[Dagless Kangero] South Africa and the repetiton of History


Apartheid: A policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race.

South Africa is experiencing a turmoil and a series of strikes by the school age population who are claiming lower fees, and the elimination of a western prejudiced education system. The focal argument to be conveyed is that history repeats itself, and unless effective change is pursued and implemented: historical battles become those of the present. The apartheid being a major historical event in the South African borders will be observed in retrospect and a mutual interest with the current events in South Africa will be created. The paramount importance and role of identity in understanding inequality in society will be considered and reflected on post apartheid South Africa.

One of the concepts introduced and legalised during the apartheid was “Bantu education” which was later renamed the “Black Education Act”. This system diminished all the autonomous power black schools previously enjoyed and maintained, instead placing their power in government authority who threatened to cut spending unless a discriminatory system based on race, in favour of the whites and interest of the government, was adopted. Said system was in place for the reasons of moulding and creating a set of children who would perform in the labour market at minimum wage and only pertaining to the black children because it was considered too low life for the whites. On that account, was the government of South Africa, with its racist undertones, suggesting that educating black people was solely for the benefit and purpose of the superior whites to cater for their needs and desires?

Historical pressure and the end of the apartheid in the nation of South Africa resulted in a new non- discriminatory policy which would have the desirable outcome of ending white supremacy and desegregating the blacks from societal resources. One of the elements included integrating separate languages in the education system which would equally represent the black and white people population. This was for the valued outcome of harmonising educational facilities for the black and white people exempt of any discriminatory factors which had previously prevailed in the education system, namely the Bantu education. Unfortunately, the desired hasn't been the reality. Implicitly, the whites are not willing to give up their position of superiority and thus why these disparities still exist within the system. The black South Africans, in their current protests, are attempting to diminish western influence in their systems and retain their “African” heritage which they have previously dissociated themselves with (Verwey and Quayle, 2012).

Allowing equal representation of identities within the system would denote that whites and blacks are of equal positions in the state, which the whites are not willing to acknowledge nor allow. Whats happening in South Africa now is especially important as South Africans have essentially acknowledged their African heritage but resisted the implications of the broader “Africa” identity (Verwey and Quayle, 2012). Identity is of great significance in evaluating tensions within a state because of the inheritable consequences of historical events, such as the apartheid, which reassembled identities and social construct (New Labour Forum, 2010).

In addition, there was the promise of free tertiary education to which would further paralyse the previously existing discrimination in the education system as even minority groups, and those marginalised by historical events and societal hierarchies would have equal access to higher level education. Therefore allowing equal opportunities for all the citizens of the state to improve their quality of life, regardless of race and extensively - of historical oppression which has created an inferior group unable to benefit from the increasing development of the state. However, although the policy was introduced and intended to come to play post the apartheid, it has yet to be fully implemented and enforced by government.

The shift in political power in 1994 is at part credible for the observed distress circulating education system specifically the minority group of the school age population in South Africa (Heugh, 2000). History repeats itself. (Black) students performing the protests are calling and aiming for the confiscation of Afrikaans as part of a subject in the school’s education programme because they contend that to be the language of the white oppressor (Calderwood, 2016). However, digging deeper into history would reveal that the real rage sources beyond just from the desire of being taught in a language which they are more familiar with. The system initiated during the apartheid also created false interpretations of the black population - inaccurately representing their culture, history, and identity - whilst further promoting infelicitous stereotypes in the subject material to be taught. Therefore, black students are fighting for their identity- their correct identity and not the one imposed by the whites. There have been multiple reports on the news of girls not being able to attend school in their natural hair for this very reason- it is incompatible with western identity in which is threatening to the superior white population.

Free education was promised to the citizens of South African students since 1994 and has since been repeated with each election cycle, but with the progression of each educational year, governments have instead reduced their role in subsidising institutions which has consequently resulted in the rise of school fees. Students are mad. They scream “Fees must Fall” - because this is what they have been told would happen and they are claiming their right to this promise. Unlike the previous era’s however, social media and the increasing power and scope of information in the globe allows these students to vocalise their views and reach an audience which would further amplify their voices.

In conclusion, history is repetitive because the same actions will have the same reactions with all things held equal. The country of South Africa should expect to experience similar social movements until permanent solutions are executed in order to completely eradicate racial discrepancies and not just soothe them for a short time. Identity politics is a vital trait of the social tensions in the country of South Africa, and this is the starting point for policy makers aiming to overcome the strained relations. It will be drawn to an end with the challenge that perhaps a durable peace could be achieved once sustainable resolutions cultivated and directly targeted at ending racism are upheld.


Ballard, R., Habib, A., Valodia, I. and Zuern, E. (2007). Voices of protest: social movements in post-apartheid South Africa. Choice Reviews Online, 45(01), pp.45-0518-45-0518.

Calderwood, I. (2016). Students burn down university buildings in protest in South Africa. [online] Mail Online. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3464350/University-buildings-burned-students- protesting-teachers-regularly-groped-pupils-breasts-pretending-search-mobile-phones-South-Africa.html [Accessed 29 Oct. 2016].

Chisolm, L. (2016). Changing class: education and social change in post-apartheid South Africa. [online] Ecommons.hsrc.ac.za. Available at: http://ecommons.hsrc.ac.za/handle/123456789/7710 [Accessed 29 Oct. 2016].

Heugh, K. (2000). The case against bilingual and multilingual education in South Africa. Rondebosch, South Africa: PRAESA.

IDENTITY POLITICS: Part of a Reinvigorated Class Politics. (2016). New Labour Forum, [online] 19(2), pp. 12-15. Available at: http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.sussex.ac.uk/stable/pdf/25701483.pdf [Accessed 29 Oct. 2016].

Overcomingapartheid.msu.edu. (2016). South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid. [online] Available at: http:// overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/sidebar.php?id=65-258-2 [Accessed 29 Oct. 2016].

Verwey, C. and Quayle, M. (2012). Whiteness, racism, and Afrikaner identity in post-apartheid South Africa. African Affairs, 111(445), pp.551-575.

Featured Image: http://www.micampusmag.co.za/2016/09/equal-education-says-government-can-afford-free-education/

More from aKoma