[lg policy] South Africa: Admissions judgment a victory for poor, black pupils

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon May 30 10:51:19 EDT 2016

Admissions judgment a victory for poor, black pupils
news/politics <http://www.iol.co.za/news/politics> /
29 May 2016 at 10:41am
*By:* *Malaika wa Azania*

*Denying poor pupils access to quality education at former model-C schools
would condemn us to a life of servitude, writes Malaika wa Azania.*

A week ago, the Gauteng Department of Education won an important victory at
the Constitutional Court. The court ruled in favour of the department on
the issue of School Admission Regulations. This victory means that the
department, and not schools, will have a final say in admission processes
at schools in the province.

The Federation of School Governing Bodies had taken the department to
court, arguing that the current regulations disempower schools and that
schools should be allowed to set their own policies regarding admissions
and language policy.

On the question of language policy, the court ruled that language policies
that are set by School Governing Bodies (SGBs) constitute indirect
discrimination that is racial in character.

Handing down the judgment, former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke
(who retired from the bench a few days ago) said that judges agreed
unanimously that because the department has an overall perspective on
education within the province, it should be in charge of admissions

This victory is personal to those of us who know too well the humiliation
that some of the policies set by SGBs inflict.

In 2002, after completing my junior primary schooling at Tshimologo Primary
School, a township school in Meadowlands (Soweto) where I was staying, my
mother decided to send me to a multiracial school, Melpark Primary School,
in Melville.

My poor mother wanted me to have quality education. The painful truth is
that schools in many township areas across the country don’t offer quality

The legacy of an apartheid system where the state spent five times more
money on the education of a white child than on that of a black child
continues to find expression in township schools.

While there has been a significant improvement in township education, the
reality is that former model-C schools are still far better in terms of

Going to a former model-C school was thus an attempt on the part of my
mother to ensure that I stood a better chance of being accepted into a
reputable higher education institution - because another reality is that
universities in the country also perpetuate segmentation.

Most universities, particularly historically white ones, have a preference
for students coming from multiracial former model-C schools. These
universities have feeder high schools from which they receive a sizeable
number of first-year students every year.

Because of their language policy, many students from township and rural
schools find themselves having to do extended studies. This is based on the
belief that such students, having done vernacular as home language and
English as a first or second additional language, will not cope in
university and will therefore need an extra year added to their degree or

In my book, Memoirs of a Born Free: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation, I
speak about the challenges black students face in multi-racial former
model-C schools. These challenges include racial discrimination and the
presence of institutional barriers such as language policy. But what I
don’t mention is the humiliation that one goes through even before being

Because of the autonomy that SGBs have over admission processes, they have
used their power to perpetuate exclusion.

The rule that schools could only admit students living within a 5km radius
meant students living in townships could not access multi-racial former
model-C schools that are predominantly in white neighbourhoods.

Because I didn’t live in Melville or the surrounding suburbs within a 5km
radius of the school, it was a given that I was not going to be admitted,
despite my outstanding academic achievements and capacity. My mother had a
friend, Aadilah, living close to the school, and asked her to lie on our
behalf, stating that I was living with her (the friend) in Melville.
Affidavits were signed. This was how I got admitted.

My mother, a woman who has always taught me the importance of honesty and
integrity, was forced to lie for her daughter to receive quality education.

My mother was one of many parents who had to go to such great measures to
get their children registered in schools that, through policies like the
ones the GDE was fighting against, would never have opened doors of
learning for us.

Supporters of such policies argue that schools must give first preference
to children living nearby so that such children study closer to home. The
benefit of this, it was argued, is that schools would not have to deal with
issues such as late-comers and parents not attending meetings due to
transport issues.

This argument, which sounds reasonable, is in fact another way of saying
schools would not have to be actively engaged in the transformation agenda.

The spatial injustice that characterises our country demands the enactment
of laws aimed at redressing injustices of the past and fostering inclusion.
How do schools become part of this agenda if they’re going to insist on
maintaining a status quo rooted in injustice and discrimination?

Furthermore, this argument underestimates the commitment that students
living in townships have towards their education.

In all the years that I was at Melpark Primary School, I was late no more
than five times - and none of those times was because I had overslept (my
mother made sure I was up at around 4am every morning).

This was because I understood that to get an education, I needed to make a
sacrifice. If that sacrifice meant being at the bus station at 6am, I was
willing to make it. As were thousands of other students in Soweto who, as
early as 5am, would be seen in queues waiting for trains, taxis and buses
to take them to school.

To understand how problematic this 5km radius rule was, you need to
understand that its impact was long-term and systematic. It not only meant
that only white children and children of black upper middle class parents
who lived in these suburbs could access these better schools.

It also meant these were the children who would later get places at
reputable institutions of higher learning and, by implication, better
chances of employment after graduation. The admission policy thus
perpetuated and strengthened the segmentation of the South African society.

It would be a serious indictment on our government to allow policies that
exclude people on the basis of their class background to find expression,
particularly in public institutions.

Poor working-class black people have been dehumanised by this brutal system
for far too long. And because we have nothing else, education is our only
key out of poverty and disenfranchisement. To take away access to quality
education from us is to condemn us to a life of servitude.

It is for this reason the victory of the GDE is not just a victory for the
struggle for transformation and spatial justice, but a victory for the
future of black people and indeed, of South Africa.

* Wa Azania is a student at Rhodes University, and author of Memoirs of a
Born Free: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation.


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