The Education Crisis in South Africa

Every proper system of education is founded upon, and develops, a particular civilization. The biggest problem with education in Africa is that, with the conquest of Africa by Europe, Africa was denied the status of a civilization, comparable, say, to Chinese, Indian, or Western civilization. As Frobenius put it, as justification for the African Slave Trade, “the African was turned into a semi-animal.” The African Slave Trade was as a gigantic landslide in the mental and emotional life of all humanity; it confused the notion of what a human being is world-wide. The resulting disfigured and poisoned `reason’, particularly of the West, ruled out the possibility that `semi-animals’ could have created a civilization. Only now, towards the end of the 21st century, are we taking the first steps towards restoring mental and emotional balance of humanity, and this article is a contribution in that direction.

When we speak of China, India, Europe, or the USA, as a civilization, what do we have in mind? We have in mind a complex of culture, language or languages, religion, a world-view, a pattern of historical experience, a certain technology and manner of using that technology, an identifiable pattern in

architecture, art, music, poetry, literature and dance, a certain body of knowledge, science, medicine, and values, a certain cuisine and manner of dress and general habits, etc. A civilization is generally so massive and of such power that it acts like a magnet, drawing outsiders to it, influencing others and being influenced by others; in addition, the massiveness and power of a civilization inevitably tend to push its influence beyond its territorial borders, either peacefully or forcefully.

A civilization is all these things and more, as long as they all form a set, like a set of pots.

We now know that humanity emerged first in Africa. Africa is the Mother of humankind. This most marvellous of mothers not only gave birth to humankind, but she prepared the remarkable cultural foundation which some of her children took along with them as they left for other regions and corners of the world. Africa was, indeed, the first civilization, held in the highest esteem in antiquity. You only have to ponder over the words used by Homer and Heredotus, when remarking about the `Ethiopians’ and `Egyptians’. (see Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origin of Civilization, New York, Lawrence and Hill, 1974; Chancellor Williams, The Destruction of African Civilization, Chicago, Third World Press, 1976; John G. Jackson, Ages of Gold and Silver, Austin, American Atheist Press, 1990)

Civilizations have risen and fallen: the glory of Rome and Italy, of Greece, are no longer alive. Perceptive observers in the West are already saying that leadership of the 21st century shall be exercised by Asia. African civilization also rose and fell. With the African Slave Trade, the creators of African civilization were reduced from human status to `semi-animal’, and Africa was denied the status of a civilization. In the entire history of the rise and fall of civilizations, this was unique to Africans.

Africa became, as it were, a non-living possession of Western civilization. Educated Africans were educated as part of Western civilization, but unlike their Western counterparts, they were placed in a suffocating status of not being able to engage themselves in developing a civilization of which they felt a part. Whites, Indians, Coloureds, and Arabs, in Africa, formed their own separate communities, almost completely sealed from the communities of the overwhelming majority of society, Africans, thereby saddling themselves with a terrible handicap of not being acquainted from the inside with the people and culture of Africa. This is a major problem, in this era of democratization, when the majority of society, the non-Western African people, and the non-Western culture of the majority, are supposed to be the motive power and guide for the future development of African societies. Racism, whether of the English, Afrikaner, French, German, Portuguise, or Belgian type, prevented any spontaneous synthesis of African and European cultures. Europeans in Africa remained European, and educated Africans became Europeanized. Europeans, Indians, Arabs, Coloureds, and educated Africans, became alienated from the mass base of African society and culture, with educated Africans somewhat better-off than the others.

A hiatus emerged between Western-educated society, on one hand, and principles and patterns of African civilization, on the other hand. Knowledge of the principles and patterns of African

civilization became lost in the consciousness and mental set of African intellectuals -not to even speak of non-African communities.

The peculiar situation, here, is that knowledge of the principles and patterns of African civilization remained with ordinary, uncertificated men and women in urban and rural areas, especially in rural areas. The tragedy of African civilization is that Western-educated Africans became lost and irrelevant as intellectuals who could develop African civilization further. Historically, intellectuals of any civilization are the voice of that civilization to the rest of the world; they are the instruments for the development of the higher culture of that civilization. The tragedy of Africa, after conquest by the West, is that her intellectuals, by and large, absconded and abdicated their role as developers, minstrels and trumpeters of African civilization. African civilization then stagnated; what remained alive in the minds and languages of the overwhelming majority of Africans remained undeveloped. Uncertificated Africans are denied respect and opportunities for development; they could not sing out, articulate, and develop the unique patterns of African civilization.

Now that Africa is attempting to rise from the prostrate position to which she was thrown, she finds herself in an awkward

situation. She needs to develop a system of education founded upon, and developing, her civilization -the civilization of the overwhelming majority; yet her intellectuals, by and large, are strangers to this civilization. In our country, the White and Indian intellectuals, who are disproportionally influential in policy-making, and as experts, are a hundred-times worse off than educated Africans, in their familiarity with principles and patterns of African civilization. This brings serious distortions and errors into policies in the sphere of culture and education! Knowledge of languages is the crucial gate for entrance into any culture.

In the entire history of civilizations, no intellectuals of a particular civilization have ever been placed in such a tragic situation in relation to the civilization of their own people, such as that occupied by African intellectuals in relation to the culture and civilization of their own people. Our intellectuals, by and large, have no spiritual/intellectual sympathetic relationship with the culture and civilization embracing the masses of African people. This is the case in the entirety of Africa.

Our intellectuals, who must initiate the formulation of a new and proper education policy for Africa, must engage in a most massive and serious process of re-education of themselves on the

principles and patterns of African civilization, whose knowledge they have largely lost. The biggest spiritual and mental challenge to African intellectuals is that in this massive re-education of themselves on the principles and patterns of African civilization, the only teachers they have are ordinary African men and women who are uncertificated, and largely in rural areas.

We are talking here about a massive cultural revolution consisting, first, of our intellectuals going back to ordinary African men and women, to receive education on African culture and civilization; second, it shall break new ground in that non-certificated men and women shall be incorporated as full participants in the construction of the high culture of Africa; this shall be the first instance in history, in which certificated intellectuals alone shall not be the sole builders and determinants of high culture, but shall be working side by side with ordinary African men and women in rural and urban life.

Intellectuals must become anthropologists doing field-work, like Frobenius. But, unlike academic, Western anthropologists, African intellectuals shall be doing field-work on their own people, on themselves, as part of a truly great effort aimed at reconstructing Africa and preparing all of humanity for conquering the world for humanism.

The principle to be adopted is this: the unique African pattern of development into modernity should base itself, first and foremost, on the utilization of the resources provided by her civilization.

This enormous creative work of research and development of the principles and patterns of African civilization have already been proposed by the Nigerian scholar, Chinweizu, to achieve what he calls “reclamation” of African languages which have been suffering from neglect and atrophy from colonialism up to now.

We can give specific examples of what this implies, in terms of curriculum and progress.

AFRICAN LANGUAGES: European languages have had to develop new concepts, words, and flexibility, in order to be the means of communication for industrialization and the scientific revolution. The recent development history of Afrikaans is an example, which can now be used to teach physics, medicine, psychology, etc. Who should be involved in the development of African languages? We are suggesting that this task should not be left solely to university-certificated experts in African languages. Every traditional community has identifiable language experts and poets, who may never have been inside a school. Every village can identify such individuals, who are custodians of the excellence, beauty, and pride of the people’s language. These men and women should be incorporated into the language committees of experts, to work, side by side, as equals, with university professors and lecturers, in charting the formal development of African languages.

TECHNOLOGY AND SCIENCE: The problem, here, is that the West simply took it for granted that the mind of humanity was full of nothing but error, rubbish, nonsense, and superstition, until Whites emerged with a more superior mind. From the West’s point of view, there was absolutely no need to study and understand the thought of Africans, Asians, and Native-Americans, and there was certainly no question of considering a synthesis of European knowledge and science and the knowledge and science produced by Africans, Asians, and Native-Americans.

The West then proceeded, with amazing folly, to start accummulating modern scientific thought, using the famous “scientific method” and the method of “experiment”, formulated during the “Scientific Revolution”, without paying the least respect to, without building upon, the knowledge accummulated by Africans, Asians, and Native-Americans on the basis of trial and error during tens, and hundreds, of thousands of years of practical experience!

Lately, some Western scientists are beginning to see the gross error in this view. Many Western scientists, prompted by the dire urgency to find a cure for Aids, and by the failure of Western scientists, so far, to get nearer the cure, are calling for a new attitude towards the medicinal knowledge produced by Africans, Asians, and Native-Americans of North and South America. They are calling upon their fellow Western scientists to regard knowledge produced by Africans, Asians, and Native Americans, as hypotheses worthy of the same respect and attention as hypotheses in Western scientific discussions, i. e., as hypothesis to be studied and tested for verification.

No serious scientist, unpoisoned by racism, can fail to argue similarly, when you consider the following fact: in 1991, a prominent American scientist noted that “only 1,100 of the earth’s 265,000 species of plants have been thoroughly studied by Western scientists, but as many as 40,000 may have medicinal or undiscovered nutritional value for human. Many are already used by tribal healers, who can help scientists greatly focus their search for plants with useful properties.” (Time, September 23, 1991, No. 38, p. 49)

Here is another example of how we may proceed differently: we now know that Africans had the knowledge of how to make iron before this knowledge was possessed by people in Europe.There are many old men, still alive, all over Africa, who still possess the knowledge of how iron was made in traditional African society. But these men no longer make iron. They were supplanted by companies and corporations owned by Whites. These specialists of African civilization have not had a chance to continue practicing their skill, and the chance of further developing the skill as time and circumstances demanded, and making contributions to the history of iron-making up to our time. (Kurt Klusemann, “Die Entwicklung der Eisengewinnung in Afrika und Europa”, Mitteilungen der Anthropologischen Geselschaft im Wien, 54, 1924)

The biggest challenge to the industrialization of African economies is designing and producing appropriate technology. The important point is that these abandoned, uncertificated specialists of African civilization, in all fields of technology, should be activated and incorporated, along with certificated experts, into the effort to design and produce appropriate technology for Africa. The basis for the construction of new technology should be the existing technological expertise and specialization of the civilization.


Almost all the history books on South Africa used in high schools and universities are written by white scholars; and almost all these historians are not acquainted with African communities from the inside, first and foremost, through the African language. These historians have collected their data almost totally from written, archival sources. All African communities have their own histories, kept and passed on through oral tradition, in African languages, in folklore, praise-poems, legends, proverbs, mythology, etc. This is also historical data as crucial as sources written in English or Afrikaans, needing historical interpretation, as historians of ancient Greece have minutely studied The Iliad, The Odyssey, Aeschylles, Euripides, and Sophocles, as possible historical data on ancient Greeks. For the specialist on ancient Greece, the mastery of ancient Greek is a pre-requisite, just as no English historian can be a specialist on Germany or Russian history without a mastery of German or Russian. The only exception to this rigid methodological rule seems to be for specialists on African people.

The correct history of African people shall be written by people who, through thorough knowledge of African culture and languages, can use both oral sources and written sources. This means that such scholars shall need to be in close, broadly embracing contact and communication with ordinary, uncertificated African men and women in urban and rural areas. Serious methodological issues arise here. This should be the great fruitful encounter between African culture and civilization, stored in oral traditions, on one hand, and evidence stored in written documents and archaeological finds, on the other hand. Many questions arise here: the identification of sources, the reliability of sources, the critique of sources, oral tradition as a critique, corrective, supplement, or confirmation, of written and archaeological evidence; written and archaeological evidence as a critique, corrective, supplement, or confirmation of oral tradition.

The same line of approach should be adopted in all humanities and social sciences.  This does not mean that Africa becomes closed to outside influences. No civilization has ever developed and prospered in isolation. In isolation, civilization atrophies.

But the influence from the outside, at issue, is not that which occurred with reference to Africa under the rule of the West, i. e., the taking over of Africa by Western civilization. The influence of other civilizations and cultures on another civilization is similar to the relation of rivers to the huge ocean. Civilization is the huge ocean; elements or influences of other civilizations and cultures upon a particular civilization are like rivers which lead to, and empty themselves into, the huge ocean. These are assimilated by the civilization, and bring about changes, from within, and become yeast for the further development of aspects of the civilization. So, the fine and finest products of the cultural and spiritual wealth of other civilizations shall be absorbed by the child and student within the African school, but all this shall take place within the context of African civilization.

Let us now focus more specifically upon South Africa. It is not an exaggeration to say that education in our country is in serious crisis. However, we are so accustomed in this country to thinking that the problem of education is in the system of education which was designed for Africans, that it needs to be stressed again and again that the crisis of education in the country is a general one, embracing education for all groups and communities, including education for Whites.

It is inconceivable that in a relatively small society like ours, two-thirds of the population could be badly educated, while the remaining one-third is well-educated. Oppression damages not only the oppressed, but also deals serious damage to the spirit and mind of the oppressors.

What, in fact, is a well-educated person? It is a person whose personality has absorbed into itself the spiritual and cultural wealth (including intellectual knowledge) created by all the groups and communities, particularly the large communities, in his or her society, indeed, in the world as a whole. That, of course, is impossible to achieve, but that should remain the

guiding light, the approach, to all our educational vision and planning.

The major problem with our system of education is that it does not contain within itself the spiritual and cultural wealth of all the historical communities making up South African society.

The great German man-of-letters, Goethe, said that world culture is like a great fugue, in which all nations, one after the other, have stood forth to make contributions to the fugue.  In a more general sense, the terrible poverty of contemporary education is that only the people of the West, making up the so-called “white race”, have been allowed to stand forth to make contributions to the fugue.

The content of our education is “Western culture”. John Stuart Mill, in his studies of Coleridge and Bentham, pointed out that each of these remarkable men was limited by the fact that one could not see what the other saw. He likened them to “one-eyed men”, but then hastened to say that he, Mill, had tolerance for “one-eyed men”, provided that one eye is a “deeply seeing eye”.

Western education has made us all one-eyed men and women, including Whites themselves, by virtue of the fact that its

designers and planners excluded everything in it except what they conceived to be Western culture. Yes, we are all one-eyed men and women -and that one eye cannot be said to be a “deeply seeing eye”.

This is particularly true of Whites, who refused to absorb anything of African culture into their education and personalities, because of contempt for Africans. In our situation, the education received by the majority of Whites has not incorporated within itself the spiritual and cultural wealth created by the masses of African people, or by the masses of Indian people. This entire world and history of human creativity is alien to the average literate White person. This is an abnormality, and a crippling gap in the education of Whites.

Africans who go through the educational system generally enter the world of the European West. They absorb into their minds and souls mainly the spiritual and cultural wealth created by Westerners. The model of an educated person is someone who has absorbed and assimilated the spiritual and cultural wealth created by the European world.

However, the `educated’ African is, at least, better off than the `educated’ White, in that the African is in possession of some

of the spiritual and cultural wealth created by African people and African tradition, as well as the spiritual and cultural wealth created by the people and tradition of Europe, e. g., he/she speaks an African language, as well as English or Afrikaans. However, the education which has been designed, overwhelmingly by Whites, for Africans, is still woefully inadequate.

The problem is actually more serious: Western education is built upon a horrendous lie: it is built upon what truly amounts to intellectual and spiritual genocide against a large section of humanity, the African people. This enormous, unprecedented act of intellectual and spiritual genocide against a huge section of humanity, was a by-product of the African Slave Trade, and the hitherto unknown form of slavery which emerged in the 17th century, tied to skin colour black of the Africans.

Western culture had to swallow into its very soul, had to accommodate within itself, the dehumanization of this huge section of humanity. Suffice it to note that the West could not do this and still remain normal and healthy, spiritually. As Frobenius put it, the African was turned into a “semi-animal”. We must note, however, that in order to successfully regard and treat the African as “semi-animal”, non-Africans themselves had to bow down, and lower themselves, to the level of semi-animal, too. The brutalization and dehumanization of a whole section of

humanity, physically and intellectually, harmed not only the Africans, but also the perpetrators of the act.

The important point is that this genocidal lie against Africa, Africans, and intellectual, spiritual, and cultural creations of African people, could not help but disfigure and distort the contents of education about the West itself, and about Western

culture. The West, and western culture, had to be portrayed as products solely of the West, and of the white race, and as superior by virtue of that fact.

In terms of actual curriculum, literature could be taught, without African contributions to literature; architecture could be taught, without African contributions to architecture; history could be taught, without consideration of the role of Africa in world history, from the very beginning of humanity; music could be taught, without considering African music, and African influences on Western music; psychology could be taught, without consideration of psychological theories developed in African cultures, in child development, for example, etc., etc.

Transforming our education is, therefore, much more than merely “eliminating unfavourable references” to Africans in textbooks. It is a new curriculum altogether, and a new relational structure of the different parts and levels of the system altogether.

Thus the crisis of education in our country is not only general, involving all communities, but begins at the very philosophical foundation of our education.

Our approach to education must be humanist.  First, we can do no better than to repeat the words of Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe: “The Africanists take the view that there is only one race to which all belong, and that is the human race.” In the acceptance and implementation of the humanist orientation, therefore, we do not accord any superior status to any community of people, or to any civilization, over any other community of people or any other civilization.

Furthermore, we accept and want to inculcate into every member of our society the principle that a human being becomes a human being through having humane relations with other human beings: “umuntu umuntu ngabantu”, or “Motho ke motho ka batho ba bang”. The education of society, therefore, must be Ubuntu-friendly, taking humanity in its universal essence. Ideologically, everything possible must be done to imbue society members, from childhood, with this principle. The true cultural links between human communities and civilizations, up and across the entire world and ages, and what has been called the “psychic unity of human groups”, must be stressed and brought to light in our education. This is as important in deciding the line of development of human history, as imbuing people with the “work ethic” has been in the development of modern industrial societies.

As the African people, with a distinct culture, are the overwhelming majority of the population of our society, it is reasonable to assume that, in a genuine democracy, African people, and African culture, shall leave the greatest and most powerful imprint on our education. This shall be so to the extent that Africans increasingly assume the intellectual and cultural leadership of the country. It is important to stress the fact that, up to now, Whites, who are a minority, through their intellectuals, and European culture, still have the greatest and most powerful imprint on our education; to that extent, our education is distorted, and one-sided (through the predominance of Western culture in it) and defective.

One of the major distorting effects in the history of culture arises from what been called `substitutionism’, when the

historical tasks of a particular class, or community, are fulfilled by another social class or by another community, on

behalf of the group that should have fulfilled the task. A prime example would be the intellectual leadership of a particular community, (say, the African community, in South Africa) by individuals coming from, and shaped by, another community (say, White or Indian intellectuals). The same distorting effect has resulted from the intellectual leadership of peasants by people from another social class, or from the intellectual leadership

of the working-class by individuals from professional or business classes.

Are we saying that there are no ideas of universal validity? No, we agree that there are ideas of universal validity. But the problem does not end with the recognition of that fact. The

assimilation of foreign ideas, by a particular culture, must be preceded by the naturalization of those ideas by intellectuals

of that particular group or community, through the medium of the culture and traditions of that particular class, community, or society. Ideas from outside must be filtered into the consciousness of that community, class, or society, and the filter is the culture and the historical tradition of the particular people receiving those ideas.

In that sense, we can speak of the naturalization of a Western

product, Marxism, into Russian society, which was accomplished

by Lenin, and, later, by the Stalinists; so, also, can we speak of the naturalization of Marxism into China, accomplished by Mao Tse Tung. That is also why Christianity took different colours and shapes, as it became filtered by different local cultures of different societies: it became the Greek Orthodox Church, in Greece; the Russian Orthodox Church, in Russia; the Africanist Churches of the colonized Africans in South Africa; and the Africanist Churches of the former slaves from Africa in the

United States of America. Christianity, too, originally was not a product of the Western experience. It arose and developed, initially, in the Middle East and Africa, and was subsequently

brought to the West, and had to go through the filters of different local and regional cultures of the West -hence Medieval European Christianity, which was quite radically different from original Christianity.

One of the biggest sources of error in the cultural development of Africa, and in the cultural development of the West, is the failure of African intellectuals, so far, to naturalize the Western intellectual experience, and Western concepts, into Africa, i. e., to use African culture and historical tradition as a filter for receiving Western concepts and ideas into African reality. This failure has resulted in the bizarre implantation of Western political institutions, Western political theory, Western economic institutions and Western economic theory on to African reality. Naturally, this has not taken Africa forward,

in terms of development, but has brought about the political, economic, and human crisis and tragedy registered all over Africa.

Compare with China. There was a time when there was implantation of Western institutions and processes, when China was still a semi-colony of the West. Then, after 1949, China can be said to

have fallen, intellectually, under the hegemony of the Soviet Union. There was a tendency to imitate the Soviet pattern of development -Stalinism. Then there was a break with the Soviet

Union, while Mao was still alive, and the beginning of a search for the `Chinese way’ to development. Then, a few years after Mao’s death, the onset of the current stage of “Reforms”, consisting of the drastic alteration of the “socialist model”, and the use of “capitalist market” methods in the strategy for

development. What is important is that Western observers and scholars of development testify that current China is following a “socialist model” unlike the old Soviet or Maoist one, and a “capitalist model” unlike the capitalism found in the USA or Britain. What emerges very clearly is an imprint of original Chinese thinking in tackling her problems.

Likewise, we want to see an imprint of original African thinking in tackling Africa’s problems. We are not there, yet.

Due to the nature of the colonial encounter, and racism, the West and Africa never opened their arms and souls to one another, and, like two individuals, embraced heartily, one feeling the warmth of the other. It was a Master-Servant relationship, with the West being the Master, and Africa the servant. The cultural influence of the Master over the Servant was largely direct, in many ways through coercion; that of the Servant over the master was mostly indirect, in many ways through illicit contacts. The West,

through her intellectuals, failed to filter into its culture and being the African experience and African culture. The West could have benefitted tremendously from the encounter with African

culture, especially in its spiritual development. In sum, both Africa and the West are the poorer for this failure. (In South Africa, how many Whites, Indians, and Coloureds, know African languages? As we know, language is the gateway into “other cultures”. The onus was largely on the African, to learn English

and Afrikaans, in order to communicate  with Whites.)

One of the major sources of the problems we have in the country is the fact that the concepts and ideas largely used for the understanding of the liberation struggle, and for guiding the process of liberation, have come to the activists directly from non-African intellectuals, without the prior process of being filtered, by Africans themselves, through the medium of African culture, African traditions and values. For example, Marxist concepts and ideas (the experience of the Soviet Union)

have largely influenced the thinking and tactics of African activists, particularly young activists. These concepts and ideas have come to these activists directly from White and Indian leftist intellectuals, many of whom derived these ideas from their studies in Britain. In other words, so far, there has been no naturalization of these ideas onto African soil, accomplished by Africans themselves, through the medium of African culture,

languages, traditions, and values. These foreign ideas and experiences have largely been swallowed whole, without proper adaptation to the African cultural milieu -and the consequence

has been some serious mental indigestion, which has had some tragic political implications. The conflict between activists, particularly youth, and African traditional leaders in rural areas, is a case in point.

The largest experience in South Africa is the African experience, i. e., the experience of the African people, who form the overwhelming majority of the population of the society. Therefore, it is right and proper that this African experience should be the source of ideas and concepts which are dominant in policy discussions and in public policy formation, ideas and concepts articulated, expressed, and interpreted by individual

thinkers who are products of the African experience, i. e., by Africans themselves. Foreign ideas, no matter how respectable and convincing, should still pass through the filter of African culture and traditions and values, on their way to the minds of society members.

Intellectuals, or the intelligentsia, are the crucial mediating link between the overwhelming majority of African people, and African culture, on one hand, and modernity in its current, dominant Western form, on the other hand. Intellectuals, then, in this current dominant Western model of modernization, are the crucial mediating link between African culture and Western culture. Therefore, it makes a big difference whether the intellectuals or intelligentsia at the centre of this mediation between Africa and the West are biased in favour of one, or are hostile to the other. This is of great relevance to education policy.

In the history of colonial and post-colonial Africa, so far, education policy has been shaped either by European missionaries, who believed in the supremacy of western culture, and were hostile towards African culture, or, later, in post-colonial Africa, by Western educated Africans, whose model of proper education was derived from Western nations. In both cases, this is defective and distorted education which is still within the framework of the denigration of Africa, Africans, and African culture.

In white-supremacist South Africa of the Afrikaner Nationalist phase, there emerged the other distortion in education policy, consisting in the plan to artificially and forcefully preserve African culture in the curriculum for Africans, and drive out and deliberately distort and make incomprehensible Western culture. This was Apartheid Education.

In the education policy of this country, there should not be any space whatsoever allowed to the direct or indirect racism of European missionaries, to the invisible racism of some well-

meaning `comrade’ intellectuals, or to brain-washed African intellectuals who believe in the supremacy of Western culture.

That is the starting-point of our humanist orientation.

There are innumerable `progressive intellectuals’ in our country, some influential in the formulation of education policy, who are for opening all schools to all races, who make room in the curriculum for “classic Western ballet”, but not for classic African traditional dance! Only the doors to education are open to all races, but the curriculum is still a curriculum built totally from elements of Western culture! What is being implemented in these schools is not multiculturalism, but a subjection of all students to the domination of Western culture. This is multi-racialism. This error and distortion in our education must be corrected.


Perhaps, next to the obvious Eurocentric character of current education, the greatest problem we face, relating to education, is the current lack of synchronization between the existing

system of education, on one hand, and development policy and development needs of the country, on the other hand. In the final analysis, development is the development of the human personality; therefore, in capital accumulation, the development of human capital is actually the most crucial input. In calculating the factors responsible for development, most scholars have concluded that roughly a third of accummulated development is attributed to education. Actually, this may be an underestimation. Knowledge, through study, has been raised to first rank, in the list of priorities to be attended to by society members, for the solution of all problems before them. (see “Your Company’s Most Valuable Assert: Intellectual Capital”, Fortune, October 3, 1994, p. 24-33)

The connection between education and development cannot, however, be haphazard. It requires careful planning, both at the micro- and macro-level. The same seriousness, at planning, shown by entrepreneurs about to start a business, is needed for synchronizing education with development needs of the nation as a whole. There is no society today which can do away with the need to coordinate and integrate the various micro-level plans and activities of large groups of people in the form of some national or society-wide plan. The only question is the manner at which such society-wide planning is done -whether it is done officially, by representatives of society-at-large, or by some

private bodies and groups, without public accountability and responsibility, behind people’s backs.

The problem of coordinating or  integrating the various micro-plans and activities of large groups of people, particularly in the sphere of the economy, has never been solved successfully in the history of any country. Contradictions, shortages, oversupplies, defective products, etc., have characterized this problem, both in the history of centralized planning in `socialist’ societies, as well as in planning in capitalist societies. Nevertheless, planning is mandatory, both at the micro-level and at the macro-level. The key issue at hand is the improvement of the conceptions and plans.

We know that the African community is the pool from which the vast majority of skilled workers, scientists, mathematicians, and intelligentsia, must be drawn, to meet the development needs of the country, from now on. The White, Indian, and Coloured

communities shall no longer suffice, as they did for the very narrow industrialization and development needs of the past. In the past, the vast masses of Africans were not fully integrated into the industrial economy. The White-controlled economy needed African labour largely as unskilled workers; and they were, in the main, also not fully integrated into the economy as consumers of modern industrial goods, through the terribly low wages they

received as predominantly unskilled workers, and other racist denial of certain facilities and infrastructure, e. g., electricity, telephones, etc. Thus, a very low ceiling was set for the development and growth potential of the economy -and of human capital! The education policy, and the education system, were not oriented to developing the African population as human capital.

The crisis of the South African economy is largely due to the fact that the economy has reached the point at which it can no longer develop and widen in scope on the basis of non-African skilled and intellectual labour. The White community is now too small a pool from which to draw additional skilled and leadership talent necessary for further development, even when the Indian and Coloured communities are added as recourse. As the African community was for long the large pool from which to draw abundant unskilled labour contained therein, now the very same African community and population must be seen as the vast pool from which abundant potential skilled and leadership talent must be drawn for the further development of the economy and society. This is abundant human capital that must be trained, developed and tapped; and at the heart of training, developing, and tapping this vast potential human capital is proper and properly planned education.

Not only must we embark on a vast and serious educational effort, aimed at training, developing, and tapping this potential human capital, but we need to formulate and implement the right kind of education policy.

First, we must design and implement a vast public propaganda campaign, which stresses the crucial importance and need for education -and for the right kind of education. We have hardly begun to use the tremendous power and effectiveness of the available mass communication science and technology, for (1) awakening people to the urgency and nobility of this need, and (2) actually imparting specific knowledge and education to society members.

Second, we need to design specific curricula and methods of imparting the appropriate knowledge needed for the appropriate purposes we have in mind.

Let us consider, for the moment, the development of the university system in the United States, which was aimed at serving the masses of society members. I have in mind, here, the “State universities” and the “Land-grant colleges”. In 1862, the US Congress passed the Morrill Act, which granted federally controlled land to state governments, for the establishment of institutions of higher education for programs in military

training, agriculture, and mechanics. “As `community service centers’ these institutions…called into existence courses, programs, and schools in the fields of commerce, journalism, agriculture, electrical, mechanical, civil and aeronautical    engineering, mining, forestry, and education, all in the interests of serving the needs and demands of an advancing technological society.” (Clarence J. Karier, Man, Society, and Education, Glenview, Illinois, Scott, Foresman and Co., 1967, p. 85) It is important to stress that these universities had highly developed and massive programs of extension services to the communities, for example, to modernize agricultural practices.

These were educational institutions of great, practical relevance to increasing productivity and variety of production in agriculture. They helped tremendously in generating the American agricultural revolution, without which the American industrial revolution could not have succeeded.

African countries desperately need similar development in agriculture and rural communities, to solve the food crisis and mass poverty. This requires, however, an equally similar imput of education. The right kind of education policies, needed to meet development needs, is largely missing in Africa -and is missing in South Africa, too, as far as the overwhelming majority of society members, the Africans, are concerned.

There is a need in our system of education for a major change in curriculum and methods of teaching. I have in mind particularly a new balance in the relationship between science, mathematics, languages, and humanities, from elementary school to tertiary education. This must be discussed thoroughly and widely, and planned carefully, on the basis of our needs and the experience of other countries.

Consider the experience of the former Soviet Union. In 1917, the masses of Russian people were roughly at the same educational level as where the masses of African people are in our time. By the 1980s, however, roughly one-fourth of the scientists and mathematicians of the entire world were in the Soviet Union (Ernest Mandel, Beyond Perestroika, London, Verso, 1989, p. x). The question for us is: How did the education system of the Soviet Union achieve this remarkable result? How did it manage to successfully teach mathematics and the hard sciences to children of peasants and of ordinary workers? I suspect the secret to this achievement is methodological, i. e., the methods that were used to impart scientific and mathematical knowledge to children from ordinary homes of peasants and workers. If so, it is very important for us to know that secret, for, judging by the failure of African schools to successfully produce science and mathematics students, the methods in use to impart scientific and mathematical knowledge to these students must be a dismal failure. Through discussions and exchange of views between our science and mathematics educators, and Russian educators in the same fields, we can perhaps discover this secret, and decide whether or not it is usable in our situation, or to adapt it to our needs. We should be planning for these discussions and exchange of views between our educators and educators from many other countries which have had greater success in the endeavours in which we are involved.

Our system of education must also be characterized by a vast increase in the number of polytechnical schools, or what we call “technicons”, and vast accessibility of these schools to the masses of our students, so that our society can get tens of thousands of well-educated, skilled workers. On-the-job training is, of course, also important. But, as has been noted, it has limitations. One study stated the problem thus: “But this method of training in industry, whether individual or on courses, has definite disadvantages. The instruction given is often based on rule of thumb. It may apply only to work on a given machine or mechanism, or for very limited range of operations. The worker does not get a wide polytechnical training, a knowledge of the principles on which machines work, of materials and technology. His qualification remain low and his ability to grow limited. According to data from a number of Moscow factories the machine operators trained on short courses produce about eight times more rejects than those from vocational centres.” (V. G. Afanasyev, The Scientific and Technological Revolution -Its Impact on Management and Education, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1975,

p. 298)



We also need to have a well planned and implementable component of adult education. Again, other countries have a longer experience in this effort, and better results than we have: we must study their experiences, before designing and implementing our component of adult education.

We must make special mention of the language issue in our education. Language is the gateway to culture, knowledge, and people. The more languages one masters, the more one has access to other cultures, to more knowledge, and to more people. More specific to the learning process, we must stress that the mastery of language in which the subject is taught is the prerequisite to the mastery of subject matter. To this extent, the Eurocentric character of our education, at the heart of which has been the use of European languages, has constituted a barrier to the successful education of the masses of African people. The African student has to make the acquaintance of the subject through a language not his or her mother-tongue. If the African student did not master the particular foreign language in childhood, alongside mother tongue, then the foreign language in which instruction proceeds becomes a tension-generating factor, for most students, which interferes with the mastery of the subject matter. The problem of non-English speakers, in schools in which English is the language of instruction, is the following: instruction does not build upon the linguistic and conceptual resources possessed by the student from his/her home and residential environment, but seeks, as it were, to implant linguistic and conceptual apparatuses from somewhere else. Naturally, the new plant, which has not grown organically from the body and soil of the student, does not stand secure, if it is not `rejected’ by the body and the native soil.

Language is a medium of learning in educational institutions. In normal schooling, either the language of instruction is mastered early, as mother tongue, or it remains a type of barrier to easy and comfortable understanding and discourse. This means that African children and students, to whom English, in most cases, is a foreign language, shall most frequently be underachievers in standard tests, compared to children and students who grow up speaking English.

Multi-lingualism seems to be the answer to this problem. Some evidence indicates that when multi-lingualism is introduced from the early stages of education, the languages mastered by children when their brains are most explosive and absorbent in

development, become powerful linguistic and conceptual resources for learning. The following report is of relevance to this problem: “Later this year, two professors from George Mason University in Virginia will release a study of 42,000 non-English-speaking students…the study found that children who had received six years of bilingual education in well-designed programs performed better than 70% of all 11th graders, including native speakers, on standardized English tests. One of the report’s authors, professor Virginia Collier, says children placed in an English-language environment before they are fluent `are just left out of the discussion in their mainstream classes. It shows up in the long-term, when the academic going gets tough.’ The George Mason study also found that the highest achievers are products of avant-garde experiment in so-called two-way schools, where half the curriculum is taught in English, half in a foreign language. An example is the Oyster Bilingual Elementary School in the District of Columbia, whose students are 58% Hispanic, 26% white, 12% black and 4% Asian. After six years of Spanish-English curriculum, the school’s sixth-graders score at ninth-grade level in reading and 10th-grade level in math.” Time, November 13, 1995, p. 45)

As education policy, we should move towards implementing Multi-lingualism in all our schools. However, the early years of education should be in mother tongue. Multi-lingualism should also be implemented during early years of schooling. We do not have in mind, here, merely being able to speak the language, but preparing to make these languages of instruction in schools. This is not an impossible aim. It was done, this very century, in the case of Afrikaans. Students today can learn medicine and other hard sciences in Afrikaans. In fact, all languages had to be developed and adapted for teaching the modern sciences and other modern subjects. Therefore, this is nothing unusual to conceive of, with respect to African languages. As a start, however, while the various languages are being prepared and adapted as languages of instruction in various subjects, we can pronounce the following:

a) All Nguni-speaking students must learn a Sotho language,        English and/or Afrikaans, Venda, Shangaan.

b) All Sotho-speaking students must learn a Nguni language,

English and/or Afrikaans, Venda, Shangaan.

c) All Whites must learn a Nguni as well as a Sotho language,

Venda or Shangaan.

d) All Venda-speaking students must learn a Nguni as well as

a Sotho language, English and/or Afrikaans, Shangaan.

e) All Shangaan-speaking students must learn a Sotho language,

as well as either Zulu, Xhosa, or Swazi, and English or

Afrikaans or Venda.

Learning these languages must start from the very beginning of schooling, to take advantage of the great facility possessed by children for learning languages.


Education is not only just an instrument to meet the needs of the economy, the army, the State, and the material needs and vulgar pride of the individual. It is also a means to develop and accentuate depth and breadth of character; to produce shine, beauty, nobility, and poetry of the human personality; it is also to bring out, develop, and perfect the full potential of the human personality. Yes, the ultimate aim of education -indeed, of society itself- is to develop the human being as an end in itself, the total human personality as the supreme value of life.

The very pronounced division of labour which came hand-in-hand with the industrial revolution fragmented not only the labour activity of members of society, so that they lost the sense of the unity of the work process, as a whole, but it also crippled the human individuals, by locking each person into a specialized

production activity, with the result that only those talents necessary for the performance of that activity were developed; the rest of the potential talents contained within every individual were neglected.

We then, in the main, became crippled, one-sided individuals, as one-legged, one-armed, or one-eyed individuals, unable to relate to ourselves, and to others, and to life itself, as whole individuals. We ceased to be as many-talented as men and women in pre-industrial societies. Society not only became split into, apparently, non-related parts, and into antagonistic parts, but the human being became split, similarly, emotionally and mentally.

The greatest split that occurred was that between intellectual work and material or manual labour, according to which some members of society specialized as intellectual workers, and the vast other majority became bound to material or manual work. In pre-industrial societies, the same person who made a mat, to sleep on, also made it beautiful, i. e., as a work of art; the same person who manually made a spoon, out of wood, not only made a utilitarian object, for eating; the maker of the spoon also made it as a work of art. It is no surprise that you will find these spoons and mats hanging in our museums, and on the walls of the homes of educated men and women, as works of art, in

today’s industrial society. In modern society, the making of spoons, mats, beds, and tables, is one activity, occurring in factories; and the making of art is restricted to a special group of people called artists. In other words, manual work has been robbed of artistic quality; and artistic work has been separated

from “the world of work”. Art, and the appreciation of art, become a specialization, separate from the daily lives of masses of working people.

This splitting of work, this division of labour, was a blessing as well as a curse. It was a blessing in that it benefitted the economic development of society, by raising productivity, as Adam Smith pointed out. However, it was harmful and a curse, as far as spiritual and mental health and unity of the individual and of society are concerned.

The important point is that education adjusted itself to this contradictory situation. It was bound to serve the needs of the economy, by producing specialists, and people educated only for one or two tasks in life. Education adjusted itself to producing cripples of human people, who were one-sided in development, in whom the pursuit of, and desire for, and the making of things of, beauty and nobility and art, were for leisure time, or for a select few in society, called artists or intellectuals.

How did education adjust itself to this? Through the school  curriculum. The development of the artistic sense is not a high priority in the education fashioned for the vast majority of society members. To that extent, education contributes towards the ugliness and vulgarity, and the love of ugliness and

vulgarity, and violence, so common in modern industrial society.

In other words, even though the economy called for specialists, education hardly played any role in countering the spiritual and mental fragmentation and degradation of humanity. Planners of education must have loyalty not only to development needs of the economy, the Nation-State, and society, in general, but also, and above all, to the development of the wholeness of the human being, to the spiritual and mental health and unity of both the individual and humanity.

Fortunately, as modern technology and science develop, a stage is soon reached where the typical worker needed, to handle this technology and science, is a person who not only can handle the equipment physically, but one who understands, rationally and theoretically, the machinery and science being wielded. The economy itself, more and more calls for an integrated curriculum, in which the study of nature and the study of society and history are integrated. A mighty philosopher foresaw this about 140 years ago: “Natural science will one day incorporate the science of man, just as the science of man will incorporate natural science; there will be a single science” (Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts).

It is, therefore, incumbent upon education planners, for both development and humanist needs, to formulate and implement a

curriculum which integrates the imparting of technological and scientific skills with the arts and humanities; and which integrates the training of the mind and soul with the training of the human body, too. The appointment of a committee to see to this formulation and implementation of this direction of our education should be top priority.


There shall be two types of educational institutions, public institutions, and private institutions.

Public institutions shall be funded by the State. However, the State’s role in education should be restricted to:


  a) providing the infrastructure (buildings, equipment,             electricity, water, modern means of communication, etc.),       books, and salaries of teachers and staff.

b) Laying down, and seeing to the implementation of certain

     broad guidelines, as discussed in this policy statement.

     Within the framework of the broad guidelines, the details

     shall be decided upon at the local level.


The actual running and management of schools, including recommendation of hiring and dismissal of teachers and staff,

and requesting of constructing and closing of schools, should be left to local communities, through School Boards. The local school boards should be elected, or appointed, by the local community, strictly following the principle of representativeness of the character of the community, with all social classes, regions, cultures, and races represented in due proportions.

Private schools shall be funded privately, not by the State.


Pre-schools, elementary schools, and secondary schools shall be free of charge to students and parents attending such institutions.

TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS (universities, technicons, etc.)

There shall be Public as well as Private tertiary institutions.

a) Public Institutions

     These shall be largely funded by the State, as the huge,

mainly excellent “State Universities” of the USA are.



     Fees in State-funded tertiary institutions shall be low,

calculated to be affordable to the family or individual

financially responsible for meeting the expenses of the


b) Private Institutions

These shall not be funded by the State, except in cases of

specific research commissioned by the State, which may be

funded by the State.

c) The State shall encourage the formation of Partnership

     between the State and Private Enterprise in the

     establishment of TECHNICONS. The State shall encourage

     each industry to establish its own TECHNICON/S. For

example, the Automobile industry shall be expected and

encouraged to establish its own technicon/s, for this

industry knows best what sort of training is best for

its workers. The same for the Electrical Industry,

Computer Industry, Building industry, Mining industry,


In these cases, the State shall be open to considering

agreements on financial cooperation between such industries

and the State, to facilitate the establishment and operation       of such technicons. However, the actual running of these

     institutions shall not be the responsibility of the State,

     although these institutions shall also follow the broad

     guidelines enunciated in the policy statement.




The accommodation into the curriculum of the new mix of         science, mathematics, and the humanities may call or more

     space and time in the subject package, which may require

     the adoption of a Four Year degree, across the board. A

Committee should be appointed to investigate this matter,

and make appropriate recommendations.


There is also a crucially important phase of education, which is yet totally unattended to, in the education of Africans, the overwhelming majority of the school population and of society:

pre-school education. Latest findings on the development of IQ in children are particularly alarming, when viewed against what is not happening in the education of Africans. The following report is worth careful study, in relation to our situation:

“After birth the brain’s higher intellectual centers show explosive growth. Around age eight or nine, connections between neurons in the cerebral cortex are pruned back. The rule that governs this elimination is simple: use the connection or lose it. Children without a rich early-life exposure to reading or numbers may be at a disadvantage that can register later as diminished intellect.” (Time, October 31, 1994, p. 55)

This is a terrible indictment of the educational system available in our country, especially for the overwhelming majority of the population. Whereas governments in industrialized countries accept the responsibility for the provision of pre-school education, governments in this country have evaded that responsibility.

The point being made in the quotation above is that the future

intellectual development of a human being depends crucially on the educational inputs made to children at the pre-school age. Physiologically, the child’s brain grows at an explosive, enormous rate, during the first eight years or so. After that, the grows slows down considerably. What is crucial is that good educational inputs, made at that early stage, determine largely the later intellectual success and development of the grown person, including IQ. Therefore, children without benefit of good pre-school education, using the latest advances in educational

technology and methods, and subject content, are likely to suffer negatively, as far as future intellectual development and achievement are concerned. The children without these benefits are likely to be underachievers, compared to children who had the benefits.

I repeat: this is a serious indictment against the educational system which was designed for Africans in this country, a system still in operation. We have in this country, up to now, a near-total absence of pre-school education, therefore exposing our children to what the report records as “a disadvantage that can register later as diminished intellect.” The quality of pre-school education is the foundation for exemplary intellectual achievements, later on in life, or for mediocre strides.

Therefore, it should be urgent policy of our government to

formulate and put together a plan for instituting an excellent pre-school system for all our children.

Such is the education policy we recommend for adoption by the country and its government.


About Professor Herbert W. Vilakazi

Professor Herbert Vilakazi was born at Nongoma, KwaZulu/Natal, South Africa. He received his tertiary education at Columbia University, and at the New School For Social Research, both in New York City, USA. He has taught sociology and other social sciences at various tertiary institutions in and around New York City (City College of City University, Essex County College in Newark, Livingstone College, and State University of New York). He has also taught at the University of Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University), University of the Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town, and University of Zululand. He served as Deputy-Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission from 1998 to 2004. He has also served as Special Advisor to the Premier of KwaZulu/Natal (2005-2007). He is Chairperson of Vilakazi Development Strategies.
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One Response to The Education Crisis in South Africa

  1. Ahir Vora says:

    First off I would like to say superb blog! I had a
    quick question in which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind prior to writing. I have had trouble clearing my mind in getting my ideas out. I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints? Appreciate it!

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