Chapter 15: The Chaos of “Bantu” Education

There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour … What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd. Education must train people in accordance with their opportunities in life, according to the sphere in which they live.
Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, South African minister for native affairs (Prime Minister from 1958 to 1966), speaking about his government’s education policies in the 1950s.

The first months of Bantu Education in the Transkei were chaotic. We kept receiving (always in Afrikaans) instructions from Pretoria that we had to do things in one particular way and, a few weeks later, another letter cancelling the first and containing new instructions. Moreover we soon received new syllabuses for each school subject in every class for Sub A (Grade 1) to Matriculation (Grade 12). These syllabuses differed very much from the previous ones followed by us, which were those issued by the Cape Education Department. It was useless to seek guidance from our school inspectors, as practically everyone was very busy writing new textbooks for all the classes in his particular subjects and we were instructed to continue to use our old Cape textbooks, making whatever emendations were necessary.

Then there was the ordering of supplies of food, etc., for the use of the staff and students. We had to send to the Department our orders two months before they were necessary, to buy them when we received the necessary permission from the Department, from the firms that had managed to get the contracts for the necessary supplies and these firms were all in the big centres and thus far from us. We were allowed to spend a small amount of Departmental money in case of emergency but had to keep note of all such transactions in a big book supplied by the Department, this book having to be taken to the local magistrate every Saturday morning for his signature and rubber stamp. Fortunately our magistrate was a very good friend of ours so he signed and stamped without any delay!

The Girls' Dormitory in about 1948

The Girls' Hostel in about 1948

My first disagreement with the new Department was about salaries. To begin with we were told that we had to continue to give the black hostel supervisors and their servants what the mission had always done and we had to send to the Department lists of their names with a statement of their duties and their salaries. Blythswood was blessed by having a Lady Superintendent of the Girls’ Hostel in the person of Mrs Mama, a sister to the head of the Boys’ Hostel and thus also a member of the Bikitsha family. She received what was in those days a good salary for one in her position. She had three cooks and some female kitchen workers in her department. Soon after I had sent to the Department the names of all of these members of staff I received from Pretoria a strongly-worded letter saying that all their salaries were too high and that they had to be in accordance with Departmental salaries. A figure for each of these was enclosed. To my surprise and horror I found that all these salaries were reduced. That of Mrs Mama to a figure far below that of the cooks who were serving under her! Needless to say I sent a strong reply to this and arranged with my friend the magistrate, who was in charge of all the payments for our staff to write another letter of protest.

About a week later, on a Saturday, I was surprised to receive a visit from a fairly high-up official of the Bantu Education Department. He said that he was passing on his way back to Pretoria and had decided to visit us to see Mrs Mama and the Girls’ Hostel. I was rather upset at his timing, as the Boys’ and Girls’ Hostels were usually at their worst on Saturday afternoons, with the students rushing in and out, changing clothes for the various games they played, etc. However, I sent a student to call Mrs Mama, told her who the visitor was and asked her to take him ove3r the Girls’ Hostel. About 45 minutes later he came to see me again and said he wanted to be on his way. After he had got into his car he said to me: “Mr McGregor, in the course of my duties I have inspected literally hundreds of school hostels, and have never been in one which is so clean and well-run as this one. Don’t worry about Mrs Mama’s salary; she’ll get what she used to get!” I was very pleased, of course, and still more so when I was able to tell Mrs Mama!

The next skirmish I had with the new department was about the food given to our boarders. In Pretoria they had drawn up a diet scale which we were ordered to use, one which was, I believe, based on what labourers in mine compounds were given. Our students were fed according to a diet scale drawn up for us many years before by the Medical Officer of Health in Umtata, to which I had added fruit of some kind every Wednesday, as I had made an arrangement with a fruiterer in East London to bring us fruit bought in the East London market up to a certain figure every week. The new diet sheet was based on “mielie pap” (maize porridge), issued twice a day in the form of “dough nuts” dipped in milk on five days of the week and in meat gravy on the other two. This had been worked out by some “experts” in the new Department to provide “adequate” meals at a low cost. This was obviously more important than the feeding of the students!

Meal time in the Girls' Hostel

Meal time in the Girls' Hostel

Now all of us who had been engaged in work among the Blacks knew that adequate and acceptable food was the most important part in the welfare of the students and the Institution. Giving them unacceptable food was just asking for trouble. Moreover we knew that when trouble started the first thing that would happen would be the stoning of the buildings and the consequent breaking of all the windows. I counted all the windows in Blythswood, found out what glass cost at that time, and so arrived at the figure that replacing them would cost.

The Boys' Hostel in the Main Building

The Boys' Hostel in the Main Building

Then I wrote to the Department setting out how much would be saved by adopting the new diet scale and how much would be the cost of replacing the glass shattered in the consequent “riot”. The proportion was about one to ten! Meanwhile we kept on feeding the students as before. To our pleasure we heard from the Department, after some time, that the proposed change had been cancelled!

One response

5 08 2012

I found this extremely interesting. It makes one wonder how many other people would have challenged the Government of those days if they’d had the courage. If only more had spoken up…

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