By Vally, Salim; Khouri-Dhager, Nadia
South Africa is responding to one of the people's main demands by opening up the education and training system to all citizens.
Four years after the fall of apartheid, South Africa is finally rebuilding its educational system. "The basic idea is to facilitate the democratic transformation of the national education and training system," says Samuel Isaacs, director of the South African Qualifications Agency (SAQA) in charge of setting up the new education system, which is called the National Qualifications Framework. A committed pastor and citizen, Isaacs was at the forefront of the anti-apartheid struggle.
Education and professional training were at the heart of the political struggle against the former system, and "education for all" was a key theme of Nelson Mandela's speeches as soon as he became president. Youth demonstrations against segregation in education and the attempt to impose the teaching of Afrikaans, one of the white minority's two official languages, touched off the Soweto riots, crushed by a bloody crackdown in 1976.
Many grassroots organizations, local church and religious groups and women's movements, which were very active in the 1980s, set up evening and technical training courses for non-white adults to offset the public education system's shortcomings. Today these courses are officially recognized.
The new system includes proposals for lifelong education made in the early 1990s by the powerful 1.8-million-strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which had, alongside the African National Congress (ANC), played a key role in the mobilization against apartheid. COSATU's demands focused on better mining for black workers.
Today the education of non-white adults is a priority. "Blacks, Coloureds and Asians," according to the official classification, account for 87 per cent of the population but hold most of the unskilled, low-paid jobs and have few opportunities to upgrade their qualifications. The Job Reservation Act had excluded them from many jobs and training programmes. In the late 1980s, only 17 per cent of technicians, 3 per cent of architects and 0.1 per cent of engineers were black. In public administration, Whites held 96 per cent of managerial positions, and while the country's economy is based on mining, there has only ever been one black mine manager. The result of these discriminatory policies is 38 per cent unemployment among Blacks, compared to 6 per cent for Whites.
Under the new system currently being developed, students with "non-formal" training may enter the "formal" educational system at any age. …