiss Missionaries, under Bantu Education, the school began emphasizing tribalism. Only children who spoke Shangaan as their mother tongue, and who were born in Alexandra or whose parents had permits to live and work in so-called "white South Africa," could attend. My parents had no permit allowing them to have a family in Alexandra. But my mother was Shangaan, and I was born in Alexandra on December 18th, 1969, so I could only attend Bovet.

By the time I enrolled in January of 1975, at age 6, Bantu Education was firmly entrenched. Schools like Bovet had effectively been turned into indoctrination centers and penal colonies. Many teachers, anxious to keep their jobs, had become its unwitting and brutal instruments. We were punished daily, for everything from wearing the wrong uniform, for getting our homework wrong, for not paying our school fees on time, for arriving late for assembly, for making noise in the classroom, and for failing the cleanliness inspection.

For as long as I live, I shall never forget the pure terror I felt during cleanliness inspection….

-- Lilly
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