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The (mis)education of the black child

It seems the current generation of black youth will be the first to turn its back on the liberation movement and the little gains of its struggle.

This is likely to happen anytime between the forthcoming local government elections in 2011 and 2020.

There is reason to believe that we will see an increasing number of young people who not only abandon participating in revolutionary politics but just turn their back on voting, especially for the African National Congress.

Already, there are rumbles of discontent among the youth that the Independent Electoral Commission has not done enough to get them registered as voters or make them aware of the requirements for them to do their civic duties when it comes to the polls.

The disillusionment of some black youth with politics and ill-informed anger against the ANC should not come as a surprise, especially to parents and former struggle heroes.

After all, in the past 16 years or more, the mental training of black youth has, largely, been entrusted to whites.

It is white teachers and principals who shape the black youth’s self-understanding, historical knowledge and formulation of perception about what is really going on in the country.

Since the dawn of freedom and democracy, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of young black children and youth who have been educated outside their families, communities and history.

The are very few schools that promote education from a black historical perspective, if you like.

Last year, the department of education revealed in Parliament that between 2003 and 2008, there had been almost 60% increase in African children who go to former white schools.

No figures were provided of white children who go to what could pass for black schools.

In fact, there are no white children who enrol in black schools like in the townships. Instead, the pattern is for white parents to withdraw their children as soon as the school becomes “too black”, whatever that means.

The sad reality is that there are very few institutions that are black-owned.

Thus we are hard-pressed to find places where young black children are taught self-love and appreciation of their own history, culture, language and heritage or just to excel academically.

Instead, more and more black parents, including former liberation heroes, senior government ministers, corporate top dogs and other officials, are said to be losing confidence in state schools.

They are taking their children to white-owned, private institutions.

A recent study by the South African Institute of Race Relations revealed that the number of black children attending white-owned, private and independent schools increased by more than 50% in the past decade.

As a result, more and more black youths who are a product of these institutions reveal a cynical and hypercritical view of the gains of the struggle, especially the ANC.

They have a distorted perception and understanding of government delivery or the role of Nelson Mandela, for instance, especially the political significance of black majority rule and how this came about.

They do not appreciate the little progress that has been made to improve the lot of African people.

The black youth who have come of age in the last decade or so do not reflect the history, heritage, culture and political legacy of their parents or communities. Their values and mores are not grounded in African culture.

Instead, they mirror an educational experience and the values of institutions that are not particularly interested in projecting a positive knowledge and understanding of the history and heritage of Africa.

The twang accents and American clothes they wear may symbolise global citizenry and an a-political youth that is growing up in a supposedly normal society. But behind the walls of their schools is a whole world that alienates them from their political history and an understanding of the role of the ANC, for instance, and other liberation movements.

Increasingly, black youth are fluent in English but lack an intuitive understanding of indigenous languages, culture and politics. The lack of glorious liberation history, heightened self-knowledge and intuitive understanding of an Afrocentric historical perspective in a global world is what makes them alienated.

They are lost and – deep, deep down — feel empty with lives deprived of meaning and relevance.

There is an urgent need to facilitate a reconnection between the black youth and their history, heritage and culture.

What is needed is not just political propaganda schools but institutions that will give a comprehensive, coherent, balanced and objective view of the evolution of this society from slavery to constitutional non-racism.

Unfortunately private and independent institutions of learning are, largely, owned and run by pseudo-liberal people who are myopic, self-serving and without patriotic zeal. The Model C school authorities desire to keep the status quo.

They are not really interested in education for enlightenment and mental liberation.

But the black youth, especially, deserve better as it is their historical responsibility to improve upon what their ancestors, especially those who founded the ANC, sacrificed and died for.

As future leaders of this society and world, they need a broader sense of history and politics to be able to critically engage with the bewildering global village they will live in.

It is time that black parents stood up to play a pivotal role in the education of their children, especially the content of what they are taught.

It is not enough to just leave everything to teachers of political misguidance.

The black child is being (mis)educated not to believe in the oldest and greatest liberation movement to come out of Africa.



  1. Lerato Lerato 25 January 2011

    I am sorry but I think you are sorely mistaken.
    The model C school teaches the same syllabus as other government schools.
    Look at White Afrikaner children, they still have a strong sense of their culture and there is no mention of any of that culture in the entire school system at all. the values and culture comes from where it should, the parents!
    Black Children are going to White schools because the families want to be white, everything about the culture today reflects that.

    Please before you even post a reply to this comment go check the school syllabus and tell me what culture group is being neglected.

    the greatest enemy of the ANC has always been the ANC. when their people get educated they will realize that the ANC have not met their own standards and there is no reason to vote for them. that is why young black people do not vote. and at the same time that is a sign of respect. they are not voting for the opposition they simply do not vote.

  2. Frantz Fanon Frantz Fanon 25 January 2011

    I agree – I think you have a very strategic view of the social and cultural challenges in SA. I would also argue that the education of the black child should go beyond deserved respect for the local liberation movements , and go back to the history of Africa, the Berlin conference, the winds of change, the heroes like Nkrumah of Ghana, and should not gloss over the antiheroes like Amin and Mobutu Sese Seko (many of whom were creations of the former colonists), and the roles of the OAU and the AU. There is much to be proud of in African and black history, and many reasons for the failures that have happened, which are more complex than most presume. The truth is often, as it usually is, in shades of grey.

  3. J du Preez J du Preez 25 January 2011

    This morning (25 Jan 2011) SABC2 broadcast an interview with the headmaster of the Orlando Secondary School. The camera operator was trying his best not to capture the headmaster’s headgear in the picture by keeping the shot down to forehead level. However, the head movements by the headmaster of the school made this impossible. Consequently, every now and then the ANC emblem on the cap on the head of the headmaster of the Orlando Secondary School appeared in full view on national television.

    I suppose this totally unprofessional image radiated by the headmaster of the Orlando Secondary School is what Memela is propagating in this aricle?

  4. J du Preez J du Preez 25 January 2011

    correction: article

  5. Lucky Ntuli Lucky Ntuli 25 January 2011


    The end of 2010 and now the beginning of 2011 must be the coming out of the “big men”.

  6. ian shaw ian shaw 25 January 2011

    So-called “white schools” provide a much better eductaion, especially in math and science, for black youth than present-day government schools. However, it should also be possible to establish a compulsory subject dealing with African or South African history to help preserve the African identity of black youth.In fact, it should also be compulsory for white students as well. In addition, white students should also take a compulsory course in an African language.

  7. Grant Grant 25 January 2011

    Spoken like a true government stooge. We get it, control education, dumb down the students, convince them that the ANC is still a great organisation…and stay in power.

    Your fear of an educated, critical-thinking majority is well-founded. It would mean that charlatans, liars and thieves would be recognised as such and voted out of power…

  8. ae ae 25 January 2011

    It is the fact that parents want their children to get a quality education and build a future for them selves. They (the parents) understand that “the little progress that has been made to improve the lot of African people” which you refer to, is just that, too little. No amount of empathy, understanding, or anc flag waving will put food in the mouths of our children, but a good education will, and if that means tradition falls into the lap of mom & dad so be it, but do not blame the schools most of whom are trying very hard to create something for the kids. The parents realize that the same number of people are employed to day as was employed under apartheid in the 80’s, and the only way out, is to educate, jobs despite promises do not grow on anc planted trees, so parents feel they must educate at any price!

  9. Malose Nyatlo Malose Nyatlo 25 January 2011

    Hmm, a very difficult one Sandile. As difficult as when you first raised the issue in the mid nineties whilst you where still at City Press.
    Then I had reservations about your motives, but now see the matter with a different eye.
    My close on twenty years experience as a teacher have opened my eyes to the reality that children quite often end up aping their teachers in every respect – lifestyles, viewpoints etc. It is incontrovertible that when parents send their children to school, they also sell their children’s souls to their teachers, schools and those institutions.
    One child in my class, who failed in the model c schools and had to come back to the township schools, said this about the definition of the word ‘bastard’: “a child born helter skelter by unmarried parents as many of you here…” I had to shout him down not to complete his ideas.
    Staggered by this brazen viewpoint, I quickly rose to explain that in Africa, a child is born to the village and not to a man and wife. I also had to explain that in other cultures…
    What else do our children sold to foreign cultures learn

  10. Lockstock Lockstock 25 January 2011

    It is the function of schools to prepare children for work, or to educate them to further their studies at a tertiary institution. It is NOT the function of ANY school system to promote any political agenda, or to keep culture/s alive or thriving. That’s the parents and communities job.

    If you want to hand down your own version of historical events to pupils, then fine, go ahead and propagandize your own children, but leave everyone else out of your mind controlling piffle. We’re witnessing your bias as it is, without subjecting others to your horrendous views of the world.

    And another thing; if your culture is so weak as to require ‘propping up’ by brain-washing children into becoming believers, then you really have no business promoting a dying culture to those who would rather choose to move on in life, which would mean removing the shackles of African-hate, which appears to permeate every bit of their sordid history.

    Somehow, I doubt you’ll publish this.

  11. Lizzie Lizzie 25 January 2011

    “They are not really interested in education for enlightenment and mental liberation.”
    What an unbelievably naive statement? Perhaps… just perhaps those schools actually have taught the kids the ability to think for themselves, and hence make their own choices as to what enlightenment and mental liberation actually means…. because it means different things to different people. In your case it means to follow your cultural Afrocentric practice and to vote for the ANC. And that is your right and your choice.
    Perhaps for the new kid it means to follow a new culture that is currently being created in the new SA and to vote for whichever political party they want to choose. And that is their right and their choice.

  12. HD HD 25 January 2011

    The more things change the more they stay the same…when will people kick out these patronising racially obsessed nationalist…

  13. Peter Win Peter Win 25 January 2011


    Which schools do your children attend ?

    Take a look at the Model C school attendance – and see how many leaders of the ANC send there children there ! (I know – because they were classmates with my girls). Why is that? Well, perhaps it has something to do with slogans such as “Freedom before education” or “Pass one, pass all!” – an attitude that will take a long time to leave formerly disadvantaged schools in townships… You might remember those words endorsed by the ANC perhaps ?

    Or perhaps it has something to do with the tendency of schools in the public system to go on strike – or perhaps the tendency of the ANC Government to neglect the management of schools ?

    As opposed to that, Model C schools have been multi-racial since the early ’80s, don’t strike, have a dedicated approach to teaching, and don’t deserve the racial slurs you so freely distribute.

    I would love to compare your Government salary with those of the school-teachers…

  14. Mtimande Mtimande 26 January 2011

    @ J Du Preeze

    I did not see what you claim to have seen, maybe you were watching Orania News…

  15. Charlie Charlie 26 January 2011

    “What is needed is not just political propaganda schools”

    So I take it you want political propaganda schools where you can teach the young minds
    “to believe in the oldest and greatest liberation movement to come out of Africa”
    Maybe that will be the only way that the ANC can rule until the second coming. Would it not be better to just give the facts and let the young mind reach their own conclusions?

  16. Chantelle Chantelle 26 January 2011

    Mamela Mr Memela, this is a problem experienced in all cultures and colours, not only amongst blacks. Compulsory history in primary school in the 70’s tried to teach me about Verwoerd and the Nazis and a lot of dead people, some of them my supposed forefathers/ancestors, and I really couldn’t be bothered. TV came to SA in the 70’s and taught me all I wanted to know. My parents complained that I don’t know enough about my history, I’m constantly telling my boys to pull up their pants etc, and so it will carry on forever. If our schools brought in subjects to specifically teach black kids about black history, the same must be done for the whites, coloureds, indians and others and then we’re back to square one. By the way, both my boys are in former model C Schools and there are only 2 white teachers, 3 coloureds, 2 indians and the other 41 teachers are blacks. Quite a few of them Zimbabwean though.

  17. MLH MLH 26 January 2011

    Sandile, I’m gobsmacked! That a man of your calibre cannot understand that the future of today’s children lies more in maths and science than personal ‘culture’/traditions and languages surprises me.
    Ex Model C schools don’t even teach their pupils to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ anymore, let alone respect for their elders, each other or (any) God.
    If Jewish kids learn Hebrew they either attend Jewish schools or do so at Shul. The same goes for Muslims, Hindus, Catholics (Latin), whatever.
    Religion, language and culture must come out of the home environment, considering our short schooling hours and the even shorter time some teachers bother to be present.
    Write the books you think your kids/communities need and foster a love of reading. Believe me, the reading is where many white teachers come up against a brick wall with black kids. You are probably a generation or two late with this rant.
    How many parents of the children removed to ‘white’ (there is no such thing) schools are complaining about a lack of black teachers there?
    Remember, government should accept employees who vote across the spectrum and your boss cannot peer over your shoulder in the voting booth. Or are you getting an extra payment for this?

  18. bheki bheki 26 January 2011

    I see education as a key to critical thinking and we have seen this happening with whites. Because of their education they are giving us (Blacks) employment opportunities. Why should I then deprive my kid that kind of education? There are whites that are member the ANC who were never taught at the township schools or rural schools because they can think and make their own decisions.

  19. Gerry Gerry 26 January 2011

    “There is reason to believe that we will see an increasing number of young people who not only abandon participating in revolutionary politics but just turn their back on voting, especially for the African National Congress”

    Thank you – you’ve just defined the very definition o freedom and liberation: the freedom and liberation to vote for who you want. Or even the freedom NOT to vote. The freedom NOT to participate in revolution. The freedom to pursue your own happiness. The Freedom to make up your own mind. The freedom not to stand for ANC party-line regurgitated out-of-date bullshit. The freedom to be apolitical.

    Now THAT is democracy in action. That is what you fought for. That is freedom. Freedom means freedom of choice. And you cannot cry when people’s choices do not include yours.

    Viva ANC? Screw that – vive la différence!

  20. andre gadfly andre gadfly 26 January 2011

    @Grant and J du Preez, well said. It is because politics have overwhelmened black schools that the learning culture has gone. Instead of educating children for a rapidly changing and challenging global environment the emphasis is often on the past, the struggle and the ANC as the saviours of the nation. Before politics are banned from schools black children are going to get a raw deal.
    A number of aspect around the education system are discussed in our book: Tincture: Passing the buck and bucking the system by Andre Gadfly and Peter Smacker See
    From 1976 education was neglected and children were used as political instigators. SADTU is in the main culprit. Last year during many of the strikes children were in the forefront of toy toying masses.
    Is that how they should learn solidarity with the ANC?
    Mr Mamela, education should be free of politics and be aimed at the future. What you propose smacks of politics and is heavily geared towards the past.

  21. Lesego Lesego 27 January 2011

    Lerato on January 25th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    “Black Children are going to White schools because the families want to be white, everything about the culture today reflects that”

    How come you sound so confident but you fail to elaborate on your statement of “want to be white”? How do blacks want to be white? Is it speaking English or wanting to live in proper houses?

  22. toni benoni toni benoni 27 January 2011

    Nothing stops you as an educated relatively wealthy black person from starting a black owned private school. Funny though, not 1 member of our black elite has done so. Hell Oprah the descendant of African slaves in the USA has… so I suppose you are right – the answer lies in the mirror of every blakc educated person.

  23. Boyzie Boyzie 27 January 2011

    It seems the problem you really have is that most of today’s youth are independent thinkers and not easily indoctrinated.And why mention only the Anc?
    It wasn’t the only liberation movement.

  24. Andysor Andysor 27 January 2011

    A very well put together satirical piece.

    Am I the only one who get it?

  25. Pakane Lamola Pakane Lamola 27 January 2011

    Sandtonview Comprehensive school offers african languages per voting, how “scientific”! The Sesotho, Tswana, Venda students are now expected to either choose isiZulu or Afrikaans, neither their mother tongue languages! Black may eventually survive white supremacy only to be faced by tribal supremacy! Stop blaming whites, how many government programs in SA have Zulu names than other african languages?

  26. ewok ewok 27 January 2011

    Is proper education WHAT you are taught, or HOW you are taught?

  27. Gail Gail 27 January 2011

    So Mr Memele where are all the Black teachers and historians of stature? Why are youb writing this instead of textbooks on the very cultures which you claim are being supressed by white teachers. Its is the triumvirate of the ANC COSATU and the third member which are driving us backwards and urging teachers to strike for more money. It is the ANC Govt which was responsible for turning down and not implementing previous promises. Go and write down the traditions and let us know how they came into being and why because frankly it is not the fault of the white minority that African people do not have a written buit an oral history which is cloaked in mystery. The little that is known and documented has had to be done by whites because YOUR OWN ancestors rejected education. If you have an argument it is with your ancestors whom you must speak. Democracy means the right ot vote or not to vote and to vote for a party you believe will actually be servants of the people instead of stealing monies for their own pockets. Whether you like it or not we live in a global world where even the Chinese recognise the importance of learning English. There are people Foremerly advantaged who would be glad to help with the shortage of skills in Black schools but BEE/AA prohibits this precisely because they do not want to be voted out of power and lose money.

  28. MLH MLH 27 January 2011

    About those strikes: they’re already at it again at DUT and it is already violent. I can’t imagine any sensible parent wanting his/her children to respond to and follow that sort of culture.

  29. mundundu mundundu 27 January 2011

    i honestly cannot believe you are letting the complete mess of the educational system off the hook in this matter. more importantly, you are letting parents off the hook as well.

    my kid does in fact attend a “formerly white” school. hell, it still is really white. HOWEVER, my kid gets a very healthy dose of black consciousness from me. now, while my “black culture” [a misnomer if i’ve ever heard one] is different from south african “black culture” he still has a very strong sense of pride in being black.

    what the youth of today DO see is the mess that ANC-linked tenderpreneurs are making of the country. THAT is what is turning them off to the anc, not “going to white schools” as you put it. my kid’s eight year old cousin, when we explained, in child-friendly terms, how BEE is implemented, said the following: if the white people messed everything up for black people, why don’t we just make them fix everything and make it better? it doesn’t make sense to not make them help.


    on cnn last week, the governor of katanga province [and also the owner of TP Mazembe football club] said “if i had to choose between an educated populace and all of these mineral-filled mines around us, i would choose the educated populace.”

    you will NEVER hear an ANC politician say that. EVER.

    rewrite this piece. it’s total rubbish. honestly.

  30. Kamwini Kamwini 27 January 2011

    And where are the voices of the children here? In my home the children can disagree with me – provided they reason well. In Mr.Memela’s home, following the culture that he would force down his children’s throats, I doubt whether the children have that choice. Culture is dynamic. When these kids with their new fusion culture grow up they may learn to appreciate what their ancestors and elders did. If they don’t, why should it matter any more? Most European kids don’t know much about their history and neither need they. They will take their own paths to their own futures. If you haven’t grabbed their brains by age 12 you are wasting your time to try to change them after that. By the way, Mr. Mamela did not explain what he means by culture. It’s one of these arguments that are used when logic fails.

  31. feanor feanor 27 January 2011

    Why can’t I seem to give this piece zero stars??

  32. Robin Bownes Robin Bownes 28 January 2011

    Culture, in real life, is ever-evolving. History has clearly shown that attempts to freeze culture at some point is always, in some way, disastrous; always for the culture, & often for those perceived to be “against” it in any way. At best, “frozen” culture becomes a dead monument rather than a vital movement.

    When culture is allowed to grow, change, adapt, & adopt, it is ultimately strengthened, even though some aspects of it may lose popularity, or not be universally practised. “Culture” that is forced upon youth will lead either to rebellion against the culture, or fanatical adherence to it.

    Culture, whether family, national, or tribal, is not something that can be taught in a school. This is particularly true in a country such as South Africa where most schools have learners from multiple cultures. The only healthy way for culture to be passed on to future generations & to be expressed, is for it to be experienced in its proper environment as a basic part of life.

    Think of the best & worst cultures, the weakest & strongest. Strongest: Christmas culture, with Santa & all the trappings for instance, has taken over the world, but with flexibility to better fit different cultures and religions. Worst: Think Nazism; a culture that was, as it were, carved in stone. We can probably all agree that it was not good, & it fortunately did not last on any large scale.

    If you want your children to love their culture, live it at home, & give it freedom to change.

  33. Zaharian Zaharian 28 January 2011

    As the ANC continues to lose it’s moral authority and ultimately support, we can expect more of this type of thinking.

    The Media Appeals Tribunal is a case in point. Instead of addressing the bad behavior of ANC officials; you just shoot the messenger!

    We all forget that the ANC is a revolutionary movement, not a democratic political party. The mantra is simple: One man, one vote, once.

  34. Mark Mark 28 January 2011

    The point of an education, whether it comes from a ‘black’ person or a ‘white’ person, is to teach one how to teach oneself. The ideal of education is to have the master be replaced by his pupil, so that the master becomes the pupil.

    If our education is supposed to be the propagation of ideology – then whatever achievements made by the ANC to build a free and fair society will fail. If we look at Hegel’s philosophy of freedom, this might be demonstrated. Simply put, that which determines the extent of one’s freedom is the obstacles which must be overcome. Thus it is precisely the things that make us ‘unfree’ wherein we can find our freedom. For example – the struggle itself was the overcoming of what at the time seemed an impossible obstacle. And yet, through this overcoming new freedoms were discovered. At the same time so were new obstacles – obstacles which hold the promise of even further freedom.

    But, if the obstacles that have already been overcome remain the illusory obstacles of today, then the freedom already won is rendered as nothing. To keep constructing this opposition between white/black as its traditionally conceived by a conservative Mr Melema risks this very stagnation.

    We need a new conceptual schema to understand ourselves. Why can we not leave this up to the current generation? It is the new youth who must discover the obstacles which promise new freedoms. And to do so, they must discover knowledge for themselves.

  35. mengisto mengisto 14 February 2011

    If only I had the money to take my daughter to a model-C school. Government’s poor management of public schools is a concern for many parents, hence they enrol their children at Model-C schools. History must just remain history and be kept in archives in museums for whoever is interested in it.

  36. Thabang Thabang 23 February 2012

    alot has been said well i got an assignment on this memela story,and through what i’ve read i got the understanding of what is really happening.mmmhh then i guess people see that ANC is not doing much for them but they demand alot in return,thats what i see according to the comments here

  37. papilo ngcongoane papilo ngcongoane 25 February 2012

    true words, our education system teaches us to honour and give reverence to the white world, even our so called religion says that white man is god and the arabic is the language of god. it only took an native child to revisit hell and find out the teal meaning. know we stand and rize for through your articles of AFROCENTRIC i know that am the father n mada of civilisation. am no longer their raw material. i think and reasong pan African. our S.A youth most are schooled to think like a fair minded Europian man.

  38. Samantha Tesner Samantha Tesner 5 March 2014

    The comments to this article I must admit, left no surprises, nothing new, just the re arrogance&narrowmindedness one has come to expect *sigh* white people on the alert, ready to defend ‘whiteness’ when in fact there was no attack (by the author) *smh*
    That said, I agree completely with Sandile and found his article to be a true, objective reflection of edu. and the absurdities and inequalities reflected in the state of same in SA today; these absurdities become evident everytime a parent justifies their choice of private schooling or choice of an edu. inst.(always a ‘white’ school’ (whether that parent is black or white) with “a parent has the right to want the best education possible for their child”.
    My response is “why is anything ‘foreign’ or white seen as “the best”” and on the same token, “why is anything African seen as being of a sub-standard quality”? and I think, if ‘you’ took the time to put aside your feelings of guilt (or whatever it is that tends to put you on the def.) and listened objectively to what the author is saying (something we whites have never done because ‘we’ know better, dont we *smh*) we might actually learn something.
    And finally, until all children have the advantage of rec. their entire edu in their Mother Tongue (as with Apartheid, today it is still only Eng. and Afr. MT children who are granted this privilege) we will continue to raise generations mimicking the West thereby seeing themselves, their lang.&culture as…

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