Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Overcoming the Apartheid Legacy in Cape Town Schools

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Overcoming the Apartheid Legacy in Cape Town Schools

Article excerpt

Apartheid, once described as "the most ambitious contemporary exercise in applied geography" (Smith 1982,1), shaped South Africa's social, economic, and political geography to an extent more usually associated with the command economies of former communist countries. The maintenance and reinforcement of divisions in South Africa's plural society were central to this process. Apartheid cities not only reflected but also reinforced the social formation, restricting even the limited transition that might occur, from a situation of divided or conflict pluralism to one of open pluralism more akin to that of the United States (Lemon 1990). In the United States the white populace, still numerically dominant but decreasingly so, has a socioeconomic profile superior to that of Afro-Americans and Hispanic minority groups, but all groups are spread across the socioeconomic spectrum. Intergroup interactions are more complex, aided by crosscutting cleavages and affiliations and less predictably unequal than was once the case (Horowitz 1991). Immigration in Western European countries has led to more multiracial, albeit still predominantly white, societies that are also characterized by varying degrees of inequality alongside open pluralism. Apartheid, in contrast, produced a hierarchically divided and spatially segregated plural society dominated by the white minority (20 percent of the population in 1951, though today only 9.1 percent [SSA 1952, 2008a]), with Indian and Coloured (mixed-race) minorities in an intermediate position, and the black majority a long way behind. Inequalities are far greater than in Western nations, with a Gini coefficient based on disposable income of 0.72 (SSA 2008b).

Segregation of residential areas and services, including education, was legally enforced in South Africa. Restructuring this geography in the face of massive inherited inequality and widespread poverty poses formidable challenges in housing and settlement planning, the labor market, the location of economic activity, welfare services, and, not least, education and training. Since the end of apartheid in 1994 a combination of global, regional, and local factors has led to rising unemployment and widening poverty. This, together with the growth of an increasingly prosperous black, Coloured, and Indian middle class, has increased intraracial inequality. Such challenging circumstances heighten the importance of reallocating public expenditures to enhance the capabilities of the poor to improve their situation within the existing economic structure (Smith 1995). This means improved services and the widening of access and opportunity in education to create a level playing field.

Addressing a rally on 13 February 1990, shortly after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela described apartheid education as "a crime against humanity," underscoring the major role played by education in the liberation struggle. School segregation according to apartheid categories of white, Indian, Coloured, and black, with separate education departments for each group and for each black homeland, created and reproduced huge inequalities (Lemon 1999). These inequalities have been reduced since the mid-1980s, as Coloureds and Indians benefited from more generous funding of so-called own affairs under the 1984 constitution and as late-apartheid reforms prioritized black education, but per capita spending was still nearly four times as much for whites as for blacks when apartheid ended in 1994. A mere 7.4 percent of blacks had completed secondary school, according to the 1991 census, with very poor secondary provision in the former black homelands and virtually none for blacks in white farming areas (Lemon and Stevens 1999). The majority of black schools possessed little beyond the shell of their buildings, whereas many white state schools were comparable with the best in the developed world. Formally underqualified teachers, still 16 percent nationally and 9 percent in the Western Cape in 2002 (SAIRR 2007, 281), and poorly trained teachers schooled in an authoritarian system, posed massive retraining problems. …

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