Today marks the 42 commemoration of the 1976 students uprising against a racist and biased educational system known as Bantu Education. It is important to note that these riots were more than just a fight against an education system that excluded black South Africans from quality education, but also a fight against a denial by the apartheid regime for black people to write their own histories, to play a role in developing their country socially and politically and subsequently be active citizens in their state for economic development.
Putting my thoughts and feelings down for this article has been hard as I do not know what significant aspect can be celebrated. As a young woman, born post 1994 as a supposed 'born free', I write this article from a place of limbo as I am the youth that the class of 1976 was fighting for. I know this because throughout my education career, mostly in primary and high school years we were taught that we ought to be grateful that we are receiving the education that we were. We were reminded day in and day out by either our parents and even school teachers that being in a former model c school in the democratic post-apartheid state, as a black child was something that formerly did not belong to and resonate with us. So every day I had to fight for recognition of my identity in school through being one of the top achievers amongst White and Indian students and aim for excellence in any cultural or sporting activities that I embarked on.
Many of us who have gone through private or former model c schools in suburban areas can admit to having some parts of our own identities subjugated by the system of education. From the content that is taught and specified, a sense of not belonging as black students has always lingered but without full expression. A denial of a whole race of people to fully understand and express who they are even post-apartheid had been so carefully crafted as to what we understand as 'quality education'. Township schools and those in rural parts of the country have been neglected and considered the 'black schools'. These were and continue to be some of the stereotypes that shape political discourse in South Africa. Black schools have been synonymous with shortage of teachers, decapitated infrastructure and a low morale from the students. A low morale that stems from a lack guidance from the necessary individuals who are supposed to shape and feed young minds.
In 2015 the #FeesMustFall protests saw many university students mobilised against exorbitant tertiary education fees. It highlighted a much higher socio-economic problem that many black students have endured since 1994. Despite the protests being about the fact that students are excluded from university and college institutions because they cannot afford the fees. Issues of representation were also highlighted in the protests. Many universities, especially those known as "white" institutions because of the historical background of formerly excluding black students and the prestige associated with them such as Wits University, University of Cape Town and Rhodes University, brought to the forefront the essence of decolonised education. To elaborate, decolonised education would encompass vast knowledge that is produced by [South] Africans for [South] Africans; knowledge that is reflective of the country and continent whilst also taking into consideration the global society. The call for decolonised education also stems from the fact that there is minimum representation of black scholars in the spaces of education and training. The knowledge produced and taught is through a western Eurocentric approach and only further promotes the ideals of western society. The very system that was forced upon our parents was crafted by a white regime only to further their mission and propaganda of being on top.
42 years later students continue to fight for access into university spaces, have to manoeuvre around public and private schools that have little representation of black students that can be seen through the institutionalised culture within these spaces. The call for decolonised education is more than about the content students are learning but also forms part of the conditioning of the type of society young South African students envision for themselves in the future. Education forms part of conditioning people how to behave and interact within their society and what values they should impose as citizens contributing to their country. It is not yet Uhuru for the youth. We should further strive for a society that recognises the potential young adults of this nation have in developing the country for the better.
Yolanda Dyantyi is the Young Women's Alliance intern at Gender Links.