South African school history- Leveling the playing field

Patterns of neglect, established in the 19th century when formal schooling was introduced in South Africa, persist.

South Africa’s history of segregation has left its footprints in many places. Take the case of semirural Franschhoek in Western Cape. In one part of the town, which draws tourists from around the world to enjoy award-winning wine and food, is a private school that boasts excellent sports facilities.

There’s an indoor sports gymnasium where tennis, hockey, netball and soccer are played. There are two swimming pools — one for beginners who are just learning and one for water polo and senior swimming. Elsewhere on the school campus are six tennis courts and two cricket ovals with turf wickets. New sports fields, including two more cricket ovals, are being developed.

A few kilometres up the road is a public school that caters for pupils from an informal settlement. It has no sporting facilities.

This scenario is repeated across South Africa; a modern echo of the country’s history of racial segregation. Patterns of neglect, established in the 19th century when formal schooling was introduced in South Africa, persist.

An understanding of and reckoning with segregation history is important in coming to grips with the current state of poor school sports provision in black and coloured communities. South Africa will not address the great inequalities that still exist in school sport if it keeps ignoring history.This exclusion stretched across sporting disciplines.

The mission years

Formal schooling was introduced in South Africa during the 19th century. Black pupils were largely educated at mission schools run by a wide range of denominations.

Most mission schools had no decent sporting facilities. They practised and played sport separately from white organisations and schools. For instance, when the Western Province Rugby Football Union created the Junior Challenge Shield League in 1898, the competition was open only to learners of “European extraction” — that is, white.

This exclusion stretched across sporting disciplines. When the Good Hope Education Department organised the Physical Training Coronation Competition in 1902 at the Green Point Track, a separate division was organised for “coloured” or mission schools. The winner of the 1902 Coronation competition in the Mission School division was the St Cyprian’s School in Ndabeni Location.

This location, as living areas for black Africans were called, was established for families who were forcibly removed from District Six in Cape Town in 1901. The school was a zinc structure with no playing facilities.

In 1928 mission schools set up the Central School Sports Union. Its first athletic meeting was held at the Mowbray sports ground, the home ground of the City and Suburban Rugby Union. Newspapers from the time, which I’ve studied, reported that the grass was knee high. This situation existed by design: the South African Institute of Race Relations reported regularly on how much more money was spent to provide sporting facilities for white schools.

At a national level, the first inter-varsity athletic meeting was held in 1921 at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg between the Transvaal University College (later Pretoria University), Grey University College (later Free State University) and the Johannesburg University College. These were all-white colleges in the northern parts of the country. When institutions from southern regions were included the following year, black colleges were excluded.

These black colleges established the Ciskei Bantu Amateur Athletic Association in Eastern Cape under the auspices of the South African Bantu Amateur Athletic Association.

Apartheid legislation closed the Mowbray sports ground, leaving the Central School Sports Union without a place to play.

Apartheid school sport

Then came formal apartheid, and the situation worsened.

During the 1950s and the decades that followed, the education department wouldn’t provide black and coloured schools with decent facilities like rugby fields or athletics tracks. This was because, according to the influx control laws, Africans could not obtain permanent residence in cities. Why, apartheid authorities reasoned, spend money on people who legally weren’t allowed in certain areas?

The colleges playing in the Ciskei Bantu Amateur Athletic Association, meanwhile, received no support for sporting facilities, while the nearby prestigious St Andrew’s College and Rhodes University benefitted from excellent fields and tracks.

Apartheid legislation closed the Mowbray sports ground, leaving the Central School Sports Union without a place to play. A whites-only school was built on the facility. The sporting part of this lost facility is largely unknown; no commemoration plaque, for instance, exists to mark its history. Another example of history forgotten and heritage ignored.

For real change to start happening, it’s important for administrators, school authorities, parents and pupils to look to and understand the imbalances of history – and start working to set them right.

Few shifts after democracy

With the arrival of democracy in 1994 some organisations dedicated to championing non-racial school sport, like the Western Province Senior Schools’ Sports Union, closed their doors. But while desegregation in school sports was introduced in theory, the reality was rather different.

Many historically white schools appear reluctant to compete with township schools in mass competitions. They continue to hold closed interschool derbies and athletic meetings catering for other similarly resourced schools on their well-maintained sports fields.

But ironically, former whites-only schools have realised the potential of black and coloured pupils to shine on the sports field. A cursory overview of the senior national rugby and cricket teams in 2018 shows that more than 90 percent of black and coloured players attended historically white schools. Such players were often “poached” from township schools with scholarships and bursaries.

This “poaching” has benefitted individual players, but it’s happened at the expense of township schools.

Addressing history

The colonial and apartheid education project still echo in South Africa’s post-1994 school system. For real change to start happening, it’s important for administrators, school authorities, parents and pupils to look to and understand the imbalances of history — and start working to set them right..



If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
– Marcus Tullius Cicero

Stop hugging that library. No wait, my mistake, I forgot that it’s Library Lovers Month- and it seems to have come at just the right time as many local libraries are struggling during the economic downturn. So why love your local library? Libraries are a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life; they offer security and peace and quiet. They are also a place where you can focus surrounded by likeminded people with the desire to acquire knowledge.

History of Library Lovers’ Month
It’s important to understand that not everything is available on the internet (yet), libraries can have vast digital stores of qualitative and quantitative information escaping from opinion led snippets and snapshots from online. There may be some crossover of information but in most cases libraries are a much more economically viable solution when looking for information than the internet.

It’s also important to know that libraries offer services that aren’t available on the internet, including free assistance in finding obscure information and borrowing a book that may not be available in the admittedly immense catalogue one can find on the internet. One of the things that people often forget is that being a librarian isn’t like getting a job at the local supermarket. You want to be a Librarian? Be prepared to get a degree in Library Science. Yes, this is a thing that exists, and it’s necessary to become a librarian.

There’s more to a Library than just the books too! There are meetings that gather there that include everything from people from the Society for Creative Anachronism and other local organizations. There’s also magazines and periodicals, microfiche of local newspapers reaching far back into antiquity, and that’s just a start!

How to celebrate Library Lovers’ Month
Love your library for what it is, a community meeting place or treasure trove of ideas. There is so much to be found there, including new books to read and guidance on research with papers you may have due. The people who frequent the library tend to be intellectuals, so who knows what kind of interesting conversations you could get into? Why not push against the declining attendance of libraries and go and learn something new that will expand your knowledge of who you are, of where you live or what you do?