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International Socialist Review, Fall 1966


Franz J.T. Lee

Bantu Education


From International Socialist Review, Vol.27 No.4, Fall 1966, pp.153-156.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Behind the refusal to allow an African to enter the same public bus, train or taxi, the same park, zoological or botanical garden, or the same concert, theater or church as a white in South Arica, lies a complex system of colonialism, racial discrimination, economic exploitation and oppression.

This system, called baasskap, ‘separate development,’ or apartheid, robs the African of his land and produce; it forces him to live in poverty, misery and disease; it denies him modern education, intellectual, philosophic and technical training; it herds him into slums, ghettos, concentration camps, overcrowded reserves and Bantustans; it cuts him off from every form of real democratic expression, freedom of speech, press and mobility. The most effective instrument used to achieve these ends is enslavement of the non-white mind.

The present educational system in South Africa has its roots in the Bantu Education plan of Dr. H.F. Verwoerd. It was instituted following the election of the Boer Nationalist Party to power in 1948 under Dr. D.F. Malan. At that time, Verwoerd was Minister for Native Affairs, by far the most important governmental department, and the policy of Bantu Education was Verwoerd’s solution to the ... “native question.”

In essence, Bantu Education is nothing more than an artificial resuscitation of outmoded tribalism. Here is how Verwoerd described it in a speech in parliament in 1953:

“There is no place for [the native] in the European community,” Verwoerd explained, “above the level of certain forms of labor ... Until now he has been subjected to a school system which drew him away from his own community and misled him by showing him the green pastures of European society in which he was not allowed to graze.”

In picturing the blacks as animals grazing in fields, Verwoerd is only using the accepted language of the master race. In Bantu Education, Policy for the Immediate Future“ (1954), Verwoerd wrote,

“[Bantu] education should stand with both feet in the reserves and have its roots in the spirit and being of Bantu society ... Their education should not clash with Government policy ... If the native in South Africa today ... is being taught to expect that he will live his adult life under a policy of equal rights, he is making a big mistake.”

J.G. Strijdom, who succeeded Malan as prime minister, described baasskap as follows:

“Our policy is that the Europeans must stand their ground and must remain Baas [overlord] in South Africa. If we reject the Herrenvolk [master race] idea and the principle that the white man can remain Baas, if the franchise is to be extended to the non-Europeans, and if the non-Europeans are given representation and the vote and the non-Europeans are developed on the same basis as the Europeans, how can the Europeans remain Baas? Our view is that in every sphere the European must retain the right to rule the country and to keep it white man’s country.” (Quoted from African Nationalism by N. Sithole, 1961.)

Essence of Retribalization

C.R. Swart, who is presently the president of South Africa, stressed the importance of retribalization in the 1953 parliamentary debate, following Verwoerd:

“Hon. members have mentioned that the Department of Native Affairs adopts the policy that natives should not be detribalized but should be educated in their own manner and should learn to be good natives as tribal natives, and should not be imitators ofthe white man.”

Swart added, “This is the policy which we favor and in my opinion it is the only sound policy.”

The Bantu Education Act was passed in 1953, and it began a process designed to reduce 12 million Africans to a state of primitive tribalism which will ensure that they are rightless, voteless and ignorant. It is controlled by the Native Affairs Department, which aspires to direct the thinking, acting, happiness and future development of each and every black. The department controls the supply of cheap African labor – the very backbone ofthe immensely profitable South African economy – to the farms.

It collects the income, hut, poll and labor taxes from the Africans; and it enforces the various racial laws, especially the most-hated pass laws, which in 1960 led to the massacres at Sharpeville, Langa and Nyanga where 72 unarmed peaceful demonstrators were massacred by machine-gun fire and 200 others were seriously wounded.

For other non-white sections of the population – the two million Coloureds, 500,000 Indians, 50,000 Malays and 5,000 Chinese – similar departments have been formed or are in the process of being formed. In the last analysis, every non-white must be robbed of modern education and forced to join the “Commonwealth of Poverty” in South Africa.

The pressure on Verwoerd to hasten the black population through the mills of Bantu Education has increased in recent years rather than decreased. This is because a large portion of South Africa’s labor comes from other African states, mainly from the former British protectorates, the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, and Malawi. Each year literally hundreds of thousands of black men are imported from these countries to be pressed into South African industries.

However, the revolts which are presently rising in many of these neighboring states clearly threaten to cut off this supply of cheap labor – and this fear is haunting Verwoerd and his ministers. And not only this, but the fact is the South African masses themselves are becoming more and more organized in their resistance to the regime of apartheid.

The Sabotage and 90-Day Laws, and Proclamation 400 in the reserves, have become absolute necessities. These allow any policeman to arrest any non-white and hold him for an indefinite period of time without warrant and without trial. The South African jails are filled with thousands of political prisoners.

Briefly, I want to show the following:

  1. that at the primary, as well as the university level of education, Bantu Education is a fraud, in spite of the boasts and propaganda of the racist government;
  2. that compared to white education, Bantu Education has nothing to do with modern education at all – it is designed to retribalize the African, to form him as a potential cheap laborer, to enslave his mind, and to kill every sign or spark of revolutionary fire in him; and,
  3. that Bantu Education has already caused considerable harm to African youth in the last decade.

The idea of separate education in South Africa was not new in 1953. Since 1910, there had been a loose form of discrimination in the schools. The syllabuses, text-books, libraries, and examinations, however, were the same for the various sections of the population. The teaching media had been mainly English and Afrikaans, and to some extent, in the reserves, Xhosa also, a language spoken by nearly half of the African population.

Hitler Was Inspiration

The United Party, which represents the interests of British and other foreign capitalists in South Africa, then had a somewhat more liberal policy than it does today. While in power, it did not see the danger coming. It did not realize that the modern industrialized African “noble savage” was beginning to deslave his mind, to grasp and grapple with his social, political and economic fetters. Only after World War II, when Dr. Verwoerd returned from his studies in Nazi Germany, and when his own Nationalist Party was in power, could Bantu Education be initiated. After Hitler, Verwoerd believed: “If you want to control a people you must get hold of their education.

At the beginning of the ’50s, the South African educational system was roughly comparable to the American: The first two years were also known as the kindergarten period, being standard A and B respectively, and together called the “sub-standards.” The next five years at school were the primary level, Standards I, II, III, IV, and V.

However, even in those days only about one in every 200 African students actually completed Standard V. The rest were material par excellence for the mines. They could just about read a few simple sentences, count to 1000, sign their names, and understand the main orders of their white masters.

The next three years comprised secondary education: Standards VI to VIII. Only at this level did students get certificates of the Department of Education, Arts and Science, which were the same for all sections of the population. Very few pupils reached this tenth year of education.

Higher Education

The following two years allowed a pupil to take either the matriculation course, giving him a certificate for study in a university, or Standards IX and X, which provided him with the National Senior Certificate. This did not admit him to a university, but to other vocational schools or government service. After 12 years of education an African student could study for a Bachelor’s degree at any one of the “open” (multi-racial) universities.

Primary and secondary education were compulsory for the white youth but not for the non-white. On the average, the state paid $180 per year for the education of a white pupil, and about one tenth of that for the education of a non-white. Due to poverty and the inability to pay school fees, or to buy clothes and books, the vast majority of African children could not attend school.

That was in the 1950s: of the 200,000 children of an African population of about 11 million who actually attended primary classes in 1950, only 968 reached the fifth grade, and only 362 the level of matriculation.

At that time, nevertheless, the teachers were respected and loved by the pupils and their parents. The schools had five-hour sessions each day, and English was the widely accepted teaching medium. Many Africans joined the teaching profession, and there was one teacher for two or three classes, who gave lessons in all subjects and knew the interests and weaknesses of his students. These teachers belonged to the liberation movements of the time.

Today, all of them are dead, under house arrest, in jail under the Anti-Communist, Sabotage or 90-Day Acts, in Robben Island concentration camp – or fired, jobless, possibly active in the underground, or have fled from the country. Dummy teachers, indoctrinated, government-friendly Quislings, have taken their places. They have nothing in common with the deepest aspirations of the masses; quite obviously, they are hated by the pupils and their parents.

After 1953, the situation had changed: The teacher in the reserves was no longer a servant of the Department of Education. He is by and large controlled by a “tribal authority” – a black chief of his “Bantu Community.” This chief sees to the local management of the schools. His inability to master the ABCs does not disqualify him. He can simply put a cross on an official document, the contents of which he does not understand, so long as it is countersigned by one of the teachers he appointed.

The chiefs are being used to oppress and exploit their own kith and kin. This is the process of retribalization.

In the primary and secondary schools, an inordinate time is given to religious instruction – the “opium” most fitted to keeping the slave docile, contented with his lot, meek and humble. The longest teaching time is given to manual training – and there is plenty of practice. The pupil has to learn how to use a broom, pick or shovel scientifically, for these are the instruments he will use the greater part of his adult life.

Special text-books are used for the African pupil, written in a pseudo-African language called a “vernacular.” At present, six such languages are being developed in the offices of the Native Affairs Department. No longer is language the product of a people, brought into existence over decades and decades, but it is being manufactured by civil servants. English and Afrikaans are more and more being eradicated from the school curriculum – and it hardly need be said that an African with a Bantu Education Matriculation Certificate in Xhosa, for example, would be hard put to study at a white university in Cape Town or to pursue his studies in a foreign country.

Furthermore, all international scientific textbooks are forbidden in these schools. About 20,000 international books, some of classical “Western Culture,” are banned in South Africa, not to speak of the literature of scientific socialism. It is a criminal offense to read these: the public libraries have come under the axe of apartheid.

While the number of pupils in the first five classes has increased ten times in the last decade, the number of schools and the number of teachers has remained about the same. Pupils now only attend school for two-and-a-half hours daily.

In 1962, for example the 3.3 million whites had 2,600 primary, secondary and high schools, including 34 special schools for “abnormal” children. There were 718,620 pupils in attendance of which 48,000 attended 222 private schools. In 1964, the 12 million blacks had only 7,000 schools, although to call them schools, of course, is an exaggeration, since they consist mainly of big dark halls, tents and old shaky buildings – anything that is, with a roof over it.

Verwoerd’s Results

Of these, only 169 were state schools, while the rest were partially subsidized by the state. About 28,000 teachers, of whom 500 were white, had to attend to 1.5 million pupils. Each class had approximately 60 students.

What was the result? The figures speak for themselves, and they were published by – the English press: The Johannesburg Rand Daily Mail reported April 10, 1965, that 0.1 per cent of the pupils who started schools in the sub-standards reached matriculation level. Another Transvaal newspaper, the Sunday Times, gave an even lower figure May 23, 1965: 0.06 per cent. That means that out of 10,000 pupils who started the Bantu Education program in the kindergarten class of 1953, only 6 reached the matriculation class of 1965.

How many of those then passed the examination allowing them to enter college? Figures for that year are not available, but the following table, based on data published in the Johannesburg Star, February 26, 1965, allows us to make an educated guess:


Percent of successful
African matriculation candidates
who took the examination



per cent


















From these figures it is evident that:

  1. the highest examination pass-rates were achieved in the years immediately after the Bantu Education Act was passed in 1953, before its venemous influence had been felt throughout the school system;
  2. following the institution of the Bantu Education program, there was a noticeable decline in pass-rates, holding more and more Africans away from university education; and,
  3. since 1953 half of the candidates who took the examination failed, and in 1959, and 1960, at the time of Sharpeville, less than one-fifth passed.

Clearly, a student does not pass the matriculation examination according to intellectual capability or merit. He passes according to percentages fixed by the Native Affairs Department – and only if he is chosen by the Department.

The Separate University Education Act of 1960 made it impossible for non-whites to attend the open universities anymore, that is, the universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand and Durban. Five extra “tribal universities,” or as the students call them, “bush colleges,” were founded. What happened in these institutions of higher learning can be seen from these facts about one of them, Fort Hare:

In the May 23, 1965, article cited earlier, L.F. Wood, a United Party representative in parliament, gave further statistics on South African university education. Out of a population of 3.4 million whites, he noted that 33,526 attended universities. Out of the population of 12 million Africans – 946 attended tribal universities: one per cent of the white population and .0008 per cent of the African.

But Will It Work?

Even from this brief presentation, it should be apparent that Bantu Education is a direct product and important component of apartheid. It is intended to retribalize the African, to enslave his mind, to suppress every form of democratic organization, and thereby to establish a permanent force of cheap black labor. In its 13-year-long existence Bantu Education has clearly worsened the situation of the African.

But will it work in the long run? Will it accomplish the dreams of its white supremacist fathers? That is another question.

An educational system that is successful must be acceptable to those for whom it is designed. It must be seen by the African people themselves as beneficial for them, and not dictated to them against their better interest. In fact, an educational system should be the product of the people themselves, embodying their aspirations and needs. It has to be in accordance and in keeping with the general social, economic, political and cultural trends of the time, towards a better world, a more hopeful, peaceful, happier and freer future for all mankind ...

These ingredients are the quintessence of education. They are totally absent from the Bantu Education plan of the South African Herrenvolk. Not a single section of the non-white population had a say in its formation; none accept it, none see it as beneficial; it does not express their real wishes and aspirations; it is an absurd anachronism.

From one end of the country to the other, Bantu Education must be bolstered up with police force, with machine-guns, with an army and with a galaxy of oppressive racial laws. The whole concept of apartheid is an outrage to human intelligence, dignity and worth.

Seven Years ago, Isaac B. Tabata, one of the greatest opponents of Bantu Education, wrote the following sentence:

“It is our belief that the people of South Africa, both white and non-white, will one day jerk themselves out of their complacent smugness and prostration, wake up to their responsibilities and seek to wipe out from the book of history this chapter of degradation, misery and moral destitution.” (Education for Barbarism)

This day has come nearer than ever, but the South African oppressed and exploited need the help and support, spiritual and material, of all human beings who are against oppression, who want the “damned of this earth” to become freee, who see the “Formed Society” and the “Great Society” as dangers for humanity as a whole.

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