June 16 in 1976 is a significant day in our South African history.
The day and its gruesome events will later be known as the Soweto Uprising.
The day commemorates the great bravery demonstrated by the class of 1976.
It stands for the innocent lives of black children that was stolen by the regime government.
It is also a reminder to our South African education system and those in positions of power.
During that year, as part of the “perfect separatist plan” of the regime government (National Party) to oppress black people, the government introduced the language of Afrikaans to be a compulsory medium of instruction from Grade 7 on wards in schools.
Like the famous song of Mbongeni Ngema that was sang in the movie of Sarafina titled, ‘Nkonyane Kandaba’.
Perhaps this was the very song that pupils, teachers and principals sang as they mobilized and marched through the dusty streets of Soweto.
They took our land, our childhood, our identity, our lives and now they wanted to take the only weapon that Tata told us in his quote that it will help us change the world, “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world”, Nelson Mandela.
According to SA history, five years after the National party came into power, they introduced Bantu education Act in 1953 which brought African Education under full control of the government.
Top 5 facts about Bantu education:
1. Bantu education served the interests of white supremacy.
2. Bantu education act denied black people access to the same educational opportunities and resources enjoyed by white South Africans.
3. Bantu education denigrated black people’s history, culture, and identity. It promoted myths and racial stereotypes in its curricula and textbooks. (The same principle incorporated in Germany during the Nazi times)
4. This so-called “Bantu culture” was presented in crude and essentialized fashion. African people and communities were portrayed as traditional, rural, and unchanging.
5. Bantu education treated blacks as perpetual children in need of parental supervision by whites, which greatly limited the student’s vision of his/her place in the broader South African society.
Well, I would like to say that after 22 years of democracy, things have changed in SA. For better? Or for worse?
You tell me. It seems that the same events of the past are now happening, except its far more subliminal and undercover.
Scholars from social sciences and humanities faculties have been wrestling with the complex and often contested meanings of race, racism, and discrimination across the globe.
Sociologists have retained a special claim to illuminating processes of group boundary maintenance, systems of racial inequality and supporting ideologies, and attendant patterns of intergroup behavior.
The common definition of racism that scholars have agreed upon over the years is that, the term racism or racialism refers to a worldwide ideology that reflects on any action, practice or belief that humans may be divided into exclusive biological entities called races.
The races are divided based on their similar traits such as colour, personality traits, morality and cultural behavioral features.
Due to these divisions, certain races then start acting more superior than the other race.
Racism in South Africa can be traced back to our historical context. After the 1948 general election of the National Party (led by white supremacists) which were less than 10% of the country’s population implemented a ‘legal’ program called Apartheid, which sole purpose was social separation in terms of political and economic status.
Therefore children of different races by the Apartheid law were forced to attend separate educational institutions.
It has been 22 years since racism has ended in South Africa according to the constitution of South Africa, section 9 –
everyone should be treated equally. Although there are such laws set in place, racism is still rife and has become institutionalised.
Institutionalised racism manifests within educational institutions. This is our high schools, universities etc. Today’s racism is no longer practised by a group of individuals but it is perpetuated by the institutions that we study/work in.
Students become exposed and vulnerable to racial prejudice from their teachers and friends.
We asked Dr. Asanda Benya; a sociology lecturer at University of Cape Town a few questions on Institutionalised racism and this was her response:
What constitutes Racism?
In simple terms it’s discrimination / prejudice against someone based on their race. The belief that they are fundamentally different and inferior to you because they belong to a different race.
Is South Africa capable of eradicating racism?
Yes. In the long run it certainly is, but not just as a country, its not a south African problem. The world over. But for it to be eradicated we need to take serious steps towards eradicating it now. that means consciousness raising with people, rethinking how the market is structured and doing things differently.
It’s so insidious that to eradicate racism is going to take very deliberate efforts from how we’re socialise etc.
Do you believe that racism is still prevalent with SA’s leading universities and why?
Yes. It’s very prevalent. The experiences some of my students have shared with me and my own experiences at the university demonstrate the prevalence of racism.
It’s covert- so it’s not obvious but hidden in what people say, their assumptions about you, their reactions to you, their expectations of you. So instead of someone assuming that I’m part of academics, they assume I’m an administrator best or a student and my white student standing next to me is the actual staff member.
What can universities do to assist this shift towards an anti-racism mindset within students?
At a university the first thing is to teach the university community about it, not just the liberal ‘diversity’ courses or talks, but a real deep digging, unpacking, consciousness raising, critical race theory.
Should government adopt more stringent methods with regards to racists?
Everyone should adopt stringent methods in addressing racists. I’m not sure if its something we want to government to do. I’ve no faith in them. I think society in general should just be more stringent in dealing with all these ‘isms’, not just racism, but homophobia, classism, sexism etc. Most importantly I think it calls for a different kind of socialising people.
Wikipedia defines tsosti as ‘a black criminal’. Please comment on this definition
It’s a messed up definition, actually VERY f**ked up, but not shocking, criminality is associated with blackness so a definition like that has a history and racist stereotypes.
Do you believe that anti- racism campaigns are successful in South Africa? Please explain why.
No, they just reinforce stereotypes about people. A group of liberals and creatives are usually put together in one room to come up with an anti-racism campaign, so no that crap wont work. Bring together people who’ve written critically and for a long time about racism and get them to talk together and come up with a campaign that will hit all the right nerves.
But also, just one campaign alone wont help, we need to tackle it from many fronts. But most importantly get the right people do conceptualise these and roll out something that has been thoroughly researched, not just a campaign that sounds funny or cool, or that glosses over important issues. People have no time for that.
No matter how racism affects you- whether it is direct or indirectly, everyone has a role to play in making sure that we eradicate racism in our schools and communities.
Yes, the constitution has laws against racism. However if the citizens don’t take action towards fighting racism then the laws won’t become effective.
Dr Asanda Benya has obtained her BSocSc(Hons) MSocSc PhD at Witwatersrand and is currently a sociology lecturer at UCT.