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Posts Tagged ‘Hermann Giliomee

The new Bantu Education?

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When Hermann Giliomee made the claim at the recent South African Historical Society conference that it is time to review the Bantu Education Act of 1953, the audience cried out in disgust. How could anyone have anything but contempt for an Act that have arguably had the most profound negative effect on South Africa’s economic fortunes, and still does? The Bantu Education Act of 1953 nationalised education for black South Africans (away from missionary education) and delineated spending on education according to race, with budgets heavily biased towards white education; in the 1970s, the per capita spending on black education was one-tenth of the spending on whites, for example. But the Act is probably most remembered for the following quote by Hendrik Verwoerd:

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?

I was reminded of this quote when Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said in parliament last week that one in four schools do not offer mathematics in grades 10, 11 and 12 because of teacher shortages and a low pupil enrollment. Let’s consider that again: 25% of the poorest schools cannot equip even their brightest kids with mathematics, a subject that is required to enter almost all technical fields, i.e. science, commerce, medicine, and engineering. Each of these schools might as well put a sign outside their classroom saying:


The reasons for these schools not teaching maths are multifaceted. A culture of ‘liberation before education’, poor teacher quality and poor school management persists in many of these schools, a legacy of the Bantu Education Act and other apartheid policies. But there are other reasons too. Equal Education treasurer Doran Isaacs blames a too dogmatic focus on the matric pass rate:

It is a direct result of a narrow and single-minded pressure for schools to increase the matric pass rate at all costs. It is compulsory to either do maths or maths literacy. So these learners are doing maths literacy, which is basic arithmetic. The two are not comparable. Schools either push kids out or they stop offering maths altogether as a way of increasing the matric rate. This results in a new form of Bantu education where the richer kids do maths and the poorer kids do maths literacy.

Sadly, it is getting worse:

The basic education department’s reports indicate a 17% decline in the number of candidates who wrote mathematics between 2009 and 2013 (from about 290 400 to 241 400). At the same time, the number of candidates writing mathematics literacy rose sharply to 58% of the 2013 cohort.

And it is unlikely to improve fast, given the poor performance of kids at a younger age:

…less than half the learners in each cohort show foundational competence in mathematics, as indicated by the 61% of grade six learners who failed to score 50%.

It remains an awkward fact that South Africa’s highest matric pass rate for black students (writing the same exam as whites) was in 1976, the year famous for the Soweto uprising. Granted, many black kids did not reach matric and in many schools not the full curriculum was covered. But compared to the situation today, were the outcomes any worse?

This is not to say that the Bantu Education Act should be labeled anything other than unjust. It not only had massive psychological effects on black South Africans, but real consequences for the economy and society too; as Miriam Mathabane asks, if Verwoerd had not taken over black education as he did, “if black children had had the same educational opportunities as white children, would there be less crime, fewer murderers, carjackers and rapists in the New South Africa, and more teachers, lawyers, writers and nurses?” Even with the budgetary constraints and political climate of the 1950s and 1960s, a different policy was possible.

But perhaps Giliomee has a point too: we should weight the impact of Bantu Education not against the single quote of a deluded man, but against the statistical evidence of its outcomes, and, in particular, the outcomes that were to follow. When historians meet in 2051 at the South African Historical Society conference, how will they compare the South African education systems of the two decades before and the decades after democracy? Which system will be considered more unjust?

The Land Act of 1913 and its alternatives

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This year is the centennial commemoration of what many now believe was the one Act that irrevocably put South Africa on the road to Apartheid. Few have been more outspoken about its impact than South Africa’s leader of the opposition, Helen Zille:

 The 1913 Land Act was apartheid’s ‘original sin’ because it reserved 87% of South Africa’s land exclusively for white ownership, as the basis of the ‘Bantustan’ policy. It not only dispossessed many black South Africans of the land they owned, but also sought to prohibit black people from ever acquiring land in so-called ‘white’ South Africa.

Unfortunately, history is never that simple. There is no doubt that most white South Africans, English and Afrikaners, at the start of the twentieth century believed that the majority of South Africa’s land – and perhaps even the lands of neighbouring countries – should be proclaimed as ‘white man’s land’. The demand for produce in the rapidly-expanding urban areas combined with low input costs, notably the low cost of black wages, made large-scale agriculture a lucrative enterprise. White farmers were also keen to expand and thus enter the traditional black areas with its highly fertile land. This steady expansion had only one consequence: that, eventually, all black land would have been claimed by white farmers. This didn’t happen though. Instead, a group of white officials in the Department of Native Affairs after unification noted the rapid decline in black land and realised that without statutory intervention blacks may soon own no land at all. The result: the Land Act of 1913. Here’s Hermann Giliomee in The Afrikaners (p. 326):

 They saw merit in the idea that a settlement, even if not equitable to blacks, would at least prevent further white encroachment in the reserves. In 1915 the Secretary for Native Affairs referred to a district where fewer than half of the farms formerly owned by ‘natives’ were still in their possession. As the liberal historian W.M. Macmillan pointed out at the time: ‘[Open] competition in land is fatal to the weaker race … Given free right of entry of white into native lands, the natives will presently be landless indeed.

Looking back from our current vintage point, it is easy to assume that the counterfactual to the Land Act of 1913 was a larger share of land for black South Africans; i.e. that instead of the 13%, black South Africans should have received 30%, or 50% or 80%. But what Giliomee suggests here is that that would be a wrong conclusion: instead, in the absence of the Land Act, the land that black South Africans were living on would have been systematically claimed by white settlers, leaving blacks destitute with few alternatives other than to provide their labour to the mines and as farmhands. The Land Act thus protected instead of pilfered land belonging to blacks.

SANNC delegation that went to England to convey African people's objections to the 1913 Land Act, 1914. L-R: Rev W. Rubusana, T. Mapike, Rev J. Dube, S. Plaatjie and S. Msane. Courtesy of South Africa History Online.

SANNC delegation that went to England to convey African people’s objections to the 1913 Land Act, 1914. L-R: Rev W. Rubusana, T. Mapike, Rev J. Dube, S. Plaatjie and S. Msane. Courtesy of South Africa History Online.

(So here’s a thought experiment: there was no Land Act in 1713 for the Khoi of the southwestern Cape. What if the Dutch East India Company had proclaimed 13% of the Western Cape as Khoi-land. Would Khoi-descendants living in these hypothetical areas today celebrate or abhor the 1713 Land Act? That is an open question. Instead, what happened in the absence of a Land Act was that many Khoi died in the smallpox epidemic of 1713 and those that remained had little choice but to work on settler farms, where many of their descendants still work today.)

The late Lawrence Schlemmer once said that he knows of no former colony – other than South Africa –  where the indigenous population continued to live on 30% of the region’s most fertile land after colonisation (I thank Hermann Giliomee for this reference). This is not to suggest that colonisation – or the Land Act – was morally just or defensible, or that it did not contribute to a highly unequal South African society. But before we denigrate the Land Act, we should think about the alternatives. Maybe missionary societies would have acquired some land for black farmers to till. Perhaps white farmers would not have infiltrated black areas to any great extent. But probably not. In all likelihood, black South Africans would have owned considerably less land than what the Land Act of 1913 sanctioned.

Written by Johan Fourie

January 30, 2013 at 09:31