Apartheid and the universities
The Ratcatcher | Politicsweb | 17 January 2012
Was it really, as the Guardian claims, the ANC who opened the gates of higher education to all?
In a recent article on the tragic death of Gloria Sekwena in a stampede at the University of Johannesburg The Guardian of London claimed that "Under apartheid, all but a trickle of the country's black majority was shut out of higher education. When white minority rule ended, in 1994, the gates to universities were opened to all."
The British readers of that publication would no doubt have accepted this claim as fact. It would have confirmed established views on the horrors of Afrikaner rule in South Africa, and of the boundless virtues of the ANC.
The question is: how true is this claim?
Up until 1959 the Afrikaans-medium universities had traditionally limited admittance to whites. The University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Cape Town had however remained open to all races. The University of Natal admitted students of all races but segregated classes. Fort Hare meanwhile was a predominantly black institution.
As can be seen from Table 1 there was indeed only a trickle of black South Africans into higher education in the 1950s. The racial breakdown of the universities in 1958 was as follows:
Table 1: Enrolment in South African Universities 1958
In 1959 the National Party passed the Extension of University Education Act No. 45 which extended the apartheid principles being applied to the rest of society to higher education as well. This Act decreed that black, Coloured and Indian students would only be allowed to study at the formerly open universities with a permit from the relevant minister. Separate universities would be established for Coloureds and Indians and the different black ethnic groups.
By 1970 two new universities had been established for black South Africans (Zululand and the North), one for Coloureds (Western Cape) and one for Indians (Durban-Westville.) Another two universities had been established for whites: Port Elizabeth and Rand Afrikaans Universiteit. In Modernising Racial Domination (1971), Heribert Adam commented: "With regard to educational opportunities, the five non-white universities have on the whole been successful in terms of the Apartheid programs, despite the limitations placed on them as separate institutions under paternalistic Afrikaner guidance. Their facilities are frequently better and the student teacher ratios much lower than in the white universities, now as well as previously when they were ‘open'."
As can be seen from Table 2 between 1958 and 1970 the number of black students in the universities had more than doubled (from a very low base) but their proportion of the total had remained more-or-less the same due to the massive expansion of white entry into higher education. All but a handful of black students had been excluded from UCT and Wits by this point.
Table 2: Enrolment in South African Universities 1970
By the late 1970s the National Party had begun to lose faith in apartheid as a solution to South Africa's racial ills. The 1959 Act did not place a complete bar on black attendance at the designated "white universities" and in 1983 954 black, 1,255 Coloured and 1,323 Indian applicants were granted permission by the minister to study at these institutions (see Table 3).
Table 3: Number of black, Coloured and Indian students granted permission to study at white universities 1980-1983:
In that year the National Party introduced the Universities Amendment Bill which scrapped the permit system. Clause 9 of the Act allowed for the appropriate minister of state to impose a quota limiting the number of black students admitted to a white university. This clause was met with huge opposition from the English-language universities (see here) and though it made its way into law it was never implemented. The effect of the 1983 Bill then was that the English language universities were able, once again, to directly admit students of all races.
By this point a further five universities had been established for black South Africans: Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Medunsa, Venda and Vista. The number of black South Africans attending university had increased to 33,345. The racial composition of universities in 1983 - the last year in which the 1959 Act still applied - is contained in Table 4 below.
Table 4: Enrolment in South African Universities 1983
Through the 1980s there was a rapid increase in the number of black students attending both black universities as well as the formerly white English-language ones and by 1990 there were over a 100,000 black students enrolled in South African universities. The Afrikaans universities though still seem to have operated more exclusionary policies.
In 1991 the National Party government of FW de Klerk scrapped the last remaining provisions in the law allowing government to restrict university admission on racial grounds. By 1994 there were more than 160,000 black students (or 46,7% of the total) enrolled in South Africa's universities. The remainder was made up of Whites 41,4%, Coloureds 5,1% and Indians 6,9%. A further 65,150 black students were enrolled at technikons.
Table 5: Enrolment in South African Universities 1994
The main obstacle facing black advancement into higher education in the early 1990s was - as it is now - the poor quality of much secondary school education, particularly in maths and science. Successive National Party governments obviously bore much of the blame for this. But the ANC and its allies, both in opposition and then in government, have also pursued hugely destructive policies in this regard (see here).
Moreover, far from "throwing open" the universities to all the ANC has pushed for the imposition of racial quotas limiting the admittance of racial minorities to their proportion of the total population. It also closed the nursing and teaching colleges on which many poor black South Africans depended for entry into those professions.
It is interesting to compare though the record of the Afrikaner nationalists - utterly ghastly as it was - with that of the British colonial rulers in the rest of Africa.
Tanganyika apparently had 120 black African graduates and no university at independence. Nyasaland (Malawi) had some 35 black graduates. In 1961 Nigeria had one university with 1,000 students.
When the British exited Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) in 1964 only 1,200 black Zambians had completed secondary schooling, and 109 had graduated from University.
And who was the Director of Education in Northern Rhodesia responsible for this sorry state of affairs?
If Wikipedia is to be believed it was one George H. Rusbridger, more famous for being the father of Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian.
Bibliography: Heribert Adam, Modernizing Racial Domination: The Dynamics of South African Politics, (University of California Press: London, 1971) and various Race Relations Surveys from the South African Institute of Race Relations.
» » » » [Politicsweb]