White Teachers/White Schools: Oral Histories from the Struggle against Apartheid

By Wieder, Alan | Multicultural Education, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

White Teachers/White Schools: Oral Histories from the Struggle against Apartheid


Wieder, Alan, Multicultural Education


Since 1999 I have been working on an oral history project with teachers who fought against apartheid in South Africa. Forty teachers were interviewed for the project, and all of them lived in the Western Cape, a province that includes Cape Town and surrounding areas. Teachers repre- sented the four government designated ethnic groups, African, Coloured, Indian, and White.

Wendy Moult and Simon Winter are white teachers who taught in white schools during apartheid. Both Moult and Winter combined pedagogy and politics in their lives as teachers, and they joined other teachers in the struggle against the apart- heid regime. This article focuses on short oral histories of their lives as teachers.

We begin with (1) a discussion of the oral history project, (2) a contextual section on apartheid and education, and (3) some notes on oral history methodology. The principal section of the article presents mini-oral histories of Moult and Winter. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of the stories and their relevance to under- standing the struggle against apartheid.

The Project

I began meeting with South African teachers in March 1999, and the project continues at the present time. Interviews were conducted throughout 1999, in De- cember 2001 and January 2002, and are planned for the 2003 calendar year.

It was educational historian Peter Kal- laway, a Professor at the University of the Western Cape, who urged me to launch the project. He explained that while both the victims and the perpetrators of apartheid atrocities were publicly telling their stories before the Truth and Reconciliation Com- mission (TRC), (Krog, 1998 ) there was no venue for teachers' voices. He suggested that it might be a TRC for educators.

Faculty at the University of the West- ern Cape and the University of Cape Town provided a list of teachers who were pos- sible project participants, and many of the teachers that met with me introduced me to their colleagues and political comrades. As I have already noted, I interviewed 40 teachers who represented all four of the Government-designated ethnic groups.

Because I work in Cape Town, the demographics of the teachers I meet with is much different than the rest of South Africa. In 1985 (which is a key year that connects the schools with the struggle against apartheid because non-White stu- dents boycotted the schools and protested against the Government) the popula- tion of South Africa was 64.8% African, 19.5% White, 12.1% Coloured, and 3.6% Indian. In Cape Town, the demograph- ics were very different- 57% Coloured, 27% White, 15% African, and 1% Indian (Republic of South Africa 1985 Population Census, G68A p.1).1 Twenty-four coloured teachers, five African teachers, one Indian teacher and ten White teachers have been interviewed for the project.

Each of these people was part of the struggle against the apartheid regime, but they are not clones and their participation was influenced by class, ethnic designa- tion, gender, the school system where they taught, and their political and personal ideological view of the world. Almost all the teachers I interviewed believe in nonra- cialism. They are not naïve and they don't advocate color blindness as an appropriate stand on racial issues-they are very clear on the past and present racist reality. Still, they define race as politically, economically, and socially constructed.

Pam Hicks is a White woman who has spent her career teaching in Black schools. She reflected on being referred to as a White teacher. "I have some trouble in identifying myself as a 'White woman working in Coloured schools.' It was that kind of identification that we were work- ing to destroy. In teacher organizations we defined ourselves functionally-according to which department's schools we worked in. That was the significant thing" (Wie- der, 2001).

A second example speaks very clearly to the same issue. Mandy Sanger was des- ignated Coloured by the apartheid regime and she began to fight the government as a high school student in Cape Town. …

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