The South African education system has, since the 19th century, been predicated on an exclusionary logic. I base this claim on the differentiation that was introduced by James Stuart at Lovedale College in 1870, where he put black students to wagon-making, agriculture and book-binding. Under William Govan, this did not exist because he believed that a black person was capable of reason and sophisticated thought.
Such a differentiation was introduced as a way of subjecting black people to the colonial mentality of British Empire and its hopes of expansion on the southern tip of the African continent. In Explicating Abjection, one of the observations that make, using analysis that takes as its point of departure Jean-Paul Sartre’s treatise on Being and Nothingness, suggests that this logic is rooted in the desire to abject the black person – jettisoning them from the schema of humanity.
In White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa, JM Coetzee demonstrates how this logic can be traced back to the voyeurism of European coloniality, wherein a black person was reduced to animal status, a move that supported the claim that the only person capable of reason was the European.
With this context in mind, I come to this reflection with most of my thinking inspired by the hope of education decolonisation in the country. Moreover, I write this article spurred on by the action of parents and learners at Cornwall Hill College. I was disappointed by the issues raised because they point to a system riddled with prejudicial thinking that has its roots in the racist logics of our past.
The distinction made by Stuart at Lovedale College 151 years ago continues to haunt the institutional culture(s) of our education system. In his chapter in Decolonisation in Universities, Professor Jonathan Jansen makes the case of the knowledge regimes that define South African reality; knowledge regimes that continue to have bearing on curriculum, institutional culture and the place of those who continue to be the footstool of their oppressors. Recently, the effect of this historical reality was no more pronounced than in the case of Cornwall Hill College as detailed by the learners.
This experience is not only confined to Cornwall Hill College, but seems to be a recurrent reality that sees annual iterations of the painful experiences of black learners.The case of Cornwall Hill College suggests that even institutions established in the post-apartheid era continue to espouse such cultures, ideas and prejudicial views. It is an undeniable fact that our schools continue to be staffed by educators trained in a system that was deeply racist, oppressive and held prejudicial views about the majority of the people of our country.
In her recent and timely contribution entitled Funda-mentalities: Twists and Turns in South African Philosophy (of Education), Ulrike Kistner, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Pretoria, demonstrates how fundamentele pedagogiek, which gave rise to Bantu education, continues to define the education system of democratic South Africa. In view of this reality, one that traumatises our learners in places where they ought to grow, cultivate their curiosities and explore knowledge acquisition for the purpose of advancing society, I follow activist Zulaikha Patel’s thinking when she says there needs to be a Schools Charter that ensures we protect and nurture the future leaders of our society.
Teacher training programmes in our universities need to think critically about the kind of teachers produced and entrusted with the lives of our future leaders. Our curriculum in teacher-training institutions needs to cultivate a social consciousness such that the tragedy of a system that abjects black learners is transformed. More importantly, society needs to appreciate the historical reality that defines our education system, which means prioritising considerations of how we teach our teachers and why they teach. This is to say we ought to, in line with the Freirean conception of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, re-centre the function of the philosophy of education in our teacher-training programmes.