The implications of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for the education sector came into sharp focus at an October event held in Cape Town to mark the 10th anniversary of the final TRC report. Racism in schools, skewed access to post-apartheid education and questions of victimhood dominated discussion. Former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and TRC chair Desmond Tutu handed the final TRC report to then president Nelson Mandela on 29 October 1998, marking the end of a process in which victims of apartheid gave testimony about oppressive National Party race rule.
The report recommended that reconciliation programmes be initiated in various sectors, including education, that government give attention to transforming education and that human rights curricula be introduced in formal education.
But Wits University education professor Jonathan Jansen, who chaired an education session at The Desmond Tutu Peace Centre, Foundation for Human Rights and Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) event held in Cape Town between 28 and 30 October, said he was “astounded” at how little there was in the TRC report about education.
“I would like to just semi-provocatively say that our inability to talk about education as a serious instrument for rehabilitation in the wake of apartheid is perhaps the most serious omission in the recommendations.”
IJR programme manager for reconciliation and reconstruction, Valdi van Reenen-Le Roux, pointed out that “substaintial gains” had been made in the first decade of democratic government on issues of equity and access through a range of policy measures and legislation. Attempts to deepen these had taken place during the second decade of democracy.
But Van Reenen-Le Roux, a former history curriculum specialist in the Western Cape education department, said on the ground South Africa’s persistent levels of education inequality, rooted in the apartheid legacy, had become “far more glaring”, threatening nation-building and reconciliation.
Growing inequality manifested itself in schools through poor results in literacy and numeracy tests, high drop-out rates, youth unemployment and the inability of the poor to access high school and tertiary institutions.
“In the midst of these challenges of inclusivity facing our schools, the issue or racial integration is often placed on the back burner yet we have witnessed, particularly this year, alarming incidents of racism,” she said.
Jansen, in addressing the issue of racism and victimhood, said one of the “fundamental mistakes” was to assume that victimhood was a “black thing”.
Speaking about racial incidents in education establishments such as the infamous University of Free State videos, Jansen said in the “plethora of policies” there was nothing speaking to what caused children to “act in ways that we have seen and will continue to see because our presumptive audience for policy making has been black people.”
He said white people had not been included in the discussion of victimhood. The discussion needed to include the sense white people had of moving to a world they thought was there but no longer existed.
Following the TRC a race and values unit was established within the national education department charged with the promotion of reconciliation.
Its director, Granville Whittle, said teaching of the TRC was in the Grade 9 and 12 curriculum. But there were two problems associated with strengthening teaching in the area, the first being the capacity of teachers to teach about the TRC and the second the pedagogical knowledge required for implementation.
With regards assisting the victims of apartheid, he said a fund had been introduced to which victims identified by the TRC could apply to continue their studies. This fund currently supported 36 students.
Whittle said one of the issues raised was around who qualified for victim status. He said the TRC had identified about 21 000 victims, but when the criteria for accessing the education fund had been made available it had been clear that there was “substantial disagreement as to who actually qualifies as a victim”.
A second question raised was whether support should be provided in the context of a no-fees policy while a further question was whether, given that government had not provided significant reparations, people who had paid for education should be able to backdate claims.
* Reporting by Patrick Burnett.