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By: Zipho Meyiwa

Zipho Meyiwa

36 Years later:

On 16 June 1976, students took to the streets of Soweto and protested against the use of Afrikaans “the language of the oppressor” as a medium of instruction; this spread nationwide and became a watershed event in the struggle against apartheid. Lives were lost, many injured and a youth generation devastated. Thirty six years later, the memory of that day to some is still vividly clear as if it were yesterday; memorials take place and June 16 is commemorated every year throughout the country but has there been any significant change in our Education system since the Soweto uprising?

What had caused the spark of the march that morning had been the insistence of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. 18 years later when the ANC assumed power (1994) a transformation begun in education. The constitution containing the Bill of Rights was drafted and became the law. On education, the bill of rights (section 29) states (RSA 1996:14)

  • Everyone has the right to receive education in the official languages of their choice where the education is reasonably practical.

The issue of Language was immediately addressed. Democratisation came into play because previously stakeholders such as parents, workers and the broader community had no say, the new government accepted their participation and that they should be active in the education process. Election of school governing bodies to represent the stakeholders is an example. The quest for equal education provision and open opportunity was important and after 1994 became a cornerstone of the new education (Booyse et al,2011:273-274). The pre-1994 racially and ethnically based departments collapsed and each province established a provincial department of education.

Previously the education provided for black people was inadequate: black schools were overcrowded and under staffed. The government grants were little and black learners where separated from white learners. The curriculum included Religious instruction, Bantu language, English or Afrikaans, Arithmetic, Geography, Nature study, Hygiene History, Music, Manual and Industrial training. Teachers were trained poorly and because of the multitudes, schooling worked in shifts: one in the morning and another in the evening. Bantu Education was designed to teach African learners to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water” for a white-run economy and society, regardless of an individual’s abilities and aspirations. In what are now infamous words, Minster of Native Affairs, Dr. Hendrik F. Verwoerd, explained the government’s new education policy to the South African Parliament:

There is no space for him [the “Native”] in the European Community above certain forms of labour. For this reason it is of no avail for him to receive training which has its aim in the absorption of the European Community, where he cannot be absorbed. Until now he has been subjected to a school system which drew him away from his community and misled him by showing him the greener pastures of European Society where he is not allowed to graze. (Quoted in Kallaway, 92)

Thirty six years after the watershed on the streets of Soweto, black, white, pink and purple learners can enjoy the privilege of learning in their mother tongue. They receive the same type of education and resources. Aspiring Teachers receive training not according to their ethnicity and a curriculum built upon multiculturalism and multilingualism is what the youth of today is exposed to. An education system that allows learners of all races and abilities has been established. Individuals are now able to attend which ever school they want to, relative to their socio-economic status however, and previously disadvantaged schools have undergone changes such as being supplied with computers, capable teachers and resources such as textbooks, laboratories, kitchens and sport fields. The government has enforced and brought about change but in the same period education is seen to be downgrading over the years and education as a whole needing an even greater intervention as there are schools still stuck in the ‘ditch’. Education now no longer lies with the government and its abilities and interventions but also on individuals who have lived through change and are able to educate everyday not necessarily with text books but with words, actions and enthusiasm.


Booyse.JJ, Le Roux.CS, Seroto.J, Wolhuter.CC.2011.A history of schooling in South Africa: method and context.Van Schaik. Pretoria.

De Wet.C, Wolhuter.CC.2009. A transition study of some South African Education issues. South African Journal of Education Vol.29:359-376.

Republic of South Africa (RSA) 1996c. National Education Policy Act 27.Cape Town.Government printers.