Freedom Day is intended as a day of celebration, a day on which South Africa is called to reflect on the freedom that came with entering a democratic system. While each citizen now has the opportunity to cast their vote, the legacy of inequality still looms over our population, meaning that not everyone is truly free. We see this in all aspects of basic human rights, where those who were previously disadvantaged are still experiencing the ripples of the past. In South Africa, we strive to address the issue of unequal education, hoping to one day celebrate Freedom Day for its true meaning, where each South African really does feel free.
On 27 April 1994, South Africa held its very first democratic election. It was a day filled with long, excited ques of people waiting to finally add their voice to the running of the country. People from all races, cultures and backgrounds stood side by side, as the apartheid policy of segregation had come to an end. The African National Congress (ANC) won the election with a 62.7% majority vote, making the party’s frontman, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first black president of South Africa on 9 May 1994.
While the jubilation of a country liberated from oppressive rule was still fresh and promised much, the decades that followed made it clear that inequality had become deeply entrenched in the country’s fabric and will still take many years to truly unravel. This has cast a shadow over the intention of Freedom Day, where many reflect on a country in which they are still bound by history. Unequal access to education has influenced many of the issues that are visible today.
Apartheid and education
The easiest way to manipulate young minds into believing the apartheid logic and to control knowledge sharing, was to influence education. From roughly the 1930s, most schools accepting Black students were those run by missions. These were usually state funded, however, many children of colour still did not attend school. In 1949, a study was performed to come up with recommendations for the education of non-white children. This spurred the National Party to introduce the Bantu Education Act to Parliament in 1953, which required all children from the Homelands (areas designated to Black South Africans, keeping them from living in urban areas) to attend government schools.
While the plan was masked as a noble one, its motive was to train children for manual labour and jobs the government felt were ‘suitable’ to their race. Under this premise, these schools received little funding, leaving them under-resourced and lacking sufficient numbers of educated teachers. It was only after many years of substandard education for non-whites, that the South African Schools Act of 1996 ended segregation in places of learning. History has left the greater portion of Black South Africans behind in reaching educational growth and achievement, ultimately excluding the majority of our population from entering the 21st Century workforce with the skills, confidence and dignity of people who have been able to reach their full potential.
What can we do?
While apartheid left a deep scar on this country, and it will likely still take decades to reach anything near an image of equality, we believe that every step towards liberation is a step in the right direction. Each child deserves to feel fully equipped for the world around them. Celebrate Freedom Day with us, by reimagining education and working towards a brighter, truly free future.