Freedom Day

I wrote this piece, “Segregation still the rule in schools,” about 10 years of democracy in South Africa 10 years ago, in 2004, back when I still had a day job as an editor, but was furiously freelancing in the evenings and weekends. I was traveling to South Africa for a visit and a wedding, and decided to come a few days early to report the story: in a nutshell, educational opportunities for poor, black kids are somewhat better than what they were under apartheid, but nowhere near what they could or should be. A decade or two is not much time when it comes to transforming institutions, but it’s defining when it comes to a single child’s life.


Segregation still the rule in schools

When apartheid ended in 1994, South African’s new government abolished racially segregated schools. But a decade later, there is little racial mixing among students.

By Rebecca L. Weber, Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 27, 2004

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA–At Ummangaliso (“Miracle”) Primary School, the oldest elementary school in Khayelitsha Township, more than 1,400 children play on the lone jungle gym during morning recess. Nearby, half a dozen women sit with large plastic buckets of sweets and soft drinks, waiting for those children with pocket money to spare. Many of the kids have already eaten the one meal of the day they can count on – the school’s standard-issue two slices of bread plus a protein shake. In the school’s 17 years of existence, burglars have stolen everything from bricks to toilet bowls, so a construction team is installing new security grids over the windows. Beyond them all, through the smoke of the squatter camps, stands Table Mountain.

Tuesday is Freedom Day in South Africa, honoring the first multiracial vote in 1994. But a decade after the official end of apartheid, the legacy of the former regime’s racially based policies still looms large in the nation’s schools.

The new government’s most dramatic stride toward equalizing schools – dismantling 15 distinct departments of education and creating a single nonracially based one – came in the early heady days of democracy. Their major goals were straightforward and attainable. They successfully excised the most blatant excesses of apartheid education by officially doing away with racially divided schools and a white-supremacist curriculum.

Yet 10 years later, there is still little racial mixing in South Africa’s schools, and a far more complex and fundamental problem endures: ensuring that blacks get access to equal academic opportunities. Read the full story here.