In the words of our former president, Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. It is precisely because of the power that a good education bestows on learners that the apartheid government sought to systematically destroy the education of African children, and in the process their futures, while empowering children from white families. It is terrible legacy that apartheid has left us, and something which even now, twenty-two years on, we are still struggling to grapple with. But even during the apartheid years there were still a handful of schools that made it their mission to provide a proper education to children of colour, despite the government’s best efforts to destroy them, and it is from these schools that iconic African leaders such as Albert Luthuli, Dr ZK Matthews and Reverend John Dube, emerged.
Sadly the discriminatory policies of apartheid left many of these schools decimated. Adams College alumni and historian, Desmond Makhanya (14 September 1935-16 July 2016) viewed the Bantu Education Act as “the single most horrific piece of legislation to have passed through the apartheid parliament”. From destroying school buildings to refusing to renew the permits of missionaries and teaching staff, the apartheid government did its level best to reduce these bastions of hope to nothing – and they came fairly close. By the late 1990s schools such as Adams College, Inanda Seminary and Ohlange High School, were hanging on by a thread, but through alumni support, private funding, and government-initiated restoration projects, these schools which are so important to South Africa’s history, and its future, are now being given a second chance at life. The Historic Schools Restoration Project (HSRP) was started in 2009 in an effort to revitalise the rich heritage of these historical schools and transform them into “sustainable and aspirational African institutions of educational and cultural excellence” (www.historicschools.org.za). The HSRP has also established the ZK Matthews Educational Trust which offers financial aid to children attending historically disadvantaged schools that played a noteworthy role in South Africa’s history.
As with most things in life, resources are an issue, and the schools still require funds to restore them to their former glory, but the transformation that some of the schools have already undergone is amazing, and as a country we should be incredibly grateful that the effort has been made to save these important educational institutions – institutions that helped to develop so many of our former leaders, and will surely see African leaders of the future passing through their corridors and classrooms.
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