Chapter 14: The Birth of Apartheid

The birth of ‘apartheid’ was the cause of the beginning of an era of waste in government circles as had never before occurred. Every government office had now to be altered so that there was an entrance door for whites and another for blacks. There was to be a counter for whites and a counter for blacks. On the railway stations there had to be benches for whites and benches for blacks. Naturally there had to be coaches for each different type of person which meant that each train had to have almost double the number of coaches that it really needed. This terrible policy also had to be applied in hospitals, schools, prisons, etc., not to mention trams and buses in cities and towns. Fortunately most churches risked government anger by ignoring apartheid, but all the Dutch Reformed Churches applied it very rigorously.

To begin with we who worked in Mission Institutions ignored this new doctrine and tried to carry on as we had always done. This sometimes led to differences of opinion with school inspectors who, of course, had to apply the new doctrine.

My first experience of this was when I had two inspectors who arrived just after the students had returned to their hostels at tea time. So I asked them to tea in my house, which was on a plot between the Girls’ Hostel and the High School. (There were five schools at Blythswood at that time: High, Primary, Teacher Training, Boys’ Industrial and Girls’ Industrial). Just after we finished the girls marched past the front of my house on their way back to the schools. The inspectors looked at this and then turned on me: “Why do you have these black students marching past a white family’s house? Is there no other way they could go?” I replied that they could use the Main Road which passed on the other side of the Girls’ Hostel, but that this would take more than twice the time and, of course, exposed them to the traffic on the Main Road which had no pavement. They were very upset by this and told me to see to having another path cut between the trees so that there would be no need for black students to march past a house inhabited by a white family.

As the number of students kept on increasing I was able to get Departmental (we were still under the Cape Education Department) sanction to increase my staff. This meant that we should have to build two more houses for white teachers. Most of the money for this would come from the Church of Scotland, the rest from the Cape Education Department. We had a Clerk of Works from Cape Town to examine the Institution and find the best place for building the new houses. We soon settled on the best place, we had the plans drawn up and everything seemed to be going smoothly. Then the Department sent an inspector to see to things. He was very friendly and examined the plans with me and then asked to go to the place where the new houses were to be built. So off we went to the site, which he agreed was a good one. Then he noticed a building there and asked what it was. I told him it was part of the Boys’ Hostel.. Then he pointed to another building and asked what that was. “Part of the Primary School,” I said. Immediately he became very hostile and said: “We can under no circumstances agree to the erection of these houses.” With that he went off in his car, not even bothering to say “Good bye.” Apartheid had won again!

But much worse was to come. D.F. Malan had been succeeded as Prime Minister by Mr Strydom, Transvaal leader of the Nationalist Party and a more rigorous believer in apartheid than his predecessor.

He however died before he could do much about black education. Unfortunately he was succeeded by Dr H.F. Verwoerd, a big man who, although he was the son of a Dutch missionary in the country, took a much harsher view of apartheid than either of his predecessors.

Thus soon after he took office he arranged for a commission of enquiry to go into the question of ‘Bantu Education’ (his name for it). This commission was composed of a group of Afrikaners, all strong Nationalists, and all committed to the apartheid policy. They visited just about every Native Institution in the country, starting in the Transvaal in which there were very few institutions and in which most of the staff members were also Afrikaner Nationalists.

Map of so-called homelands in South Africa under apartheid

Map of so-called homelands in South Africa under apartheid

When at last they came to us in the Transkei all of us white staff members were asked to describe what work we were doing and what had happened to the young blacks who had passed through our hands. Most of us in the Transkei could testify that our institutions had turned out many young men and women who were doing very good work among their own people, for the females mainly nursing and teaching while the males became teachers, lawyers, ministers of religion, doctors, farmers, businessmen, etc. The members of the commission spent very little time in the Transkei, although its institutions had more students than those in the Transvaal, Orange Free State, Natal and Ciskei put together. Its report was issued so soon after the end of their visits that I wondered whether it was written before they visited us. I shall never forget the day they came to Blythswood: Four or five official motor cars, each with four or five commissioners in it; all crowding into every place to which they were taken without seeming to take in anything that they were told. I spoke to them in Afrikaans, but all the black staff spoke English. To me the visitors seemed to ignore anything said in English.

When their report came out I was horrified. They were very happy with the few institutions in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, about five all told, where the teaching was done in Afrikaans and, in most cases, no English taught at all. For the 20 or more institutions in the Transkei and Ciskei they had nothing but criticism. Their verdict on our teaching was that our institutions were dangerous because we did nothing but turn our students into “black Englishmen”! The figures that we gave them about what our past students were doing were completely ignored.

Dr H.F. Verwoerd

Dr H.F. Verwoerd

Armed with this one-sided and erroneous report Dr Verwoerd then brought the Bantu Education Bill into Parliament. Although the Opposition members fought against it, it was rushed through all stages of Parliament in record time in 1955 and came into operation of 1 April 1956. Dr Verwoerd made it all the more loathsome by saying in Parliament that as the “Bantu” (as he always called the black people) had intelligence that was much lower than that of the whites their education should be on a much lower grade. This was not only absolutely false but was a completely unnecessary slight to our black people who, in their history of the past two centuries, could show many men and women who surpassed him in intelligence. In our institutions the students in the Junior Certificate and Senior Certificate had had to take their subjects through the medium of English and our students had accepted that as they had to pass in one or other of the official languages on the Higher Grade and English was, of course, of much more use to them than Afrikaans. But now they were forced to take three of their subjects through the medium of Afrikaans.

When we white teachers in black education pointed out to the Bantu Education Department that there were very few black teachers in the upper standards who could speak or understand Afrikaans the Department simply replied by giving the black teachers two years to make themselves fluent in Afrikaans. If they did not succeed they were to be invalid to take any higher post than they were holding and were also denied any increment in their salaries until they were proficient in Afrikaans. There were two of staff my who knew no Afrikaans but fortunately I was able to give them lessons after school and at the end of the year they both passed the Std 2 tests.

While all this insistence on Afrikaans was causing heartaches I remembered something that happened while I was at UCT. The former Professor of Education, a brilliant man called Dr E.G Malherbe, had written a book called “The Bilingual School”, a very fine book in which he proposed that all scholars in high schools take three of their subjects in the English medium and three in Afrikaans. He showed by facts and figures of tests which he had done in various schools that when pupils had to take a subject in the other official language they got higher marks than when they took it through their home language. This he ascribed to the fact that when they took, say, history in the other language they would work harder at the history as well as learning the other medium. Most of us who were language teachers could understand and appreciate this. But when the book was published the Afrikaans inspectors and the Suid Afrikaanse Onderwysunie attacked the conclusions come to in the book, with the cry that it would be terribly unfair to make Afrikaans-speaking students learn anything in the “other” language. Yet now the Afrikaans teachers and inspectors were quite happy to see that black pupils, under the Bantu Education Act, had to learn their subjects in two languages, neither of which was their home language. This was, of course, exceedingly unfair, but no word of protest came from any Afrikaans educationalist or organisation. Prof Malherbe had long left our country, having been given a high post in Canada where he could put his wonderful theories into practice.

No sooner had this most unfair Act been promulgated and understood by black students in the senior classes than there was unrest which soon led to rioting in practically every black institution in the Transkei. There was not one at Blythswood as I had meetings first with the staff members and then with the students and their parents in which I told them that all the English-speaking teachers in the Transkei and the South African Teachers’ Association had declared themselves against these proposed changes and were working against them.

Meanwhile big changes had come in the black institutions in the Transkei. Under the Bantu Education Act the management and control of these institutions was removed from the Churches which had run them with great success for a century or more and transferred to the new Bantu Education Department based in Pretoria. So on the evening of 31 March 1956 the Church of Scotland ended its 80 year management of Blythswood and the Rev William Arnott, who had run the institution with such great success since July 1934 handed the institution over to me. He took with him everything that he could which belonged to the Church of Scotland: much furniture, much equipment, e.g. spades, shovels, etc., the ploughs, wheelbarrows and so forth and had them all packed into the two motor lorries which had served the institution so well, and all the money from the institution safe! When I pointed out to him that it would be most unfair to leave the institution without a penny he left £100 in the safe for us!

I was very upset over the lack of transport as we depended for our supplies on the new Bantu Education Department in Pretoria who would order supplies for us from firms that had got government contracts to supply government institutions so I phoned an SOS to Pretoria for a vehicle. After the usual red tape business of being shunted from one office to another I eventually got somebody who put through an order to the nearest Government Garage for a vehicle for us. So I took our very skilled truck driver to the garage where we were expected and where we were shown the one or two trucks available. There was another one there, a “bakkie” which was just what we wanted but we were told it was being kept for some other purpose. Thus we had to take one of the other vehicles, both big troop carriers, very high off the ground and most unwieldy and brought it back to the institution.

I should have mentioned that when the Church of Scotland left Blythswood they had taken all their staff: Mr Arnott, the principal; Mr Anderson, the Chaplain; and Miss Gregor, the Institution Secretary. Up to this time I had been only the Principal Teacher of the High School, but now I became the Principal-Superintendent of the whole Institution, with its five schools, two hostels, its big farm, the dairy and its cows, the piggery, the book store, the supply store for the hostels, etc. All this was now my domain. Moreover, besides being Principal of the High School I had to teach English (Higher Grade) and History to Stds 9 and 10. Also I was now in charge of the Sunday services; the Bantu Education Department expected me to make arrangements for the usual Sunday services, held mostly in Xhosa but partly in English.

We were no longer a Presbyterian institution so I had to get black ministers of as many different churches as I could to take them. The Sunday service began at 11h00 and I was very lucky to have Mr Gladstone Bikitsha, a member of the royal house of the AmamFengu and one of the most musical men I have ever met, as the housemaster of the Boys’ Hostel: he used to see that all the students, male and female, came into the Dining Hall of the Boys’ Hostel (the biggest room in the institution) and that they began singing even before any minister arrived. He had a wonderful and beautiful repertoire and it was always a treat to hear the students singing. We almost always had to wait for the preacher, as all of them came from churches in the area, the nearest about five miles away. Most of them had cars but these cars were always old second hand vehicles that could not be depended on to start, nor to finish a journey even if it did start! Moreover if it rained, as it did most of the summer, the ‘dirt’ roads became quagmires and completely impassable. Thus one of my tasks for Saturdays was always to prepare a complete service: hymns, prayers, Bible readings, etc., so that if after half an hour no preacher arrived, I would carry on instead. I think that I must have taken at least 50% of these Sunday services! I had also an arrangement with Mr Bikitsha that if through illness or anything else I was unable to take the service, he would do so.

I always enjoyed taking these services as I felt that this was far more real ‘mission work’ than teaching English or History, although even in those lessons it was possible to weave in much Christian teaching.

What I was also very thankful to Our Lord for was the number of my students who later decided to become ministers. Shortly before I left Blythswood I felt very pleased and grateful to find out that in the six district churches visible from Blythswood (three Methodist, two Presbyterian and one Anglican) the ministers in charge were all former students of mine.

2 responses

17 08 2009


16 04 2010
Dewhite P. Ower

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA thats what they get for not bein born in Uhmerica. All them persons should have been praised for the wonderful invention of apartheid. what a wonderful ideal! The south will rise again damnit!

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