While Dr. Verwoerd (left) initiated the overarching rhetoric regarding the effectiveness of apartheid policy, Dr W.W.M. Eiselen (right) spearheaded the commission that ushered it into the education system.
TODAY marks the 42nd anniversary of the Soweto students uprising which was sparked by the enforcement of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools in keeping with the Apartheid philosophy of Bantu Education. The revolt against the colonial education system did not start in 1976. The 1976 uprising was a watershed in the struggle against inferior education. The call for the decolonisation of the South African education system also did not begin with the Fallist movement. Historical records show that Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe blazed the trail in that field and laid the foundation for future protests.
In his 1949 Fort Hare graduation speech, Sobukwe exposed the sinister ideological motives of Apartheid ideologists at Stellenbosch University who included Dr W.M.M.J Eiselen and his colleagues that I would like to refer to as the devil’s workshop where Apartheid was incubated and hatched. This Dr Eiselen is the one who tailored the infamous Bantu Education curriculum which was meant to turn African people into perpetual slaves.
In 1952, Zephania Lekoane Mothopeng, Vice Principal of Orlando High School who was a science and mathematics teacher was outright in his rejection of the introduction of Dr Eiselen’s Bantu Education systems in African schools. As President of the Transvaal African Teachers Association (TATA), Mothopeng mobilised against Bantu Education. He, Professor Eskia Mphahlele and Peter Matlare were expelled from teaching.
Mothopeng worked closely with the Black Consciousness Movement student organisation, the South African Students Organisation (SASO) whose leaders were their leading spokesman Steve Biko, Onkgopotse Tiro and many others. In 1975, Mothopeng addressed SASO on Imperialist Penetration into African Universities in which he said that the duty of the students is to proclaim the truth at all times.
In 1972, in a graduation speech billed the Turfloop Testimony, Onkgopotse Tiro castigated Bantu Education and the Apartheid government. He was expelled and his expulsion led to protests at most universities throughout the country. After his expulsion from Turfloop University, Tiro went to teach at Morris Isaacson High School where Tsietsi Mashinini, who led the 1976 students uprising, was a student.
Biko and Mothopeng used to visit Sobukwe in Kimberley where he was banished. Even on the eve of the uprising, they had been together. During the Bethal Treason Trial where Mothopeng was accused number 1 for having organised and predicted the 1976 uprising, the Judge asked him why he visited Sobukwe.
Because some people who call themselves historians invariably suffer from historical amnesia, I have decided to quote parts of Sobukwe’s 1949 Fort Hare speech to demonstrate that his role in questioning the epistemological foundations of South Africa’s colonial system of education is often ignored.
“It has always been my feeling that, if the intention of the trustees of this College is to make it an African College or University, as I have been informed it is, then the Department of African Studies must be more highly and more rapidly developed. Fort Hare must become the centre of African Studies to which students in African Studies should come from all over Africa. We should also have a department of Economics and of Sociology. A nation to be a nation needs specialists in these things.
“Again I would like to know exactly what the College understands by ‘Trusteeship’. I understand by ‘Trusteeship’ the preparation of the African ward for eventual management and leadership of the College. But nothing in the policy of the College points in this direction. After the College has been in existence for thirty years the ratio of European to African staff is four to one. And we are told that in ten years’ time we might become an independent university. Are we to understand by that an African University predominantly guided by European thought and strongly influenced by European staff?
“I said last year that Fort Hare must be to the African what Stellenbosch [University] is to the Afrikaner. It must be the barometer of African thought. It is interesting to note that the theory of ‘Apartheid’ which is today the dominating ideology of the State was worked out at Stellenbosch by [Dr W.M.M.J Eiselen and his colleagues. That same Eiselen is Secretary for Native Affairs. But the important thing is that Stellenbosch is not only the expression of Afrikaner thought and feeling but it is also the embodiment of their aspiration. So also must Fort Hare express and lead African thought. “You have seen by now what education means to us: the identification of ourselves with the masses. Education to us means service to Africa. You have a mission; we all have a mission. A nation to build we have, a God to glorify, a contribution clear to make towards the blessing of mankind. We must be the embodiment of our people’s aspirations,” Professor Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, 1949 Fort Hare graduation speech.
In the Zimbabwe Herald of 04 September 2017, I wrote in an article published under the headline, ‘Africa and the politics of education’ that, “An African American study reveals that the education of black people worldwide is underfunded and calls for an examination of the epistemological biases that continue to pervade our research and scholarship. The study also emphasises that people of African ancestry must keep in their consciousness that domination involves structures and systematic practices founded on ideology organised to suppress the history of the victims; destroy the practice of their culture; prevent the victims from coming to understand themselves as part of a cultural family; teach systematically the ideology of white supremacy; control the socialisation process; control the accumulation of wealth; and perform segregation or apartheid.”
A few days back, Gauteng MEC for Basic Education Mrs Angie Motshekga announced that the history curriculum is going to be changed. It is a courageous and bold step. She needs to be encouraged and supported where necessary. However, I have misgivings because of the partisanship of the governing party. The governing party’s narrative of South Africa’s history of the liberation struggle appears to be about another country. The ANC government distorts the history of the very day that will be commemorated tomorrow 16 June 2018 as well as 21 March. They hold their own rallies where these sacred days are desecrated. They have renamed these historical days ‘Youth Day’ and ‘Human Rights Day’ specifically to distort their historical significance.
As part of changing the history curriculum, the ANC government must first name June 16 and March 21 with their proper names as Soweto Day and Sharpeville Day respectively and present the correct narratives of these historic days.
Finally, the ANC government and the mainstream media should acknowledge the significant roles Sobukwe, Mothopeng, Tiro and Biko played in South Africa’s struggle for liberation and accord them the honour they deserve.
Mangaliso Sobukwe’s Forthare Speech http://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/robert-sobukwe-speech-university-fort-hare-president-students%E2%80%99-representative-council-21-oct