The Birth of a New Nation

By Williams, Herma; Davis, James Earl et al. | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

The Birth of a New Nation


Williams, Herma, Davis, James Earl, Soudien, Crain, The Journal of Negro Education


The birth of the new South Africa marks one of the most profound events of the close of the 20th century. Indeed, the historical events culminating in the first truly democratic elections in South Africa in 1994 have ramifications for people around the globe. Millions worldwide have experienced renewed faith and a revitalized sense of hope with the demise of the infamous apartheid system and with the many transformations, large and small, that are taking shape in this youngest democratic republic. This latest jewel in the crown of Africa is determined to be both a positive force for change and a wellspring of serious developmental action. The world community is dizzy with plans and ideas to salute the new nation's future.

Indeed, there are numerous reasons to join the celebratory chorus. Internally, every aspect of life for South Africa's diverse citizenry is undergoing massive change: education, politics, spiritual life, health, law enforcement, transportation, housing and land issues, and countless other areas. Not surprisingly, however, the dawning of the new millennium finds the budding democracy struggling with inevitable growing pains. Acknowledging the atrocities and shedding the memories of a violent past has been a difficult, traumatic process. The upcoming round of general elections in 1999 poses yet another challenge to the reconfigured state as President Nelson R. Mandela, an icon of political and cultural transformation, has promised to step aside and let a new national leadership take the helm. Once again then the process of reform in all sectors of education-primary, secondary, and tertiary-stands to be mightily tried and tested by political and social change (Constas, 1997; Moja, Muller, & Cloete, 1996). Such massive challenges are not new to the South African scenario, however. Education in South Africa has a long tradition of being used as a political tool, whether as the social controlling force of Bantu education or the progressive use of schools as critical sites of resistance in the anti-apartheid struggle. The politicization of education in the new South Africa will no doubt continue, albeit it will be manifested in different forms and with different social and economic consequences at stake (Nieuwenhuis, 1996).

Two years ago, some of us heard and answered the call to join in action, scholarship, and struggle with the citizens of South Africans to keep their dream growing. Two years in the making, this Yearbook issue of the Journal of Negro Education echoes the extraordinary theme of hope for the new South Africa. As such, it presents a well-conceived and thoughtful analysis of several of the key educational issues that presently confront the nation. While illuminating the shifting political setting and highlighting strategies that mark the possibilities of effective institutional change, this Yearbook presents concrete ideas for innovative educational approaches and programs.

"Education in a New South Africa: The Crises of Conflict, the Challenges of Change," is divided into three sections. Section one provides insights on the historical and contemporary status of educational efforts in South Africa. It additionally tackles the tough issue of educational decentralization as well as examines issues related to the incorporation or exclusion of multiple languages and cultures into the nation's curricula and pedagogy. This section also considers factors surrounding the education of South Africa's women and girls, and discusses opportunity-to-learn issues common to learning environments in the United States and South Africa.

Section two scans the various levels of education, beginning with a much-needed focus on preschool education for Black South African children and a look at factors related to teacher collaboration within South African schools. From these key points, the attention turns to the critical issue of admissions and retention policies at the university level, especially at the rapidly integrating previously historically White universities, and to education in the vital, skilled areas of engineering and technology. …

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