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The apartheid segregation plan of education


Mduduzi Mbiza is a Pretoria-born writer.

The Afrikaans Decree not only denied black people mathematics, arithmetic and social studies, they were denied the future.

Northern Transvaal Region

To: Circuit Inspectors

Principals of Schools: With Std V classes and Secondary Schools

Medium of Instruction Std V – Form V

  1. It has been decided that for the sake of uniformity English and Afrikaans will be used as media of instruction in our schools on a 50-50 basis as follows:

  2. Std V, Form I and II

    2.1. English medium: General Science, Practical Subjects (Homecraft, Needlework, Wood and Metalwork, Art, Agricultural Science)

    2.2. Afrikaans medium: Mathematics, Arithmetic, Social Studies

    2.3. Mother Tongue: Religion Instruction, Music, Physical Culture

    The prescribed medium for these subject must be used as from January 1975. In 1976 the secondary schools will continue using the same medium for these subjects.

  3. Forms III, IV and V

    All schools which have not as yet done so should introduce the 50-50 basis as from the beginning of 1975. The same medium must be used for the subjects related to those mentioned in paragraph 2 and for their alternatives.

    Your co-operation in this matter will be appreciated.

    (Sgd) JG Erasmus

    Regional Director of Bantu Education

    N. Transvaal Region

This is famously known as the Afrikaans Medium Decree. The Minister of Bantu Administration and Development, MC Botha issued a decree in 1974 that made the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools compulsory from Standard 5 and onwards.

The Regional Director of Bantu Education, JG Erasmus told circuit inspectors and principals of schools that from 1 January 1975, Afrikaans was to be used for mathematics, arithmetics and social studies. English was to be the medium of instruction for general science and practical subjects (homecraft, needlework, woodwork, metalwork, art, agricultural science). Indigenous languages to be used for religious instruction, music, and physical culture.

Punt Janson, the Deputy Minister of Bantu Education at that time, was quoted as saying: A Black man may be trained to work on a farm or in a factory. He may work for an employer who is either English speaking or Afrikaans speaking and the man who has to give him instructions may be either English speaking or Afrikaans speaking. Why should we now start quarrelling about the medium of instruction among the Black people as well?… No, I have not consulted them and I am not going to consult them. I have consulted the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa …”

The decree was deeply resented by blacks, because Afrikaans was widely viewed – in the words of Desmond Tutu – as “the language of the oppressor”.

I know that many will not agree with me in this; in as much as I don’t like the idea of the decree, I personally think that their approach was somewhat genius.

When the apartheid government came to power in 1948, they saw the schooling system as the major vehicle for spreading their beliefs – the beliefs that Africans are inferior and that they should forever submit to whites.

The apartheid government segregated black people from many opportunities, opportunities that would have led them to better lives. The apartheid government used what I would like to call The apartheid segregation plan of education – I want to believe that the decree was used as the government’s first approach to exclude black people from subjects that would have created better opportunities for them.

However, as some black students managed to move past the decree and learned mathematics regardless of the language barrier, the apartheid government would implement their second plan – this is where they actually said no, whether you were qualified or not – they just didn’t want to give you the job. They just wanted you to go farm, they didn’t want you working in a science laboratory. I want to believe that this was their initial approach, they made it their second approach probably because they didn’t want to be seen as total “bastards” – it’s like they wanted to sugar-coat their actions with the decree.

The Europeans who colonised Africa generally viewed the natives as intellectually and morally inferior, and exploited the labour of the local populations. Thus it was no surprise that when, in the early 20th Century, colonial governments instituted public education systems, the goal was to prepare young Africans to be compliant labourers. In Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe), for instance, the formal British education policy aimed to “develop a vast pool of cheap unskilled manual labour”.

The result was, in effect, two school systems: one appropriately subsidised, and the other chronically under-resourced. (Fighting for Equality in Education: Student Activism in Post – apartheid South Africa. CCC-14-0003.0. Case Consortium @ Colombia)

The apartheid government used education to exclude blacks from some education. The decree doesn’t say that blacks were not supposed to take mathematics, arithmetic and social studies as their subjects of choice. Instead, what it said was: it’s okay for black people to take these subjects, however they would study them using our language of choice, Afrikaans – the language they probably didn’t understand, hated and regarded as the language of the oppressor.

They still gave them the education but they delivered the education using a foreign language. They used the same education system to try and exclude them.

From where I see it, the decree read the future beforehand and the then government wanted to make sure it was in their hands.

The observation of the Afrikaans medium decree is clear indication why our black parents never got to make it to the privilege level, they never got to experience laboratories, they never got to experience mathematics, arithmetic, and social studies as much as they would have wished and this made it hard for them to share these experiences with their children.

This is why it is important for our current education system to put a very high emphasis on the subjects that were denied to our parents.

It is now 44 years later after the decree was initiated, and we are now starting to see the importance of those subjects that were under the Afrikaans medium. Today South Africa has a very high shortage of maths and science careers.

Our black parents were not denied mathematics, arithmetic, and social studies, they were actually denied the future. DM


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