Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation

Race and Identity in Schools: Young South Africans Engaging with a Changing Environment

by Oupa Makhalemele

With Facilitation Report

by Brian Molewa

Race and Citizenship in Transition Series, 2005.

Oupa Makhalemele is a Researcher in the Transitional Justice Programme at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

Brian Molewa is a Community Facilitator in the Transitional Justice Programme.


This report is one in a series of products in the Race and Citizenship Series. Thank you to the Ford Foundation, Development Cooporation Ireland and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation for generously funding this report and the series.

We are grateful to all the learners who took part in this project and to the schools that so generously hosted us: JG Strydom (now renamed Diversity High), MH Joosub, Reasoma and Westbury High Schools.

The rest of the Race and Reconciliation Project Team: Bronwyn Harris, Brian Molewa and Nahla Valji, made a key contribution towards the success of this project. Brian Molewa gave hours of his enthusiastic and empathetic energy to the project as facilitator. Bronwyn Harris gave leadership, encouragement and guidance throughout the project. This report owes its readable status and some useful insights to Harris and Valji's editorial comments, for which I am grateful. Any shortcomings in this report are the result of my fallibility.

We also had the privilege of securing the help of Noor Nieftagodien, a historian who helped our learners conceptualise oral history as a tool to do research. He also played the role of coaching in the writing of this research report. Serame Masitha patiently helped with the layout. Several staff members at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation lent their support and expertise to the fulfilment of our project. These include in alphabetical order: Millan Atam, Yvette Geyer, Alice Kgotleng, Moloko Malakalaka, Milicent Maroga, Ereshnee Naidu, Xoliswa Ntintili, Thuto Semoko, Shobna Sonpar, Tracy Vienings and Bheki Zulu.

We dedicate this report to the memory of Bheki Zulu: friend; youth worker; a great individual whose life exemplified the resilience young people in South Africa need in order to take us to a truly just future.


Race and Citizenship in Transition Series
Race and Identity in Schools: Young South Africans engaging
with a changing environment by Oupa Makhalemele
       A note on the term 'race'
Contextual background
   Transformation in education
   Education for segregation
   Desegregation vs. Integration
      Insular cultural pluralism
      Cultural assimilation
      Modified cultural pluralism (Multiculturalism)
      Racialised violence
      Racial dynamics in classroom discussions
      Legacy of internalised oppression
      Religion, culture and identity
      Patriarchy and family
      Identity and the school
      Racial integration: is it happening?
Gaps and Recommendations
   Facilitation – include minority voices
   Why do learners leave state schools?
   Failure to make connections between the present and the past

Facilitator's Report by Brian Molewa
Project Features
   Identifying the schools
   Launch: the Constitution Hill Workshop
   Eight-week Programme
   RRP Camp Workshop
      Response rate
      Themes discussed
      What worked well or not?
      Have your views changed?
      Would you like this project to be taken further?
Process Issues
   Socio-economic Profile
   Racism in schools
   Sample selection
Concluding remarks and recommendations
   Refining the notion of difference and diversity
Annexure 1: Constitution Hill Workshop Programme
   Narrative Report on Proceedings
   Who am I? Nahla's Story
Annexure 2: Synopsis of eight-week programme
   Week 1
      Introductions and Identity
      Ground Rules
      Facilitator's outcome for Week 1
   Week 2
      Report back and Identity
      Facilitator's outcome for Week 2
   Week 3
      Oral History and Citizenship
      Facilitator's outcome for Week 3
   Week 4
      My Identity
      Facilitator's outcome for Week 4
   Week 5
      Facilitator's outcome for Week 5
   Week 6
      Facilitator's outcome for Week 6
   Week 7
      Facilitator's outcome for Week 7
   Week 8
      Facilitator's outcome for Week 8
Annexure 3: Synopsis of RRP Youth Camp
   Day 1
      Arrival, room allocations and registration
   Day 2
   Day 3
Annexure 4: Youth and the Challenge of Racism by Noor
   Race and Racism in the new South Africa
   Apartheid and Racial Discrimination
   What is Race?

The Race and Citizenship in Transition Series1

Bronwyn Harris, Nahla Valji, Brandon Hamber and Carnita Ernest

Race and citizenship are extremely complex concepts. In post-apartheid South Africa, they find expression on many different levels, including identity, conflict, nationalism, history, politics and inter-personal relationships. They occupy a spectrum ranging from everyday practices and interactions, to formal political and macro-economic forces. They also overlap with notions of reconciliation, justice and reparation, and, although they are separate notions with different histories, they overlap with each other. This creates an added dimension of complexity. Both race and citizenship can be (and commonly are) articulated and/or silenced to serve particular interests. Both can also feed into certain forms of violence, including xenophobia and racially motivated hate crime. Any analysis of race and citizenship must therefore acknowledge the complexity of their expression, representation and impact. Such complexity in the South African context must be assessed in relation to the country's apartheid history, as well as the processes of reconciliation best captured by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Apartheid created race as a mechanism for violence. Race, in and of itself, was the social and psychological reality through which repression and violence functioned. Racism was institutionalised, legalised and internalised. South Africans saw the world in 'black' and 'white' terms and violence was commonly used to maintain this status quo. However, during the Mandela era (1994-1999), a new vocabulary emerged to describe the social order. This vocabulary spoke of nationhood, unity, racial harmony and reconciliation. South Africa was described as a 'rainbow nation'. Reference to race entered a sensitive and delicate terrain. This was a positive attempt to give South Africans a new language for speaking about – and to - each other. But, at the same time, it rendered the real, often violent, consequences of race invisible. In the Mandela era, there was little national debate on how race had influenced past human rights violations. There was also little recognition that race continues to shape identity and interactions – violent or not – within the present.

By contrast, the Mbeki era (1999-ongoing) has been characterised by a 'return to race'. This is partly a consequence of different presidential styles and roles – while Mandela had to stress forgiveness and underplay racial issues in order to consolidate a peaceful (and at times precarious) transition, Mbeki, as he stated in his 'two nations speech', has had to deal with economic inequality rooted in past racial practices. Additionally, the 'return to race' has been forced upon the society by violence: through the actions of white extremists like the Boeremag, as well as less political cases of racist hatred. Less violent expressions of/about race have also re-entered popular and political discourse: in 2000, the Human Rights Commission held hearings into racism in the media, and, in 2001, South Africa hosted the World Conference against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

Although race can be read across these two discrete eras - 1994-1999 and 1999-ongoing - it is important not to oversimplify or reduce the differences to how race has been articulated. Despite a general 'return to race' post-1999, there have been numerous contradictions and striking silences on the issue; for example, within the realm of violence and conflict, as well as Mbeki's own discourse (in 1996, he gave his inclusive 'I am an African' speech, which contrasted with his 'two nations' speech in 1999, but at the opening of parliament in 2001, he seemed to discard the two nations analogy in favour of a 'united' South Africa, irrespective of race). Also, while issues of race have partially emerged in the Mbeki era, the notion of reconciliation – particularly racial reconciliation - has become increasing invisible. The TRC finally completed its work in March 2003. Many have interpreted this as the end of South Africa's reconciliation process. However, incidents of racial prejudice, intolerance and violence, both within South Africa and internationally, suggest that the TRC was just the beginning and not the end of a sorely needed social dialogue about racial reconciliation.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)

South Africa did not 'invent' the truth commission. Since 1974 there have been more than twenty-five truth commissions around the world. But it was the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that captured the world's attention. This is partly due to international interest in the fight against apartheid. Also, the TRC was the largest and best resourced commission, and it was afforded extensive media coverage, both domestically as well as internationally. This ensured that the world was exposed to the Commission, and the openness of the process meant that the violence of the past could no longer be denied. The South African model also attracted scrutiny because it promised an alternative way of peacefully resolving entrenched difference through the unique 'truth for amnesty'2 deal upon which it was premised. Consequently, the notion of using a truth commission to deal with political conflict has gained momentum and many countries are now holding their own Commissions.

TRC Chairperson Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that without the compromises made during the negotiations to ensure majority rule in South Africa, the country would have gone up in flames. From this perspective it follows that the agreement by the African National Congress (ANC) to grant amnesty to perpetrators of apartheid violence was a pragmatic choice. Amnesty was the price, albeit a costly one for victims, for saving the innumerable lives that would have been lost if the conflict had continued. However, unlike in most transitional countries to date, amnesty in South Africa was neither blanket nor automatic. Conditions applied to the South African amnesty and the TRC was the vehicle for this process.

The TRC process began in December 1995 and finished in March 2003, when the Commission handed over the final 2 volumes of its 7 volume report. 7 116 people applied for amnesty. Almost 22 000 people came forward and told how they were victimised under apartheid. The TRC made a number of recommendations to the South African government regarding financial and symbolic reparations, issues of justice and ways to address relationships between South Africans. It is these issues that still need to be grappled with and addressed.

Evaluating the TRC

The public acknowledgement of past violations was perhaps the TRC's greatest success; as the brutal horrors of apartheid found their way, via the media, into the living rooms of every South African. An undeniable historical record has been created. However, apartheid history still remains contested and fraught with racialised interpretations; for example, many white South Africans continue to deny the impact of apartheid and many dismissed the TRC itself as a 'political witch-hunt' (cf. Thiessen, 19963). The role of the TRC - in both writing history and as an historical process itself – demands ongoing scrutiny.

At a narrower, more immediate level, a minority of victims did uncover suppressed truths about the past. In some cases, missing bodies have been located, exhumed and respectfully buried. For others, the confessions of perpetrators have brought answers to previously unsolved political crimes – crimes, which the courts, due to expense and inefficiencies, may never have tried. However, for many, the TRC began a process that it was unable to complete. Many of the victims who went before the TRC, with the hope that their case would be investigated, feel let down and no closer to the truth than before they publicly told of their suffering. Irrespective of the feasibility of investigating every case, victims' high expectations of the TRC have been dashed, and in their eyes, this has undermined its credibility.

Justice also remains a burning issue. Politicians may be able to justify the exchange of formal justice for peace, but it was difficult for victims to watch while the perpetrators received amnesty. Not only were many perpetrators 'let off the hook', victims feel let down and disappointed by the government's response to the TRC. Regarding financial reparations, the Commission recommended that the government should pay those victims identified through the TRC process R3 billion, in annual installments over a 6 year period (this total figure represents 0.001% of the country's annual R300 billion budget, which translates into R136 000 per individual). However, the South African government has only agreed to pay R30 000 per individual, in a once off payment. The Commission also recommended that business and other apartheid beneficiaries should pay a once-off wealth tax and that the country's inherited apartheid debt (which accounts for approximately 20% of the government's annual budget) should be restructured in order to free up money for development and redistribution. Again, the government chose to ignore these recommendations. This has left victims feeling betrayed. It also does not bode well for long-term reconciliation. As CSVR researchers, Polly Dewhirst & Nahla Valji (2003) note,

The 'miracle' of a new SA is hardly sustainable if it is built without restoring the dignity and humanity of the majority of its citizens, nor if it fails to address the economic inequalities which fuel social conflict.4

There are also debates about the broader merits of the TRC. At the very least the reconciliation project, with the TRC at the helm, has brought South Africa through the transition period with relative political stability. The humanist approach of Mandela and Tutu brought compassion to a brutalised country. Despite the horrors revealed by the TRC, glimmers of humanity shone through and provided hope for the future.

However for some, despite the merits of the TRC, 'reconciliation' is merely a euphemism for the compromises made during political negotiations - compromises that ensured continued white control of the economy. From this perspective, reconciliation is meaningless without structural change. A related, more cynical view is that the rapprochement between the old and new regimes was a strategy to consolidate a new black elite under the banner of reconciliation.

Many argue that the TRC missed the bigger picture by defining victims only as those who suffered intentional violence. Because the TRC focused on victims of gross human rights violations, such as torture and murder – it did not include the 'ordinary' victims of apartheid – the millions of South Africans who suffered from land removals, forced displacements, the migrant-labour system, Bantu education etc. As such the TRC did not engage directly with the institutionalised, structured ways in which racist policies affected and victimised people on a daily basis. Those who suffered more broadly from the economic ravages of apartheid and were not victimized directly by political violence were excluded from the TRC. An important question to ask is: what mechanisms do those, excluded from the apartheid state and then from the TRC, have for defining and consolidating a sense of citizenship in the 'new' South Africa?

Similarly, the degree to which the TRC used race as an explanatory variable in its understanding of the abuses it investigated remains questionable. In some cases, 'race' was generally collapsed into 'political motive', as exemplified by the amnesty decisions in the Amy Biehl, Chris Hani and St James' Massacre cases. However, this was done inconsistently and the relationship between race and politics was not clearly defined. Overall, the reconciliation process engaged less with 'black and white' issues then with inconsistent 'political' definitions of perpetrators and victims. This has had the after-effect of divorcing race, and racial identity, from the violence of the past. It similarly keeps race separate from understandings of violence in the present.

A related point is that, as a transitional justice mechanism, the TRC accepted and legitimated certain explanations for the violence of the past. In this way, it has played a key role in influencing the society's moral reactions to violence. This is specifically evident in the area of amnesty. The question needs to be asked, despite the compromises made to set up the TRC, has amnesty undermined South African citizens' sense of morality? Has it contributed to ongoing violence and impunity? Has it impacted upon how different race groups see each other? There have been various evaluations of the TRC, but none have taken into account the ways in which it has explicitly addressed race, morality and citizenship as components of past human rights violations and factors in contemporary social relations. It is precisely these questions that the Race and Citizenship in Transition Series has sought to address.

The different perspectives surrounding the TRC demonstrate the complexity of dealing with oppression and violence – and how past events shape the process of reconciliation.

The TRC was not alone in its attempts to build reconciliation in South Africa. A number of other institutions were set up to deal with the legacy of the past. These included for example the Land Claims Court and the Human Rights Commission. Other structures, such as the Independent Complaints Directorate, were set up to monitor ongoing abuses by the police. However the degree to which these institutions, and the TRC can be said to have consolidated reconciliation and effected transformation can, at best, be described as ongoing but desperately incomplete. There are ongoing police abuses, young people still express feelings of marginalisation, racism and racist incidents continue to take place, and the poor have not substantially benefited from the changes in the country.

Levels of Reconciliation

The process of reconciliation can be said to operate on a number of levels, i.e. the political, community and individual levels.

At the political level, reconciliation has been embodied in the compromises that lead to a political peace. This process can be said to be broadly successful, as it has brought political stability to South Africa.

At the community level, despite some successes by the TRC, reconciliation is largely incomplete, with many of the old racial and political divisions remaining in place. This is evidenced through high levels of residential segregation between black and white South Africans residentially. It is also expressed between different groups divided along political affiliation, such as ANC and IFP supporters, and xenophobic hostility between South Africans and foreigners, particularly those from elsewhere in Africa.

At the individual level, the question is far more complex and is bound to how individuals feel in relation to the process of reconciliation. Many individual victims feel that their needs have not been met by the TRC. At the same time, many of those who benefited from apartheid are still denying their complicity status. This is linked to the many who refuse any responsibility for reparations and redressing the past. There is also an expectation that the next generation will somehow begin with a 'clean slate' (Oakley-Smith5). The ongoing impact of a racist and violent past continues to play out through incidents of racist hate crimes and expressions of xenophobia. Hostility towards foreigners, particularly black Africans, commonly results in violence and is spurred on by overly zealous views of nationalism in the 'new' South Africa. In addition, many South Africans are finding themselves questioning their role in the country. This could be linked to the many young people who are leaving the country as they feel there is no future for them in South Africa.

A Crisis of Citizenship

We would like to suggest that there is a 'crisis of citizenship' in South Africa at present, which threatens the genuine reconciliation begun through processes such as the TRC. This crisis manifests itself in ordinary people asking where they belong in the new society. This crisis suggests that there is much work that needs to be done to consolidate the process of reconciliation and a sense of inclusive citizenship. The Race and Citizenship in Transition Series is a space for exploring this citizenship crisis, along with the related issues of race, reconciliation, violence and identity in South Africa. Key issues to be examined include:

The Race and Citizenship in Transition Series is funded by the Ford Foundation, Development Cooperation Ireland and the Charles Stewart-Mott Foundation.

Series Editors

Bronwyn Harris
Nahla Valji



This report is based a research that the Race and Reconciliation Project (RRP) team embarked upon during 2003 in order to establish how young South Africans are engaging with issues of identity, citizenship and reconciliation, ten years into the country's democracy. One core area of focus was how, if at all, instruments of history, justice and relationship-building, such as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), have impacted upon high school learners in relation to these themes.

Over a period of seven months the RRP team made weekly visits to four schools based in Johannesburg in the Gauteng Province, where we engaged learners in Grades eight, nine and ten in activities and conversations on their perspectives on identity, citizenship and reconciliation.

We used the three key themes – identity, citizenship and reconciliation – to begin conversations around transition in the schools and in the country in general from the point of view of young people. The concept of 'race' was the cross-cutting theme throughout these discussions.

A participant observer methodology was used, whereupon we made regular interventions during discussions which covered this range of topics. These topics included xenophobia and other forms of exclusions that this group of young South Africans experience both as victims or perpetrators thereof.

Our project targeted youth for particular reasons. Many analysts are hopeful that youth, in contrast to older generations, will more easily and successfully achieve national reconciliation. For example, research has shown that one of the obstacles to achieving the goal of reconciliation in South Africa is the refusal of most adult whites to accept that they have benefited from apartheid and therefore their failure to see the need to make concrete contributions towards redressing the imbalances caused by apartheid (Leggasick, 2002; Macdonald, 2000). Also, adults can be stuck in their positions. Black6 adults for example, having experienced first hand the pain of apartheid, may tend to be less inclined to forgive white people. White adults on the other hand may harbour a sense of guilt for apartheid, having perpetuated and benefited from the system. There are similarly those who refuse to change their views about racial segregation, and continue to resist efforts to foster reconciliation.

By contrast young South Africans did not experience apartheid first hand, and live in an environment that allows for interracial contact that is far greater than their predecessors. For these reasons they are a good constituency through which to gauge the future success of integration. At the same time, since South Africa's past has left residues which impact on the present day society, young South Africans are a vehicle through which a break with the country's divisive past can be facilitated. A proper appreciation of the long term impact of apartheid and colonial rule can, we believe, open young South Africans up to the possibility of taking mutual ownership of the country's future, by facilitating dialogue about their history, differences, common goals and aspirations.


Our school work was a pilot, sub-project within the Race and Reconciliation Project (RRP). RRP set out to analyse and evaluate the impact of structures such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on issues of race and reconciliation, racial identity and racial violence during the country's transitional period. Our ultimate aim was to develop intervention programmes for preventing racial violence and enhancing constructive feelings of citizenship. The overall objective of the project has been to consider the implications of changing dynamics of race, citizenship and violence in post-apartheid South Africa. A more nuanced appreciation of these dynamics can help in the development of policy and intervention strategies aimed at promoting reconciliation, entrenching a human rights culture, and preventing violence. Our specific aim was to design and implement a pilot intervention programme that would focus on the ways in which youth deal with the apartheid past and how they integrate this into current understandings of reconciliation, citizenship and violence.

Our decision to work with youth in high schools was informed by a few considerations. Firstly, we were interested to find out how these young people were experiencing the changes in education as these were taking shape. We worked with learners in Grades Eight to Ten (previously known as Standards Six to Eight), who are between 14 and 16 years old. Given that South Africa had its first democratic elections in 1994, these learners never experienced apartheid education in its raw sense, i.e. before education was overhauled through legislation to be in line with the democratic principles of equality and dignity for all. We shall discuss the reforms in education later in the report.

Secondly, the high school environment is a useful site for studying youth identity. This is because the age group of the learners is the period in their lives where they begin to form their own identity. Also, given that identity formation is context bound (Dawson, 2003) the school is a critical space in shaping identity among youth. On average youth spend one third of their time in high school (Dawson, 2003).

Thirdly, we contend that schools in South Africa are both sites of memory as well as sites for change. This is because, as with many other facets of life in apartheid-era South Africa, schools were designed to express and entrench an exclusionary ideology which informed school policies and practices (Christie, 1985, cited in Dawson, 2003). We shall discuss the issue of schools as conduits of apartheid ideology later. In the present milieu of social transformation in South Africa the school again assumes a site of social construction, this time the goal being to encourage inclusiveness.


Our research method involved a qualitative appraisal of young people's experiences of changes taking place at the school and in communities in which they live and study. From an initial list of fifteen schools within Johannesburg, we eventually selected four schools in which to run the project (see attached Facilitator's Report for details about the selection process). The four schools were deliberately chosen for their different backgrounds and demographic profiles:

School A: is situated in Soweto and has an exclusively African student-body;

School B: is situated in Lenasia in a predominantly Indian working class suburb with a mixture of Indian, African and colored learners;

School C: is situated in South Hills, a former white working class area with a mixture of African, white, Indian and colored learners;

School D: is situated in Westbury, a colored area with a population of African and colored learners.

We had also envisaged working with a school with a high concentration of refugee learners. This was because we wanted to glean the learners' experiences of going to school amongst/or as foreign learners in the context of xenophobic attitudes that are prevalent in South Africa (Harris, 2003). Unfortunately the school's participation was conditional on the project engaging with all classes. This was not possible with only two facilitators and as a result the school was dropped from the project but we recommend a process that includes refugee learners within the future.

We used a participant observer methodology. The project team facilitated discussions and debates in the classrooms. Care was taken not to be too prescriptive in our comments, the aim being to elicit as many opinions and views from the learners as possible in a non-threatening environment. However, whenever we felt necessary, such as when debate became heated or particularly negative attitudes were being expressed, we made interventions. In these interventions we would challenge broadly held stereotypes and enforce the code of conduct as agreed at the beginning of the process.7

We recorded our sessions and made transcripts of these recordings. The products of the recordings were useful during the stage of writing the research report. They augmented the notes taken during the sessions and created raw material to use for the research report. Without transcripts it would have been difficult to recall how the discussions had transpired. This is particularly so because we visited four schools per week and collected a huge volume of information. In addition, one of the schools could only give us access to the learners after school hours. We committed to arranging refreshments for this group and transport back home. The logistical responsibilities for this added to the work we needed to do in addition to preparing for the sessions. It would have been difficult therefore to recall the classroom discussions without the aid of recording.

We chose an oral history method as a useful tool for the learners to collect stories of their schools' and communities' histories. An introductory session on oral history was given to the learners at the start of the project by Noor Nieftagodien, a historian based at the University of the Witwatersrand (see Facilitator's Report for information about the initial workshop). The presentation showed participants that there are many stories that can be told about one event. It also helped learners to appreciate the fact that some of the rich stories that form part of our history are stored in people's memories. Memory is an important tool that can be tapped into when documenting history. Similarly the shortfalls of oral history were also discussed, such as the simple fact that memory is not perfect. It is therefore always critical to corroborate stories told and to present findings in a way that indicates that the events related are people's subjective accounts of the said events.

A note on the term 'race'

Although we use the term 'race' in this report, we are mindful of the fact that this is a problematic term and that the idea of racial difference has no basis in science. Racism, being based on the idea of different races, has however become part of the reality of much of the world we live in today. In South Africa racism became a key feature of society with the advent of colonialism, first by the Dutch and then the British (Nieftagodien, 2003). When the Nationalist Party came to power in 1948 they consolidated racial discrimination by introducing racial-based discriminatory laws. The effect of this history in South Africa has been that one's 'race' determined one's position in life. (Dawson, 2003, p. 6) Acknowledging this reality is not, however, an endorsement of the idea that there are different races in South Africa, or elsewhere; rather using apartheid's racial categories is a useful tool to understand how race is embedded in people's identities, and lived experiences.

Contextual background

This section will discuss the context within which changes in schools are taking place. It will sketch out the historical and contextual background to help illuminate some of the challenges at play as schools grapple with these changes.

Transformation in education

Transformation in the education sector was formally legislated in the 1996 South African Schools Act (SASA). In the preamble the Act declares that South Africa

[R]equires a new national system for schools which will redress past injustices in educational provision, provide an education of progressively high quality for all learners and in so doing lay a strong foundation for the development of all our people's talents and capabilities, advance the democratic transformation of society, combat racism and sexism and all other forms of unfair discrimination and intolerance .… protect and advance our diverse cultures and languages, uphold the rights of all learners, parents and educators, and promote their acceptance of responsibility for the organisation, governance and funding of schools in partnership with the State. (South African Schools Act, 1996, available online).

This Act repealed all apartheid legislation pertaining to schools, codified compulsory education for children between the ages of 7 and 15 and provided for a unified schooling system (Vally and Dalamba, 1999).

Since the early 1990s there has been a sharp increase in the number of African learners enrolling into previously 'white', 'Indian' and 'coloured' schools. Table 1, drawn from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) report by Vally and Dalamba (1999) on the desegregation of public schools, illustrates this increase.

Table 1: Percentage of Gauteng learners by 'race' groups

'African' (A)
'White' (W)
'Coloured' (C)
'Indian' (I)

Grade 1 100 0 0 0 16 75 2 6 9 0 91 0 61 0 22 17
All Grades 100 0 0 0 22 72 3 2 31 0 67 0 45 0 5 50

(Source: Gauteng Department of Education, 1996/1997, Annual School Survey, p. 39, 1997 figures, quoted in Vally and Dalamba, 1999)

* Under apartheid legislation different racial groups were assigned different education departments.
DET – Department of Education and Training - Africans
TED – Training and Education Department - Whites
HOR – House of Representatives - Coloureds
HOD – House of Delegates - Indians

As Table 1 illustrates, coloured, Indian and white learners formerly located within apartheid education departments have not moved to previously African-only public schools, whereas African and coloured learners have moved steadily to previously white and Indian public schools. Africans in particular have moved in great numbers to previously white, Indian and coloured schools. This is indicative of the history of education in South Africa where education for Africans was accorded the least resources and was fraught with numerous problems. Hence those parents who have the means have opted for schools in the formerly white, coloured and Indian suburbs for their children's education. While the focus of this report is not the racial enrolment into public schools, this data is illustrative of the trends that have developed, and tells of how schools previously shaped by an apartheid ethos have been forced, through recent legislation, to accommodate population groups with different cultural backgrounds.

Legislation alone was not adequate in order to bring about fundamental transformation of the schools. Issues such as the long history of an education policy designed with the intention to entrench and consolidate racially based hierarchies in public education have to be taken into account in order to devise policies that will bring about real change.

Education for segregation

When the Nationalist Party (NP) came to power in 1948 it introduced a slew of legislation whose primary aim was to foster segregation and arrange a pecking order of beneficiaries of state policies that favoured whites over blacks. Its education policy was built upon the foundations of Afrikaners' resistance to attempts at Anglicisation by the British which were at the centre of the South African Anglo-Boer War fought in 1899 – 1902 (Kallaway, 2002). Known as the Christian National Education (CNE) movement, this policy institutionalised the already segregated education system. In 1953 the Bantu Education Act removed education for blacks from missionary control and placed it under government control (Kallaway, 2002). A dual medium system was put in place, which catered for English and Afrikaans speakers. Although primary school education for Africans was taught in their mother tongue, much of their secondary education was delivered in either English or Afrikaans (Kallaway, 2002).

These were not the only defining characteristics of the new education policy. Government spending on black education was much lower compared to white education. This discrepancy persisted for much of apartheid's lifespan. For example in 1986 government spent R2 365 per capita for whites and R572 for Africans (Vally and Dalamba, 1999). Rural black education received even lower financial injection from government (Vally and Dalamba, 1999). This reflected the Nationalist Party's aims of fitting black people into subordinate positions in relation to the white population. Other factors contributed to educational inequality, such as poorly qualified teachers, overcrowding in classes, and the general demoralisation felt by teachers in African schools. Even amongst the 'black' groups, government encouraged unequal treatment, with Africans receiving the least resources compared to coloureds and Indians.

The new political dispensation in South Africa has given rise to a different discourse; one that breaks with a divisive past and in its place seeks to engender equality and mutual respect between 'races'. Schools are thus amongst a number of important 'testing sites' for such experimentation. The education legislation and the subsequent desegregation of schools should therefore be treated not as an end but a means to an end. In this context the legacy of the country's history ought to be acknowledged, such as the readiness, or willingness, amongst educators to work towards goals that are discordant with the ethos they have cultivated and worked within for decades.

Desegregation versus Integration

The acceptance of black learners into schools that they were previously barred from needs to be interrogated. Often the fact that black learners are enrolling into previously white-/coloured-/Indian- only schools is portrayed as an indicator of how well South Africa as a society has fared in terms of nurturing reconciliation and acknowledging diversity amongst youth of different racial and cultural backgrounds. However, when one examines the quality of this desegregation a different picture emerges. Desegregation on its own does not amount to integration.

The current attempts to infuse values of non-racism and human rights in schools present challenges to schools that are grappling with integration processes. Public schools in South Africa have historically been characterised by racial segregation. This means that the education systems here were vehicles of an exclusivist ideology. Geyer and Moat (2002) state that 'education systems, curricula and education methodologies convey a society's values to learners in a structured and planned manner' (p.14). This means that when responding to the new paradigm of inclusiveness, schools ought to take full stock of their respective ethos and practices. Some theories have been advanced to give typologies of different approaches to diversity in schools. These have been organised as: Insular Cultural Pluralism, Cultural Assimilation, Modified Cultural Pluralism (Multiculturalism), and Anti-Racism (Dawson, 2003).

Insular Cultural Pluralism

Insular Cultural Pluralism, states Marger (1994), generally refers to encouraging diversity while maintaining group boundaries (cited in Dawson, 2003). Dawson explains that 'this may be reinforced either through geographical separation or through residential segregation' (Dawson, 2003, p. 35). Legislatively, the physical separation of different 'racial groups' has been repealed for more than a decade. However, these apartheid patterns continue to largely persist, with the majority of the different racial groups remaining in their apartheid-era residential areas. Increasingly though, schools are moving away from this kind of separate co-existence.

Cultural Assimilation

Cultural Assimilation refers to the idea that schools expect the diverse minority groups to assimilate the existing cultural traits, values and ways of life of the dominant group (Dawson, 2003). Geyer and Moat state that 'when people from groups that do not conform to this racial and religious profile enter such schools, their cultures and belief systems are ignored and possibly undermined and ridiculed' (Geyer and Moat, 2002. p. 14).

Modified Cultural Pluralism (Multiculturalism)

Dawson notes that the Modified Cultural Pluralism approach is premised on the acknowledgement of socio-cultural diversity of learners (Dawson, 2003). This approach encourages learners to be proud of their heritage. The school's curriculum should also reflect the diversity of its learners. On their own, however, such measures are inadequate in fostering a multi-cultural ethos. Dawson suggests that 'teaching practices and social interaction within and beyond the classroom should also embody multicultural principles' (Dawson, 2003, p. 37). These could be achieved through such methods as inviting speakers from diverse backgrounds and taking the school to excursions that expose them to different cultures (Dawson, 2003).


Although more progressive than the first two approaches, the Modified Cultural Pluralism paradigm is criticised on the basis that it could reinforce racial stereotypes. This becomes possible especially when learners are required to express their different cultural identities, which presumes racial homogeneity among different 'racial groups'. Instead an Anti-Racism paradigm is suggested. This is the view that urges schools to confront the fact that racism does exist and it should be constantly challenged. It sees racism as an assumption of the superiority of one race over other inferior races (Dawson, 2003).

Part of the anti-racist perspective in education therefore involves equipping learners, teachers, parents and all members of staff with the tools to understand and recognise racism in all its forms, particularly its most subtle and covert manifestations, and to use these tools in the eradication of racism. (Vally and Dalamba, 1999, p. 35; Macdonald, Bhavnani, Khan and John, 1989, p. 347, quoted in Dawson, 2003. p. 38)

Of particular relevance to contemporary South Africa is the anti-racism paradigm's pre-occupation with the insidious and pervasive nature of racism. Refusing to see racism as a white-on-black phenomenon, the anti-racism paradigm encourages people to question their own assumptions of superiority of their ways and inferiority of the others regardless of race. This is relevant in the current environment of xenophobia in South Africa. Xenophobia was a much talked about issue in our study. Being a widely held practice amongst black South Africans especially against black foreigners from other African countries, xenophobia has caused learners to consider this issue in-depth.

The current desegregation of schools is in urgent need of careful management. Schools ought to be awake to the challenges that come with opening their doors to learners from other races, religious groups and cultures. The SAHRC study on desegregation in South African schools summarises this imperative thus:

Many research studies describe desegregation as a mechanical process which involves simply establishing the physical proximity of members of different groups in the same school, without interrogating the quality of the contact. (Vally and Dalamba, 1999, p. 22)

In the SAHRC study the majority of respondents in ex- TED (white); HOR (coloured); and HOD (Indian) schools answered 'no' to the question: is there racial integration at the school? Often the respondents noted that integration only happened in classrooms, and that once outside the classroom people grouped themselves along racially linked cliques of friends (Vally and Dalamba, 1999).

One concern is that schools demand that new population groups assimilate into the school's existing (and thereby racialised) culture and ethos. The effect of this approach is that learners of other racial and cultural backgrounds trade off their identities for a place in these 'hosting'8 schools.

Adding to this dilemma is the question of many decades of stereotypes and inequalities that have shaped the way society (including schools) views people from different racial, religious and cultural backgrounds. This is the context within which our project sought to understand young people's experiences of transformation in schools.


In this section we shall discuss and analyse the findings that came out of the activities run throughout our project. For a week-by-week account of the facilitated process, please see the attached Facilitator's Report and Annexures. For the purpose of the analysis, the findings are organised in terms of the three main themes around which we facilitated the introductory workshop, youth camp and 8-week in-school process. These are the themes of identity, citizenship and reconciliation and they proved to hold great significance in the daily experience of the learners in the school environment as well as in broader society. The school environment alone was not sufficient a 'laboratory' to test how learners perceived these concepts. It was important to also investigate how factors 'external' to the schools were impacting on the learners' perceptions on these themes.

It is important to reiterate the fact that our strategy had been to rather let the learners express their perceptions regarding these issues. We were careful not to be too prescriptive in our facilitation of the discussions on these themes.


In order to get the learners to start thinking about and engaging with the issues of identity, the facilitators presented questions to help the learners through the process. The questions were:

  1. What shapes your identity?
  2. How do we define our identity?
  3. How do you express your identity?
  4. How do you see yourself?

Questions were also asked about how the learners saw themselves vis-à-vis their immediate environment both in the school and outside. This was informed by our observation that the school environment alone was not enough to understand the factors that shape learners' sense of self. This external environment is manifested in different forms, including race, class, religion and culture. We organised discussions around such aspects through asking these questions:

  1. How do others see you?
  2. How do you see your future?
  3. What are your hopes and your fears?

In terms of what shapes their identity the learners cited, among other factors, personality, abilities, values, strength nationality, or religion. 'I am a beautiful black girl!' said one girl. Another identified herself as 'a Muslim living in South Africa'. One learner said she defined her identity in terms of age and physical appearance, as being a beautiful young girl, and another mentioned clothes as a defining characteristic of her identity.

These statements support Marcelle Dawson's argument that:

At times 'race' is important, and at other times, in different settings, religion, language or age, for example, become more significant identity markers used by learners in their daily interactions. (Dawson, 2003)

As shall be shown in later discussions about our conversations with the learners, aspects other than race were raised as important 'markers of identity'. Race, however, remained an overarching identity marker. Much of the experiences that the learners related to us were cast in a racialised backdrop. This is not surprising given that South Africa is only ten years into a non-racial democracy. With race having been reified by law, and people's daily lives having been affected accordingly, it will take a long process of interrogation and self-reflection before a significant shift is made in this regard.

Racialised violence?

Most African learners in our project who attend formerly white, coloured or Indian schools commute from the townships daily. The trip often takes an average of thirty minutes to an hour each way. Because of this, and owing to the country's history of racial separation, African learners are seen as outsiders in the communities where these schools are situated. In one of these schools learners said there were sporadic physical attacks on African learners by coloured youth who see themselves as belonging to a different race in the community surrounding the school. The attackers, local youth out of school, often attacked the African learners as they made their way to the taxis to travel home.

In another school the apparent racial attacks seem to have been sparked off by such things as African boys going out with girls of a different race. A case in point was when the white members of the community that surrounds this school attacked African learners. These kinds of conflicts are complex, and they cannot be explained in simplistic terms. It would be naïve, however, in the context of South Africa with its racial history, to discount race as at least partly responsible for such attacks. One learner lamented:

There is some other problem; actually, coloured boys at this school are quite jealous man. When you ask a coloured girl out, and then she goes out with you, then after school there must be a fight… Ten of them against one, just for a girl. And when they ask a black girl out, we don't go after them. Why?

This highlights the issue of the continuities and transmutations of violence in post-apartheid South Africa. Bronwyn Harris points out that although characterised as 'post-conflict South Africa', in our society 'we still hear of racial polarization and hatred within communities' (2003, p.1). This problem of racialised violence, together with other criminal activities in and around the schools, was highlighted as particularly worrying by learners of all racial groups attending these schools. Another learner shared this:

To me it says that the community is bad… and it's got a bad influence on the kids too. For instance there is a primary school up the road and if the kids see that they might do it one day, fight against each other… yes, we had a big fight here on Friday, people came with cars and all to fight against the [African] children of the school… but then they took it somewhere else and they went away with the fight… but that was a bad thing because we are also afraid of the coloureds, the coloureds have guns… it's not that funny because we saw the gun and we all ran into the school… all of us.

It is important to note that the learner was making a generalisation about 'coloureds', that 'they have guns', inferring that it was 'a coloured thing' to have a gun. Again, even though the learner attends a school in a 'coloured area' and thus has the opportunity to interact with 'coloured' learners, that has not happened to the extent that the learner could move beyond the stereotype that the carrying of the gun in the fight is not necessarily a typical thing in the area.

Racial dynamics in classroom discussions

Another noteworthy but not altogether surprising aspect was the manner in which the learners of a racial minority (i.e. numerical minority) in a class tended to group together. Of concern was the tendency for the minority groups to keep quiet, even in the face of, or perhaps because of, scathing challenges towards people of their race by the majority group. As discussed in the section on the history of the schools, African learners have increasingly become a majority group in schools that were formerly designated for 'other' race groups. For our project, Africans were the majority population group in all but one 'integrated' school, which has a fifty-fifty split of African and coloured learners. By contrast, the school in the African township has a hundred percent African learner composition.

It is not easy to suggest exactly why this situation, of 'minority silence', played itself out. It could be that the learners of a minority racial group were either intimidated to speak out against the strongly held views of the African learners who were the majority in the group; or that they somehow harboured some sense of guilt for the things their racial group did to black people; or that the class did not provide a safe space for the learners to express their opinions freely. The following quote reveals some of the deeply felt feelings amongst learners which may not be necessarily expressed openly. Perhaps there is an unspoken agreement (by black and white learners) that there is a line that will not be crossed lest these feelings of anger are laid bare:

I think when we look back at the 1980s… remember those years. I think when we start looking at documentaries and read books about what happened, I think many of us become bitter to see what the Afrikaners used to do to us blacks or maybe the coloureds or the Indians. We have been oppressed too much. It is sad when you see footage from the past when a white boy, not even twenty years old, beating up a granny. It becomes very painful and it's very hard to forgive and reconcile. Even if it didn't happen to you, but you think you are also part of the African nation. So I think it is going to be very hard for us to reconcile and come to terms with what happened… It is very hard.

One learner said the following when we asked why there was so little apparent mixing of 'races' in the group:

[Y]ou can't just expect us to change the way we were before… you know like [finger snapping]. Because we haven't really reconciled yet… we haven't grouped together as human beings. Some of us are still called "them boertjies", some of us are still called "blacks" and some of us blacks are still called "kaffirs". It takes time.

Nevertheless, there is a possibility that our facilitation methods could have better allowed for minority views to be expressed, by creating a more enabling environment. In its current form, our approach might have allowed the more dominant participants to bully their way over the process and thus make it difficult for the quiet types in the groups to be forthcoming (see also Facilitator's Report).

Discussing the issue of race is fraught with emotions and never an easy one to facilitate, as shown by Nytagodien (2003) in his account of a Portland State University class on restitution in the context of claims for reparations in South Africa and the USA by apartheid victims and the descendants of slaves respectively. It is an environment that requires negotiation between participants (Nytagodien, 2003). Whilst we negotiated ground rules (see Facilitator's Report) to govern our conduct during the process at the beginning of our visits, often these rules were forgotten in the heat of the moment.

The changes in population demographics in schools make for interesting speculation. For example, today black learners constitute a large number of learners in schools that were previously white. According to learner accounts, the reason black learners have suddenly become the majority in schools situated in areas formerly out of bounds to blacks is in part due to the exodus of white learners, whose parents have opted to take them to private schools. When we asked them why, most learners said it was because the parents were not happy with having their children going to the same school as black children. The issue of the 'drop in standards' was also mentioned, with some learners claiming that parents felt that with the introduction of black learners in these schools the standards were 'bound to drop'. These are perceptions and explanations as given by learners who 'remain behind'. Although it fell outside the scope of our research, and was thus not further explored, exploring this issue with those who 'have left' would have enriched this research.


Our survey of the socio-economic profile of the African learners reveals that those who attend these better-resourced schools are in a position to do so because their parents can afford the costs that accompany such a choice. In other cases parents make sacrifices in order to put their children in these schools, sometimes affording only the taxi fares and not the school fees. Many parents believe that formerly white schools are the next best option for quality education after private schools, which charge school fees that are beyond the means of these parents. Compared to formerly DET schools, formerly white schools are far better resourced and the educators in these schools are generally better qualified. Although South Africa is ten years into its democracy, and many efforts have been made to redress apartheid inequalities in education, the contrast between formerly white and formerly black schools are still largely unchanged, forcing parents into a situation where they send their children to schools outside townships.

Even in cases where the resource 'gap' is not as large between schools, perceptions and stereotypes about what comprises a 'better education' may still inform parents' decisions when choosing schools. To elucidate this point, we look to a public school situated in a middle-class area in Soweto. The school has a record of high pass rates; dedicated teachers and participative parents. Yet most of the learners that go to this school are not residents of this community, they commute from surrounding poorer areas. The area being middle-class means most parents who reside there can afford to take their children to private schools or government schools outside of the township (especially those in formerly white areas).

Whereas in the past black parents had limited choices in terms of which school their children could attend, black parents today can – legally and in principle - take their children to any school in the country. This has led to class, and less so race, being a key determinant in parents' choices for their children's education (Although as with most aspects of life in South Africa, race and class are often intertwined).

Concomitant to this are perceptions of 'standards'. Although we did not ask parents for their motivation in their choice of school for their children, one can infer that they feel that expensive private schools are better placed to give their children quality education than poorly resourced public schools.

This gives rise to a sense of class difference amongst learners, which is intertwined with race. For example, African and Indian learners in School B expressed resentment towards black learners attending a school that previously only catered for whites. They claimed that learners from a 'white town' think that they are better than them. At the same time, however, these same learners expressed a sense of being better off than their African township school-attending counterparts. The 'better off' sense was not just about resources. Rather, it also conveyed a sense of 'better than'. For example one learner said township schools produce poor results because African people do not have a work ethos, and that teachers and learners do not put effort into their work.

A coloured learner said the same about coloured people:

I think… last week I fought with this person at my mother's work. The thing is the people who are really trying to make a good life for themselves academically are blacks (by the term 'blacks' the learner here is actually referring to Africans). I'm speaking as a coloured, but we are lazy and we are not doing anything. If you go to universities you see the majority of blacks and whites and I'm impressed with blacks… we are not doing anything for ourselves.

In this way our participants demonstrated how the legacy of apartheid manifests itself through the perceptions about 'standards' and 'work ethos' and the way that learners of all races still position themselves and others on the 'race ladder'. However, there is a lack of awareness of the impact of South Africa's history on present circumstances. Thus there is no connecting the history of discrimination and that of apartheid's social engineering that produced these present day circumstances they complain about.

Legacy of internalised oppression

The point discussed above led us to contemplate about the continuation of racial stereotypes that remain largely unproblematised. The learners did not always make connections between their present circumstances and South Africa's recent history. Instead, they tended to individualise and racialise performance outside of the historical context of resource allocation. For example an African learner in School B said that she was happy to be in a school outside of the township, as teachers in township schools are 'lazy and the learners do not push themselves to pass well.' Learners in this group spoke about the conditions in township schools of overcrowded classes and under-qualified teachers and yet failed to make connections between those conditions and the rate of success (of lack thereof) in the township based schools. As discussed in the general overview, historically the allocation of resources for education favoured white education and black people were educated for the sole purpose of subjugating them to racial domination by the former. Many decades of inequality and stereotypes continue to persist in how these young people perceive their world.

Religion, culture and identity

In addition to the above components of identity including gender and race, learners discussed religion as an important point of reference when talking about their identity, as shown in the poem reproduced in the attached Facilitator's Report (Week 4: Citizenship).

The poem elicited discussion on religion as a marker of identity. The line: 'I'm a girl with a religion that sets me apart from the rest of the world' carried two equally important meanings for the participant who wrote it. She spoke of how people treated her differently at her school because of her religion (Islam), where Muslims are a small minority in a largely Christian school. She also spoke of how Muslims were being viewed with suspicion after the September 11, 2001 attacks on America.

In the following excerpt a learner concludes that religion does not determine many people's identity, yet she simultaneously attributes the actions of Muslims vis-à-vis their religion to circumstances directly linked to their religion. Of note is the fact that during the period of this research the war in Iraq was a topical issue, often raising issues of war over identity and religion.

Learner: 'Well, religion does determine my identity, but it also doesn't determine many people's identity… because some people don't really want people to know their religion. Like say in today's society, in 2003, many Muslims are hiding away from America. Many Muslims don't even want to enter America because they are afraid that America is going to banish them... that they are going to persecute them. So… Like now in school I used to stand up to a lot of people because of how I look, my actions, now many people think I'm arrogant because I'm wearing a scarf… just because I stand up for myself.'

It was interesting to note how participants spoke of culture and religion interchangeably, yet sometimes they were keen to see these in two separate ways. The following participant insisted that her coloured colleague has to find and observe those cultural practices practiced by her African ancestors. This reflects a common view amongst Africans in South Africa that culture is defined in terms of those traditional practices that Africans observe. Although this is beyond the scope of our research we suggest that many years of missionary indoctrination that emphasised the shedding of African cultural traditions and the adoption of 'Western civilisation' and the Christian ways may have caused people to see culture and tradition as African traits that are non-existent, if not long ago abandoned, in Western societies.

Participant I: 'Don't you think that as a coloured there is a certain [culture] that you have to follow because there must have been someone in your family who was Zulu, Xhosa or something like that.'
Participant II: 'Yes, there are people in my family but I say that I don't have a culture, I have a religion and I follow the culture of my religion.'
Participant III: 'Okay I don't consider myself coloured because my mother's side she is Shangaan and my grandfather came from Maputo, he was Portuguese. If I look at my family's history… there were people from all over. So I don't know which religion or culture to follow. Being a coloured you don't have a specific culture to follow… So I don't really follow any particular culture.'

That learner III above does not 'consider myself coloured', when her grandfather is Portuguese and mother Shangaan, may seem like a contradiction. This shows, however, the idiosyncrasies of coloured identity in South Africa. As noted earlier in this report, coloured identity, like other racial categories, is politically laden. As with other racial categories, it was arbitrarily imposed, and consolidated as a separate identity through the Group Areas Act and other race- specific benefits (such as a preferential – relative to Africans – allocation in the state budget etc.). This participant's life history, however, is different from the experiences of many of those who were classified as coloured and subsequently placed in spatial and material conditions that consolidated that identity – namely being separated from their African ancestry while not being integrated within the white identity. Our participant, by contrast, was brought up by her Shangaan mother in an African township where she experienced a life different from South Africans who lived as coloureds in coloured townships. Even to live within a coloured township does not guarantee a common experience as there were several categories of 'coloureds' under apartheid. (Nieftagodien, 2003)

Patriarchy and family

Marcelle Dawson (2003) points out that while some may believe that individuals are passive recipients of fixed identities, others argue that people play an active role in shaping and maintaining their identities. Our discussions with learners highlighted the issue of personal choice in determining one's identity. We argue that this 'personal choice' is negotiated within the context of power dynamics existing in the environment where individuals are located. Participants occasionally repeated patriarchal notions and highlighted the issue of power dynamics in family life when it comes to determining cultural identity. This is illustrated through this exchange:

Participant I: 'I have a question. Isn't it that if you take your father's surname, mustn't you also take your father's religion?'
Participant II: 'I'm not answering your question, but I know that in the Jewish culture they believe you do inherit the religion. But you don't have to follow, you can be a Christian but as long as you have Jewish people in your family, then you're a Jew.'
Participant III: 'My family have different religions…. my mother is a Catholic, so we followed her religion.'
Participant I: 'Black religion is like that, if you take your father's surname you also have to take his culture and religion…'

In a patriarchal society such as we live in, it is not surprising that the learners are expressing views such as those reflected above, especially with regard to adopting one's father's religion and culture. In most families wives take on the customs and tradition of the husband. (Mamdani 2001, cited in Palmary, 2003)

Caregivers (commonly mothers), as primary agents of their children's socialisation, often transfer these customs and tradition – through a patriarchal lens - in that they nurture their children to conform to the customs and tradition of the father. Thus children are bound by family rules to the family's religious or cultural identity. They remain so until they begin seeking their own identity as they grow to be teenagers. Other factors also contribute to this flexibility. Urbanisation or exposure to different cultures does influence to a certain extent how fully people conform to these cultural identities. Sapire and Eales (1989) show how people in urban areas adapt to the lack of stable networks of family, kin or ethnic groupings, and create new forms of identity which substitute for the absent networks. While it does not totally erode ties to ethnicity-based culture, urbanisation does open up spaces for culture to be malleable. Two participants claimed:

Participant I: 'I took my mother's surname but I don't follow her religion. They practice Xhosa but I don't do that. First of all I don't how Xhosa came about… for me it is like I'm just living a normal life and I'm not too much into culture.'
Participant II: 'I think the thing is that as you grow up into being teenagers and so on we choose what we want to follow. There were people in my class who were Muslims and as they grew up they decided to become Christians.'

Having discussed some of the 'external' factors that help shape youth identity in schools, we shall now turn to 'internal' factors, that is, the school environment.

Identity and the school

As mentioned earlier, schools, like all other facets of life in apartheid South Africa, were configured to fulfil a particular goal. In general, this goal entrenched racial separation and inequality. White learners benefited from better resources, while African learners received the least material support and their school experience was characterised by crises brought on by bad conditions and poorly trained teachers, amongst other factors. Education for whites was meant to instil feelings of superiority, while the opposite result was desired for blacks (Dawson, 2003).

This historical context is helpful when looking at the quality of experience that learners from different racial groups enjoy in contemporary South African schools. One of the challenges in our project was that all the groups we spoke to were overwhelmingly African. During discussions the minority racial groups did not participate to the extent we had hoped. This deprived us of the opportunity to find out how other racial groups (coloured, Indian and white) were experiencing changes in schools. The result is that much of the views heard were those articulated by African learners about their experience in the schools.

Learners in this project reported that many white parents and Indian parents sent their children to private schools because 'They didn't want their children to go to the same school as black children.' (Learner in School B) In one formerly white only school, situated in a working class community, white learners constitute less than 55 percent of the learner population. As discussed above, parents tended to move their children to other private schools as soon as black learners started enrolling in them in large numbers. Many comments have been made in public forums about this phenomenon. Recently a white panellist in a radio debate on SAFM about the integration of schools remarked that when her school first desegregated, parents sent their children out of the school, mainly as a response to black teachers being introduced to the school. She claimed that later white parents began sending their children back to the school as the initial anxieties dissipated with evidence that there was no drop in standards as a result of black teachers becoming part of the teaching staff at the school.

In part these anxieties have their roots in racism that was borne out of colonialism as well as from apartheid history. The legacy of colonialism, which placed whiteness at the apex of excellence and positioned Africans (in the context of Africa) as barbaric and always in need of the master's grace and tutelage, continues to shape relationships between different races. As such the potential of Africans to carry out their work with efficiency is always doubted. In addition, education for Africans in South Africa has for decades carried out the task of deliberately under-educating this section of society. In line with the apartheid education policy the African teachers were generally poorly qualified. As such, generalisations that African teachers are automatically under-qualified abound to this day.

This backdrop forms the framework that informs daily interactions between learners and between educators and learners. It is a backdrop that manifests itself insidiously with deeply felt consequences for learners. The school leaders in the schools we worked with demonstrated enthusiasm to accommodate us. They expressed a deep desire to expose their learners and educators to our project. For example, Schools D and C assigned us a Life Orientation teacher each; with the aim of furthering the work we were doing in these schools. The principals in all the schools gave us support.

Yet despite this institutional support for our work, learners painted a grimmer picture about their daily experience of integration. It is important to have a constant appraisal of the school's performance in terms of its success to deal with radical changes in attitudes. This is because prejudices that people bring with them to any environment can hamper success if not consciously checked. Institutional racism does not require overt acts of racism. Spears (1978) writing of the United Kingdom, defines institutional racism thus:

It is in its most profound instances covert, resulting from acts of indifference, omission and refusal to challenge the status quo. Thus, an individual need never have wilfully done anything that directly and clearly oppresses minorities; she/he need only have gone about business as usual without attempting to change procedures and structures in order to be an accomplice in racism, since business as usual has been systematised to maintain blacks and other minorities in an oppressed state. (Quoted in Vally and Dalamba, 1999, p.3)

Black learners often expressed frustration over white teachers' unwillingness to accommodate those cultural activities that learners wished to partake in, insisting on the traditionally (white) performed activities. For example, a learner claimed that his proposal to bring his band from Soweto for a fundraising concert at his school had been turned down by the school board. He said the board was concerned about bringing a band to play music that was unfamiliar to the intended audience – namely white parents who are used to attending plays and choral music played by the schools' choir for fundraisers. These frustrations hamper learners' willingness to seek reconciliation and stand in the way of mutual understanding, as they feel they are being assimilated into the 'hosting' school culture as opposed to the purported integration.

This view is echoed in Amanda Gouws' (2003) contribution to the debate on how South Africa is faring in the drive towards achieving reconciliation. Evaluating a South African university's initiatives to engage with greater diversity of race, language, religion and sexual orientation, Gouws concludes that the problem is that:

[T]he university is still 'the host', welcoming 'the other' to an institutional culture where minority students have to accept the rules of an existing culture and where their voices are easily silenced. (Read mere toleration). (Gouws, 2003, p. 6)

While this research did not enquire as to what the learners' understanding of the school culture was, and while it would be presumptuous to imagine that all learners in a school (white learners included) will find activities that cater to all tastes and preferences, it was apparent from the black learners' comments that they felt marginalised. They felt pressured to assimilate into the culture already established in recently desegregated schools. One black learner lamented during a discussion at a camp outing with the participants:

Teachers don't seem to want to listen to us. We don't have fun activities in our school. It's like "come to school, learn and go home". There is no sense of fun, nothing. I think our principal could be more outgoing, and not scary. I think he scares the hell out of the students, so we can't approach him.

This response can be interpreted as a venting of the frustration these learners experience as a result of not feeling part of the broader (i.e. outside the formal) activities in the school. The teaching community's failure to understand this frustration also reflects the assertion that not acting on such concerns is often not seen as an anomaly, since the status quo is not interrogated when it favours the hegemonic culture (Gouws, 2003).


Our discussion on citizenship was very limited, in that we engaged participants on their understanding of citizenship, the key point of intervention being to familiarise them with the general rights and obligations of citizenship. The discussions that came out of this theme helped us explore other related issues from a human rights' perspective. Participants explored their own understanding of issues such as refugees and xenophobia. This provided us with the opportunity to challenge some of the prejudices and ignorance demonstrated.

Although not unexpected, the discussions on citizenship were often steered around the issue of xenophobia, around who is not a citizen. For example, learners stated that Nigerians were responsible for drug trafficking in South Africa. We talked to the learners about recognising and avoiding generalisations when speaking about groups of people. We also talked about Nigerians, as well as other African foreigners, that make a positive contribution to South Africa, mentioning doctors, accountants and entrepreneurs who create employment in South Africa.

The discussion during this session helped learners to reflect on their own assumptions about foreigners, which reflect the attitudes held in broader South African society. Some of the learners highlighted the issue of ignorance and asked for empathy.

Participant: 'I don't believe that foreigners take our jobs because they create their own jobs here. They make their own shops so they are not taking anything from us. They are trying to make a better life for themselves. So we as SA we look at the negative side of foreigners. [But] We need to know them, we need to understand them.'

Other learners, however, insisted that foreigners should set up businesses in their own countries and that they contributed to the overcrowding of hospitals and were taking up space in 'our' cemeteries.

This discussion highlighted the need for education on matters pertaining to foreigners and xenophobia in general.

While we were unable to learn from the white learners how they felt about foreigners a series of research findings by the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) has shown that the hostility towards foreigners is not an exclusively black South African phenomenon (SAMP, 1999). White people also seem to hold xenophobic attitudes towards foreigners from other African countries.


We opened the discussion around the theme reconciliation by asking the participants for their views of public holidays aimed at promoting reconciliation in post-1994 South Africa. Public holidays have been used since democracy in 1994 to promote reconciliation amongst South Africans.

Since our project was focused on young people's appreciation of the changes around them with regard to reconciliation, we chose 16 June as the national holiday upon which we focused our discussions. 16 June is a day that commemorates the 1976 Soweto student uprising. It commemorates the role youth played in relation to education, a matter that affected them directly, and set in motion a series of events that would precipitate the end of apartheid. Opening a discussion on this particular holiday was a way of sharing awareness about this day and its significance. Discussing the events of the day would help us gauge how much information the participants had about the day, and to fill the gaps in their knowledge. Most importantly, we wanted to start conversations about reconciliation and memorialisation.

16 June was declared a public holiday in commemoration of the school pupils' uprising on that day in 1976 against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction for all subjects (except vernacular) taught in African schools. A peaceful demonstration opposing this imposition ended tragically when policemen shot into a crowd of schoolchildren. This triggered a wave of violence, which led to the death of many children. The children retaliated by attacking symbols that represented apartheid control.

Thus school buildings, beer halls (seen to corrupt morality amongst African men), police vehicles, and other objects seen to represent apartheid control in Soweto, were attacked. Also, the youth leaders articulated their frustration with apartheid education, and expressed a rejection of Afrikaans – seen generally as the language of the oppressors.9

After a democratically elected government was put in place under Nelson Mandela in 1994, 16 June commemorations were renamed 'Youth Day' as part of a drive to make all national holidays meaningful to all South Africans (Boddy-Evans).10 It was hoped that through inclusion in these memorialisation events South Africans of all races would be encouraged to take collective ownership of the past and adopt a common purpose of ensuring that the racialised divisions of the past do not recur.

Within this project, it was surprising to learn just how little information the participants had about 16 June and its significance. However, some learners did reflect knowledge about the events and frustration over how their peers celebrate the day:

I think Youth Day must be celebrated, but the way it is celebrated now is very wrong. Because you go out, it is [social] parties and people die in the stadiums. I don't think it is right. They must teach us what they were doing in 1976… not celebrating as in parties because there are car accidents and people get drunk. They think it's a party.

Amongst those that showed an appreciation of the significance of this day, there were strong expressions of the notion that remembering these tragic events does not help reconciliation. They said that these kinds of holidays, instead of helping people reconcile, open old wounds and make people resent each other for the role they played in the past.

In general, there is an ambiguity in the responses from the learners about the need for days of memorialisation. This ambiguity itself poses a challenge to memorialisation processes. While the learners feel that they want to move forward and leave the painful past behind, the same learners simultaneously recognise the need to remember and honour and mourn those who died in the anti-apartheid struggle. The learners contributed to our discussion on this topic thus:

Participant I: 'The public holiday that I like is Youth Day because it is sort of like our past. We have to focus on the past to move into the future.'
Participant II: 'Mine is also Youth Day because we see examples of the past that we shouldn't do in the future as the present generation. I think what happened in the past hurts and we should actually feel sorry for the families that lost their loved ones and mourn again and again. But I don't think it is necessary to celebrate Youth Day because we are bringing back all the bad memories.'
Participant III: They say we should forget about everything that happened in the past, but now they are coming up with the Apartheid Museum. Now how can we forget about that if we are still reminded about that?

The learners failed to make linkages between present day race relations with the past, even though we had raised the relationship between the past and present while discussing the theme of Identity.

What this suggests is that in memorialisation processes these linkages should be carefully incorporated. Equally important, days and sites of memorialisation should be used creatively to highlight these linkages while openly encouraging reconciliation. They should aim to form bridges between former enemies and show the need for a common vision for the future. Memorialisation should, therefore, be an acknowledgement of the past that is forward looking. Thornton notes:

We have to be careful about memorials dividing sentiment. We need to create a unified country. [Memorials] must look towards the future. They must be future directed even though they are rooted in some historical event or set of events or set of contradictory events like we have here. (Thornton, Interview by author, 2002)

In these terms memorialisation should be designed for the purpose of bringing everyone behind the goal of national reconciliation, by facing directly the ugly past the society is trying to move away from. To this end, government departments charged with memorialisation projects ought to work closely with NGOs and communities to construct positive meanings about our history. By involving themselves in the construction of memorialisation processes, not only will communities claim 'ownership' of these processes, but they afford themselves the opportunity to learn more about the events being commemorated. Community led memorialisation projects that involve youth participation could go a long way in educating young people about the significance of important days in the calendar.

Racial integration: is it happening?

One of the areas of concern to observers of the transition in South Africa is the slow pace of racial integration between young people of different races. This can be seen in various social cultural spaces. One example is how some popular radio stations that target the 14–30 year age group pitch their marketing campaign along racial identities. For instance one of the leading national radio stations recently ran a promotional campaign with the selling line: 'Black by popular demand'.

On the other hand, there is also a counter phenomenon – namely 'urban youth culture' that assumes (and maybe speaks to) a racially integrated audience within the urban areas. This trend can be observed in the youth culture and in shopping malls across urban centres in Gauteng, amongst other places. Although this observation is not based on 'scientific' research, it is important to note what could be organised as a typology.

  1. They often happen amongst urban middle class youth
  2. Often members of such groups have gone to the same private schools
  3. The language spoken is often English (however colloquial in character)
  4. Black-members are accused of ascribing to whiteness at the expense of their own background where it threatens to 'expose' them as part of the black community11 (conversations with a group of black private school learners, 2003)

While it is laudable that black and white youth are interacting more, it is the quality of this integration that worries those who seek to see a more thorough integration based on mutual recognition and respect.

Talking about the role of youth in promoting reconciliation Martin Legassick, professor of History at the University of the Western Cape, says:

Non-racialism has got to be built through the youth …. So long as there is poverty in the country, the conditions for racism will be reproduced. For example so long as most blacks live in townships and most whites live in suburbs, so that even at school they don't come together, then you're reproducing the conditions under which people misunderstand each other and they can't become reconciled. (Legassick, 2002, interviewed by author)

White South Africans continue to deny their position in South Africa as beneficiaries of apartheid. This is a tacit refusal to accept their responsibility to contribute to the social development of the victims of apartheid. Macdonald (2000) argues that a majority of white South Africans are not interested in contributing to the process of nation building. (Macdonald, 2000) She argues that failing to do so will render reconciliation meaningless.

So while young people express the desire to move on and attain racial reconciliation, there are factors that stand in the way of achieving this goal. If left unattended, these will sabotage the goal of achieving reconciliation.

Gaps and Recommendations

This section will discuss the shortcomings of our research methodology. An appraisal of these limitations will be followed by suggestions as to how these can be overcome in future research.

Facilitation – include minority voices

The most frustrating aspect about our visits was the failure of racial minority groups in the classroom discussions to vocalise their concerns and points of view - especially around issues of race, identity and reconciliation. Since our research was aimed at assessing how young South Africans are experiencing the environment of integration and transition at the schools and broader societal levels, the gap left by this silence was a major loss.

African learners are becoming a majority in formerly white, Indian and coloured schools, and this was reflected in the racial demographics of our participants. A large majority of our participants in the historically Indian and white schools were African, with a small minority of Indians and whites participating in our research process.

While we had agreed on and established ground rules that would govern our behaviour (such as not interrupting a person while they are speaking, and agreeing to listen to all points of view even when not in agreement with them), often there were moments when the debates got heated and emotions ran high. In these heated debates the African learners would articulate racial stereotypes about Indian and white people, and make accusations of their complicity in the oppression of Africans. In such instances the white and Indian participants failed to respond, leaving us with only speculations as to why they were not responding.

Our guess is that the white and Indian learners could have felt intimidated to challenge views that were being expressed with such force by the majority in the groups. The other possible explanation as to this reluctance to partake in the plenary sessions could be that white and Indian learners in our groups could be harbouring some guilt for the things "their forefathers did to black people". We observed that when we discussed memorialisation and reconciliation, white and Indian learners tended to be more vocal and often emphasised the need to forget about the past and to move on to create a better society.

Contributing to this lacklustre participation from the said group could be our facilitation process. Since this was a pilot project and our anticipation of what might transpire during our school process was limited, we were ill-prepared to deal with some of these developments as they happened. We feel that it would help us to be prepared for these kinds of 'disengagements'. It could also be that failing to make appropriate interventions earlier in our initial visits, such as discouraging participants from shooting down unpopular views as they were being articulated, led to some participants choosing to pull away from the process as they felt that they were being vilified.


It has been noted in South Africa and the United States that whenever a sensitive topic such as race is discussed, often emotions run high (see Nytagodien, 2003). Nytagodien suggests that 'negotiating a space' with participants is critical when undertaking such debates. This means it is imperative to be sensitive to the possibility or inevitability of emotions running high. In a course looking at race in the past and its impact on the present, both in the contexts of South Africa's colonial and apartheid past; and that of America's slavery, there is a disclaimer written in bold letters. This disclaimer declares that 'the purpose of the course is not to level blame at individuals or to offend anyone' (Nytagodien, 2003). He further warns that this negotiating of a space is a continuous process, requiring an ability to keep that space accessible and fair while not hampering spontaneous discussion in order to foster engagement and learning (Nytagodien, 2003).

Another important part of facilitating engaging debates on the issues we discussed with the learners is that of providing homework reading material. Nytagodien (2003) explains that this is a key tool which Portland State University uses to get their students to think seriously about issues of race. For our project we were aware that because we targeted young learners in high schools it would be unfair to add to their schoolwork load by giving them large volumes of literature to read. While this is so, it is important that participants and facilitators have a common text or homework exercises on the themes, upon which to draw. They could then complement this with their own personal experiences.

As part of the preparation before the initial visit, the facilitators might consider creating several scenarios and role-playing them with colleagues. This will allow everyone to suggest responses to some of the difficult issues that might arise in the classrooms.

The initial visit, while essentially an introductory and ice-breaking exercise, should be used by facilitators to scan for various sets of indicators. This should involve a quick scan of:

It is imperative for the facilitators to reassure all participants that their views are important, that they should articulate them and that they will be protected through the code of conduct.

Furthermore, it is important to identify from time to time examples of positive role models - amongst white, coloured and Indian people - who actively opposed human rights violations and apartheid. By the same token we recommend citing a few examples of black people who actually were clients of the apartheid system and who supported its institutions. By doing this the facilitators will be conscientising the learners to individual vs. social agency in political and historical processes. By showing learners that it is individuals and groups of individuals in certain societies who make history, the learners will be made to recognise their own personal role in challenging or promoting the status quo.

Why do learners leave state schools?

Another important area our research could have covered to a greater degree was with regard to the exodus of white and Indian learners from schools where African learners are enrolling, a phenomenon that has seen some of these schools becoming predominantly African, albeit only in numerical terms.

When speaking to learners in our control group about this issue, they gave several reasons based on word of mouth accounts. The main reason cited was the issue of the 'drop in standards'. Some learners claimed that parents felt that the introduction of African learners in these schools would lead to a drop in standards.

Further research into what precipitates this exodus of white and Indian learners needs to be made, in order to understand this phenomenon and to begin thinking of ways to react to it. It would also be useful to talk to those who have left, to find out from them what this means. This is crucial because the choice of where parents take their children to school is based primarily on the self-interest of parents to give their children the best education they can afford. This is so with parents of all races. However, where these decisions are made based purely on un-interrogated perceptions, for example that black learners or educators cause a drop in standards, they can only further entrench the colonially derived notions of innate white superiority and, by the same token, innate inferiority of blacks. This is hardly in line with the values and principles enshrined in the South African Constitution, which respect the equality of all the country's citizens and the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Failure to make connections between the present and the past

Another manifestation of the fallacy of white supremacy and black inferiority is played out in how learners explain certain phenomena in their surrounding. An example of this was when we had a discussion about what motivates parents to send their children to formerly white, Indian and coloured schools, away from African township schools. An African learner said township schools produce poor results because African people do not have a work ethos, saying that teachers and learners do not put effort in their work – hence the imperative to send African learners away from township schools.

It does seem that there is an implicit acceptance of the 'race ladder' that the colonial and apartheid social constructions perpetuated. Learners continue to attribute much of the culpability for the poor results produced in African schools to the people who are by all intents and purposes, victims of systematic policies of subjugation – the African teachers and their learners.


South Africa's transition to a society built on the foundations of a human rights ethos is a long process that requires constant reflection. Depending on how they engage with their world, young South Africans growing up in a society where apartheid laws have gone, present an opportunity to develop a model of tackling the legacy of apartheid. There are two reasons for this. Firstly they are presented with greater opportunities to interact across past racial barriers. Secondly, because they are personally not perpetrators of the country's shameful past, they are more likely to work towards mutual understanding.

Schools act as sites of memory as they are living monuments of segregation in education, one of many areas of segregation in pre-democracy South Africa. However, schools are being entrusted with the task of becoming agents for change. Without fully acknowledging this dual role, schools can only frustrate efforts to build a democratic and equal society. Given the decades of working within an exclusivist ethos, role players in education ought to consciously reconfigure their respective schools in line with the goals of integration where diversity is truly recognised.

Another challenge this young democracy is facing is with regard to xenophobia. South Africa has been noted to exhibit highly xenophobic attitudes mainly against Africans from other parts of Africa. In the context of political conflict and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, and the fairly recent returning of South Africa into the international community, the flow of foreigners into South Africa is likely to continue. Job losses especially amongst unskilled working class South Africans, precipitated by the global economy, are likely to be with us for some time to come. In this context, there is an urgent need to educate South Africans about global citizenry, and to align this with those institutions concerned with refugees. School-based programmes should be put in place, where understanding and attitude change is encouraged.

The legacy of the past presents a huge challenge in the endeavour to effect meaningful reconciliation between different races. There is an urgent need to debunk the myths that have been built about African, coloured, Indian and white identities over centuries, and to consciously promote the ethos of the equality of humanity. Constructions of memory, especially of national memory, should therefore seek to promote fair representations of the peoples of the country and their history. Curriculum development that is designed for this purpose is thus crucial and should be supported. Such a form of curriculum development has to be owned by, and seen to be representative of, all the country's peoples' experiences. It requires a combination of a serious engagement with people whose stories have been silenced and a critical reappraisal of the documented history of South Africa.

A fair appraisal of our history will go a long way in bringing about a fuller appreciation of how our past continues to impact on our current lot. Interrogating our past, inside and outside classrooms, can also have an impact on how our society views the issue of reparations and the reconstruction of our society. This appraisal should be linked with a full acknowledgement by beneficiaries of apartheid and a commitment to contribute towards rebuilding a desired society.


Boddy-Evans, A. (accessed on 24 October 2003) South Africa's National Holidays: A look at the significance of South Africa's seven national holidays.

Bonner, P. and Lodge, T. (Eds.) (1989) Holding their ground: Class locality and culture in 19th century South Africa. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.

Chisholm, L., Vally, S. and Motala, S. (1998). Review of South African education 1994-1997. Sandown: Heineman.

Gerhart, G. M. (1978). Black power in South Africa: the evolution of an ideology. Berkeley: California University Press.

Gouws, A. (2003, June) 'The host' who welcomes 'the other'. The South African reconciliation barometer: tracking socio political trends, 1 (2). Cape Town: Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

Harris, B. (2003). Espacios de violencia, lugares de miedo: conflicto urbano en la Sur África post apartheid. In J. Alvarez (Ed.), Violencias y conflictos urbanos: un retoparalas politicas publicas, pp. 15-38. Medellin: Instituto Popular de Capacitacion.

Karris, T. and Gerhart, G.M. (1997). From protest to challenge: a documentary history of African politics in South Africa, 1882-1990. Pretoria: Unisa Press.

Kallaway, P. (Ed.). (2002). The history of education under Apartheid: 1948–1994, Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman.

Legassick, M. (2002, February 14) Professor, History Department, University of the Western Cape, personal interview.

Macdonald, H. (2000). It's time white South Africa came to the party. Cape Argus.

Malakalaka, M. (2002). Race and reconciliation: Youth and schools in focus – an overview of the TRC's report on children and youth. Unpublished paper, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Johannesburg.

Manzo, K. A. (1996). Creating boundaries: the politics of race and nation. London: Lynne Reiner Publishers.

Nakasa, N. (1964, June 20). It's difficult to decide my identity. Rand Daily Mail, in Karris, T. and Gerhardt, G. (1997). From protest to challenge: a documentary history of African politics in South Africa, 1882-1990. Pretoria: Unisa Press.

Ndlovu, S. (1998). The Soweto uprisings: counter-memories of June 16 1976, Randburg: Ravan Press.

Nytagodien, R. (2003. October). Classroom confrontations: racism in South Africa and the United States. Safundi: the journal of South African and American Comparative Studies, available online: http://safundi.com.

Palmary, I. (2003). Negotiating nationalism: women's narratives of forced displacement. Codesria conference paper, Gaborone, Botswana (18-19 October).

Spears, A.K. (1978). Institutional racism and the education of blacks. Anthropology and Education 9(2). Available online: http://www.polity.org.za/html/govdocs/legislation/1996/act96-084.html.

Thornton, R. (2002, January, 9), Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of the Witwatersrand, personal interview.

Vally, S. and Dalamba Y. (1999). Racism, 'racial integration' and desegregation in South African public secondary schools. A report on a study by the Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). Parktown: SAHRC.

Valji, N. (2003). Creating the nation: the rise of violent xenophobia in the New South Africa. Unpublished Masters Thesis, York University, Canada.


Facilitator's Report: Race and Reconciliation Project

Brian Molewa


South Africa's transition is hailed as a benchmark for national reconciliation, non-violent political transition and the construction of an inclusive, diverse cultural identity. However the institutions tasked with effecting this miraculous transition have come under scrutiny regarding the permanence of these values in the national psyche. The question obviously asked in response to this criticism is whether any transitional structure is able to reorient such a cumbersome object as the national psyche.

In order to respond to this debate it is important to understand the extent to which conciliatory values and appreciation of cultural diversity as a world-view has been inherited by the generation of South Africans for which the realities of apartheid are only known through history textbooks and their elders' tales.

As its contribution to the debate, the Centre for the Study of Violence (CSVR) developed a project titled Consolidating Citizenship and Reconciliation in the Post-Apartheid Period, nicknamed the Race and Reconciliation Project (RRP).

The project sought to achieve three key objectives:
(a) Evaluate the TRC's engagement with race, citizenship and the morality of violence;
(b) Investigate how different sectors of South African society conceptualize race and citizenship;
(c) Based on the implications of (a) and (b), to develop policy and strategy that promotes reconciliation and prevents violence.

The youth were identified as key sector for the study particularly since it is believed they will play a major role in sustaining non-violence, reconciliation and citizenship in the future. The broad aim of the study was to elicit views from youth on their own perspective on the three themes of the programme, namely, Identity, Citizenship and Reconciliation.

It goes without saying that the manner in which such an activity is conceptualized and implemented is of critical significance. Process issues become pivotal in achieving the objectives of the activity particularly because the content of the study is precisely about process … South Africa's democratization process… and its long-term impact on societal relations. In short, "Process" (with a capital P) in this study is inextricably linked to content and vice-versa, hence the need to further understand and explore the methodological aspects of the activity.

The purpose of this report, therefore, is to provide a detailed view of the process issues in the Race and Reconciliation Project as it relates to the objective of 'consider(ing) implications of changing race, citizenship and violence in post-apartheid South Africa for the development of policy and intervention strategies aimed at promoting reconciliation and preventing violence' (Project proposal, 200012).

The report reflects on these process issues as they relate to one activity or project in the programme namely, a pilot intervention programme that focuses on the ways in which youth deal with the apartheid past and how they integrate this into current issues of reconciliation, citizenship and violence' (Project proposal, 2000).

Project Features

The project consisted of three main activities or processes:
(1) Preparation, Initiation & Launch
(2) 8 Week Programme
(3) Youth Camp

This chapter will outline the features of these three main activities from a process perspective. Essentially this chapter will provide the facilitation methodology.

Identifying the Schools

The first activity in the process was the identification of schools. Initially, the Project team was required to identify and invite ten schools around Gauteng to participate in the development of a pilot programme and establish a reconciliation working group in each of the ten schools. Identifying the schools and building the credibility of the project was a long process which required the following steps:

Five schools responded positively and meetings were conducted with the principals who then referred us to the Life Orientation (LO) teachers. CSVR met with the LO teachers and most supported their schools participation in the project. One school finally withdrew, the details of which will be discussed in the section titled Process Issues below.

As a final step to secure an agreement from the four schools, we were asked to make a presentation to each school's management team. A school management team consists of the principal, deputy principal, various heads of departments and learner representatives. Upon completion of the presentation, all four schools agreed to commit themselves to the project formally.

Launch: The Constitution Hill Workshop

Before CSVR started the intervention within the four schools it was believed to be appropriate to launch the project with the target audience, the learners. At this stage the project team was interested in exploring the responses of the learners to the themes of the project. This would assist the project team to establish their knowledge, perceptions and interest in the issues. This data would become a baseline against which to measure the impact of the intervention.

The workshop was also an opportunity to impart information about oral history as a methodology - as this was a key aspect of the intervention. Five learners and one teacher from each school were invited to represent the rest of the participating class to a one day workshop at the Constitution Hill. An oral history practitioner and lecturer from the History Department at Wits University, Noor Nieftagodien, attended the workshop. CSVR was represented by a team of nine people who facilitated the process. See Annexure 1 for the Constitutional Hill Workshop Programme.

Eight-week Programme

The project covered three key themes as mentioned earlier: Identity, Citizenship and Reconciliation. Race was a fourth cross-cutting theme. The objectives of the intervention were three-fold:

The project team designed an eight week program which engaged the learners on the themes of the project. Each session was interdependent and built on the preceding session therefore the sessions flowed from each other organically. A schedule was drafted for the process and each week dealt with some aspect of the three key themes. Weekly activities with the learners included plenary discussion, group activities and homework exercises. The aim of the plenary discussions was to understand how the learners were engaging with these issues in an open minded environment. With the homework and group activities the aim was to:

The following table indicates the methodology of the 8-week programme:

Week Theme Input Output Outcome
1 Introduction Icebreakers Information sharing; displaying commonality across different backgrounds Trust building
Ground Rules from learners Common understanding of un / acceptable behavior Social compact in the group horizontally among learners and vertically with facilitators
Identity Family tree methodology Learners mapping their identity Greater openness to parameters of identity construction
2 Identity Family Tree Homework Homework assignment to construct family tree Greater understanding of difference and commonality regardless of diverse backgrounds
Facilitated discussion on identity Different constructions of identity and in partic. race among learners Broadening of the debate between identity and group membership and individuality
3 Oral History Group School History homework Presentations on school history Greater understanding of oral history research Learners working as a team
Learners developing their presentation skills
4 Citzenship Facilitated debate on citizenship Different constructions of citizenship, identification of further issues to be explored Greater understanding of citizenship broadly and appreciation of different views on citizenship
5 Citizenship Facilitated debate on Xenophobia Exploration of stereotypes and human rights and civic responsibilities Greater understanding of Xenophobia as discrimination, refugees and rights and responsibilities of foreigners and South Africans
6 Reconciliation Facilitated debate on definition of Reconciliation Definition of Reconciliation Common understanding of reconciliation concept, public holidays and historical reconciliation process in SA
7 Reconciliation Reconciliation homework Team presentations Greater depth of understanding of reconciliation process
Learners working as a team
Learners developing their presentation skills
8 Closure Camp logistics & planning Camp logistics and preparations Increased preparedness for camp
Evaluation Feedback & recommendations Enhanced project design methodology

A full synopsis of the 8 week programme is detailed in Annexure 2.

RRP Camp Workshop

To consolidate the project, the team organized a youth camp, which aimed:

To this end the project team invited all the learners who participated in the project to a youth camp. A weekend was structured according to a programme of events and activities designed to assist the facilitators to gauge how well the learners understood the themes discussed during the 8 week programme.

The following table provides an outline of the process methods applied at the camp. A full synopsis of the camp is captured in Annexure 3.

Day Session / Theme Input Output Outcome
1 Housekeeping Logistics & ground rules Learners developed house rules
Room allocations were deliberately jumbled
Preparedness for the workshop
Rapport and trust building among students from different schools
2 Reflection on the 8 week programme Facilitated presentations A variety of presentations using different creative media Team work
Consolidating impact of 8 week programme
3 Testing KAB's Facilitated formal debate by learners Debate on the 3 objectives Broader understanding of the three objectives
Facilitators benchmark levels of change on KAB's


This section presents findings based on the evaluation questionnaires completed by the learners at the end of the project. The questionnaire was both qualitative and quantitative in nature and the findings have been integrated to provide a richer understanding of learner's thoughts throughout the project.

Response Rate

A total of 115 out of 125 learners completed the evaluation form, thus giving us a response rate of 92 %.

Themes Discussed

As part of the evaluation the learners were asked to rate which of the themes covered in this project they liked the least and the most.

As indicated in the above graph a large proportion of the students highlighted that they liked all three themes covered in the project. This suggests that an adequate emphasis was placed on all three themes in relation to the project deliverables.

"This project has helped me a lot especially on the themes Reconciliation and Identity, it helped me to realise who I am, where I really come from and how to live with other people and respect them"

Learners were asked to rate which activities they liked the least and most:

A large number of learners liked the personal/family tree activity while an even number liked the oral history and group homework activity.

What worked well or not?

Learners were asked to rate what worked well and what did not work for them in the project.

A large number of learners said that discussion with friends worked well for them and many also enjoyed group discussion with other learners. Resource packs and homework exercises did not work well and this was attributed to workload pressures from school. This suggests that in future alternative 'assessment' exercises should be developed.

"It was nice getting a chance to talk to other learners in class and hear their views not in a formal classroom discussion"

Learners were asked to rate the facilitators: their knowledge, approach and clarity about issues.

As indicated in the graphs above a large number of learners said that the facilitators were knowledgeable, approachable and clear in their facilitation. This suggests that the facilitation methodology was appropriately designed and targeted.

"The facilitators were always prepared and gave us their views"
"The facilitators were always friendly and that made them approachable. They were also young and they understand life of young people"
Have your views changed?

Learners were asked if their views about these topics changed across the project.

A large number of learners said their views have changed about the topics since the implementation of the project. Most notable are the changes in attitudes towards Xenophobia and Reconciliation. Identity and Race are, it seems, more firmly entrenched than the former. This suggests that additional attention be paid to these two aspects in the application of the research and facilitation methodologies of the Project.

"I learned a great deal since this project started, I used to see people through their skin color but now things have changed. We are all people and I don't discriminate against foreigners anymore"
Would you like this project to be taken further?

Learners were asked if they would like to take this project further nd how this might be done.

Other Classes 0
Other Classes 51
Other Provinces 0
Videos & shops 34
Text books 0
Other subjects 0
Outside of school 0
Magazine 0
Curriculum 30

A large number of learners said they would like to see the project being rolled out to other schools, on videos and also included in their curriculum. This may present a potential opportunity during the roll-out of the programme.

Process Issues

The following chapter provides a brief overview of critical process issues that have emerged from the project and may require more focused attention in an anticipated roll-out.

Socio-economic profile

The diverse range of students from different class backgrounds provided a useful matrix for understanding the intersection of class and race, not to mention other social cleavages. Although this emerged during the process, the format of the project didn't allow for an understanding of the dynamic between class and race to be fully explored.


Similar to the point made above, the social cleavage of gender emerged strongly throughout the process. However this was not factored into the process as a necessary faultline for consideration. In one school only one girl learner participated in the process, and her participation reflected the extent to which diversity as a concept in the project needs to be broadened to include a range of social cleavages, including gender and class to name a few.

Racism in schools

While it was expected to some degree, the project uncovered broad and embedded institutional racism in schools, emanating in the main from parents, educators and leaders. The extent to which such racism affects particularly black learners suggests that "Whole School Transformation" is a necessary intervention.

Sample selection

The initial selection of schools depended largely on their willingness to participate in the project. The Project team were very disappointed that the predominantly white, "privileged" schools all declined to participate as this may have provided for a broader range of views and experiences among the participants. Similarly, in the one school, comprised of a sizable component of white learners, those who participated in the project were predominantly black.

The same point can be applied to learners of different national heritage such as refugees or immigrants. In the initial selection of schools, a fifth school, with a high percentage of non-South African learners, was approached. However, the Life Orientation teacher was concerned that only one class would benefit from the project, and conditionally agreed to the intervention provided the programme could be implemented with all five Grade 10 Life Orientation classes. This was not possible as the project had only two facilitators and there was not enough capacity to work with all the classes. The project team was disappointed to have lost this school's participation in the project as the school has a large number of refugee learners and it was believed the project would benefit from a refugee voice being presented in the project, particularly because Xenophobia was a topic for debate in the project.

Concluding Remarks and Recommendations

This report sought to outline the key process issues in the Race and Reconciliation Project, a pilot undertaken by the CSVR. Overall the project was a major success both for the learners and the project team, not least because it was a learning opportunity, a chance to learn from our mistakes as well as our strengths. As with all pilots, some refinements could be made.

Although there are a broader set of recommendations from the project, this chapter reflects some of the process recommendations that require attention.


The successes achieved in this pilot project suggests that a rollout in schools more broadly would build on the knowledge, attitudes and therefore behaviours of youth in relation to race, reconciliation and citizenship. Of particular consideration, a rollout would develop a broader sample size and therefore promote a greater diversity of participants; as well as generate a higher degree of representative data.

But in rolling out the project it is critical to allow for enough time to prepare schools and learners for the process. Consultation and building of trust are key success factors in a project such as this and requires extensive attention to building credibility among participants, their schools, and their caregivers.

One of the experiences in this pilot phase from a facilitation point of view is that the logistical component of the project (facilities, transport etc.) could potentially affect the impact of participation. It is proposed that the issue of logistics be more carefully considered to avoid the impact on the quality of output and to avoid excluding participants on the basis of such logistics.

Refining the notion of difference and diversity

The project was oriented towards race as a critical social cleavage but other societal cleavages such as gender, class and national heritage also play a significant role in building citizenship. It is proposed that the in a future project, these other notions of difference be structurally factored into the project to accommodate the intersection of a variety of social cleavages that affect citizenship.


In the pilot phase the evaluation sought to derive elementary process outcomes. However in a broader rollout it is proposed that an extensive monitoring and evaluation process parallels the project to identify process, content and product outputs or outcomes.

Annexure 1: Constitutional Hill Workshop Programme

Narrative Report on Proceedings

The workshop began with a facilitator welcoming everyone and outlining the format that the workshop would take. Participants were asked to introduce the person next to them with three questions guiding them:

This was an ice-breaking exercise, aimed at making everyone feel comfortable as well as encourage the learners to be open. The participants sat intermingled across schools and this initiated the process of building trust and friendships across different backgrounds.

After the introductions, the purpose of the project was outlined through the use of an interesting and recent news item of a woman who sued her hairdresser!

The next session involved grouping the learners according to the schools they came from. They were asked to discuss the history of their school and the changes that have taken place through the years and report back in the plenary. The following points were given as a guideline:

The aim of this exercise was for the project team to establish the nature and dynamics of participating schools as well as to test the level of awareness of the learners in relation to their school's history. The learners showed a great deal of awareness of their school's history. This history was validated by their teachers, who also contributed.

After this exercise we introduced the three themes of the project:

  1. Identity,
  2. Citizenship,
  3. Reconciliation, with Race as a fourth cross-cutting theme.

The learners were randomly divided into three groups and each group was tasked with discussing a theme which was reported back to the plenary. Each group had two team members from CSVR to guide the discussion. The aim of this exercise was to establish the level of understanding of the learners in relation to the themes and develop a baseline of expected reactions to the issues.

After all the groups had reported back to the plenary the discussions were brought to closure and a facilitator offered her own life story as a way of linking all the themes.

Who am I?

By reflecting on her own life, Nahla Valji, a researcher on the Race and Reconciliation Project, shows us that identity, citizenship and reconciliation are not abstract ideas. Rather, her story highlights the influence of different factors that make us who we are! Politics, family, race, borders, persecution, birth place, flight, love, religion, gender, history and personal experience all contribute to her individual uniqueness. What is your story? What factors give you a sense of belonging? What makes you you?

Nahla's Story:

My roots are Indian. My grandparents came from villages in the Gujurat region of India, and all of them came over to East Africa early on in their lives. My parents were both born in Africa – my father in Kenya, my mother in Uganda.

In the 1970s when Idi Amin came to power in Uganda, he forced all Asians to leave the country, targeting their racial identity for exclusion. Although my parents had British passports, they were only considered 'subjects' of the British and weren't given all the rights of full citizens. They passed through London, but decided to reject their 'colonial subject' identities and rather continue on.

So they went to Canada, with my brother, as refugees 30 years ago, and that's where I was born – the only Canadian born member of an otherwise refugee family. I grew up in Canada and completed all of my schooling there. 5 years ago I came to South Africa to work and have remained here ever since.

I still hold a Canadian passport but am in the process of applying for South African permanent residency as I'd like to make this country my home. I am made aware that I am a foreigner in this country often, even though I have lived here for many years. Citizenship and acceptance at the end of the day are complex matters as the learners concluded.

My partner is a white South African and we are planning to get married later this year. His family is Catholic – mine is Muslim, adding religion to the cultural, racial and national differences!

So what does all of this make me? Unique. Which is exactly what identity is at the end of the day. It's what we use to define ourselves and it belongs to each of us and our own perceptions. It changes over time and is connected to a multitude of factors – our gender, age, citizenship, language preference, music preference, religious beliefs etc. Learning to identify our own uniqueness makes us more open to that uniqueness in others and hopefully prevents us from judging others or expressing intolerance based on stereotypes and assumptions.

Energizers were used throughout the workshop to keep the participants alert and from losing focus.

After rounding up the discussion there was a presentation by Noor Nieftagodien, a lecturer in the History Department at Wits University, on the importance of oral history. The presentation was relevant to the project because the learners were expected to use an oral history methodology during the 8 week programme. This provided the learners with a methodological perspective on the oral history exercise.

After the presentation the project team conducted a tour of Constitution Hill. This was a very interesting tour for the participants because they saw the significance of history within the Hill, a rich history of resistance during the apartheid years and now a site of democracy, embodied in the Constitutional Court and other Chapter 9 institutions located there.

After the tour participants had lunch and the workshop was brought to a close. The workshop was a success and gave the project team an indication of the typical responses of the learners to the questions. These responses provided the data as exploratory indicators for the eight-week programme.

Annexure 2: Synopsis of 8-week Programme

Week 1
Introductions and Identity

The first part of the session was an ice-breaking exercise where learners took turns introducing themselves. Both learners and facilitators were asked to give the following details about themselves:

The aim of the introductions was to create a relaxed and friendly environment for both the learners and the facilitators. This was deemed extremely important as the proceeding activities focused on difficult and challenging issues and required a secure environment. The project team identified music taste as a suitable prompt: it was anticipated that music is something that learners have in common. By discussing music tastes and interests it was hoped that learners would observe their commonalities across different backgrounds.

After the introductions we came to the most important aspect of the process, namely, setting ground rules:

Ground Rules

These were the rules that were going to govern the process throughout and learners were encouraged to make the rules themselves. From the facilitation point of view it was important to establish the rules in this manner as it gave the learners ownership of the process and the consequential responsibility to uphold them. The ground rules established were:

The learners developed and negotiated these rules themselves and all committed to respect them.

After the establishment of ground rules the discussion moved on to the first theme of the project: Identity. The analogy of a family tree was utilized as a practical motif to introduce the theme. To lead by example the facilitator drew from his own family history and showed how it linked to his present identity and future. Learners were encouraged to go out and find more information about their family history and to consider how it shapes their identity. Learners suggested various way of researching their history and the oral history method emerged as a useful tool for identity research.

The aim of the family history exercise was to facilitate the learners into thinking broadly about their identity so that when they were introduced to the theme more formally they would have an idea about their identity already.

The learners were given the task of mapping their family history and/ or family tree for the following week.

Facilitator's outcome for Week 1

Week 2
Report back and Identity

The facilitator began the session by recapping Week 1's discussion. This was to refresh the learners about what was discussed as well as to test whether they had learned something from the previous discussion. Most learners showed a great deal of understanding about the topic and were already engaging with issues of identity.

Some learners were reluctant to present their family histories, while there were those who were willing to have their stories told. There may be a number of reasons for this reluctance but one learner made a point after the session that he was ashamed of his family history and that was the reason why he was not willing to have his story told in front of everyone.

After the learners presented their family history the discussion moved to a formal presentation on Identity. In trying to encourage learners to open up and to provide direction to the discussion the facilitator asked the question: How do you see yourself?

This question brought about different responses from the learners. Some saw the colour of their skin as a way of identifying themselves while some saw their individuality as a way of identifying themselves.


At the end of the session we gave the learners homework to do which involved conducting oral history research into the history of their school. This would assist the project team in understanding the school's context. It would also encourage oral history research among the learners.

The facilitators divided the learners in four groups and asked them to work together in researching their school. We separated the learners from their friends when we divided them in order to facilitate team building and diverse discussion. The following guiding questions were provided:

Learners were required to prepare and to present their findings to the group.

Facilitator's outcome for Week 2
Week 3
Oral History and Citizenship

In this week, learners reported back on the history of their schools. The presentations took the whole visit and it was facilitated in plenary. The learners gave detailed presentations about their school's history, which demonstrated that they had taken the time to conduct research. The learners presented according to the groups they were divided into and in most cases shared responsibilities during their presentation. After the presentation, the facilitator introduced the theme for the following week: Citizenship. No questions were provided to guide them but rather learners were encouraged to think about the theme on their own.

Facilitator's outcome for Week 3
Week 4

In the first part of the session the learners reflected on the previous week's discussion and then proceeded to discuss Citizenship. In order to generate discussion the following questions were asked of the learners:

The reason for asking the questions was to direct the discussion but at the same time not to restrict the learners in their understanding of Citizenship.

In one school when the facilitators introduced the theme a learner asked to read out a poem she had written about Identity. The poem said much about Identity and also touched on Citizenship and Reconciliation. The facilitation team felt that the key issues were covered in the poem. Therefore, the facilitator made the poem a starting point of the discussion. Most of the learners identified with the poem and in the discussion they reflected on what it said. In the other schools, we read out the poem as a way of starting the discussion and the results were the same: the learners identified with it and started discussing it.

My Identity
By Aadila Aslam

This is a poem about me
My identity
When I was a child
I was happy & free

Now today
The world is new

When you are a teen
Your mind is full
With secrets & wonders
Of the world

My life is like a
Rock 'n Roll
When I turn around
I see a whirl-wind road

When I wake up in the morning
The birds awaken
With their cries of war
And Devastation

When I come to school
I look at different faces
But all I know is
Who I am

I'm a girl with a religion
That sets me apart
From the rest of the world

The session was very exciting and in all the schools the learners drove the discussion with limited intervention from the facilitator.

At the end of the discussion it was agreed that the theme would be continued in the next session because emerging issues needed to be further explored.

Facilitator's outcome for Week 4
Week 5

The session started with a reflection on the previous week's discussion and the learners were more than willing to talk more about Citizenship. Xenophobia became a heated point of the discussion with learners challenging certain stereotypes that others had about foreigners. In one school a learner read a poem which challenged xenophobia and at the same time invited people to invest in South Africa.

At the end of the session the facilitator talked about some of the stereotypes mentioned as a way of bringing closure to the discussion. The issue of exclusion was reflected on: How do we exclude other people because of the colour of their skin, language and religion? How do we seem to see foreigners from other parts of Africa as negative but those from Europe as okay?

The facilitator reminded everyone that this is a discussion and people should not take it personally. This point was made because there was a heated debate about foreigners and we also had some foreign students in the group that might have been offended by some of the things said. The facilitator informed the learners that the next theme to be discussed was Reconciliation.

Facilitator's outcome for Week 5
Week 6

In the beginning of the session the facilitator asked the learners what they understood about the term Reconciliation. This was expected to test the learners' understanding of reconciliation and to measure this alongside the baseline information solicited in the preliminary workshop. The feedback was uneven. In order to regularize the levels of understanding within the group, the facilitator opened the discussion by asking the participants for their views about public holidays, particularly public holidays aimed at promoting reconciliation in the post-1994 South Africa.

The public holidays' debate brought about a lot of discussion around reconciliation and its meaning to young people in South Africa. The debate was mostly around the manner in which learners interpreted the symbolic value of public holidays.

At the end of the session the learners were given questions to answer for the following week. The questions were:

Facilitator's outcome for Week 6
Week 7

In the start of the session, the facilitators recapped the previous week's discussion. The learners provided written answers to the homework and presented them to the group. In their presentation it was very interesting to see that the learners had improved in confidence through the weeks. The responses they provided demonstrated that knowledge and attitudes towards South Africa and reconciliation had developed.

Facilitator's outcome for Week 7
Week 8

This session focused on bringing closure to our weekly visits to the schools. It was an opportunity for the learners to evaluate the project. The facilitators provided the learners with the details on the upcoming youth camp and encouraged them to prepare presentations on the three themes per group for presentation at the camp.

The learners completed the first set of evaluation forms and robust farewells were made.

Facilitator's outcome for Week 8

Annexure 3: Synopsis of RRP Youth Camp

Day 1
Arrival, room allocations and registration

The facilitator welcomed everyone: CSVR staff, learners and teachers to the camp site. Ground rules were laid out in relation to conduct during the camp as well as in relation to the discussions.

The learners established ground rules and committed themselves to upholding them. The learners suggested a punitive code to be meted out on a case by case basis where rule indiscretions were committed. This suggested that the learners wanted to be held responsible for their actions.

After setting the ground rules, learners were registered and allocated to rooms. Allocations were done on the basis of mixing up the schools to serve as an ice-breaker exercise.


All gathered at the dining hall at 7pm for supper. People had been requested to bring their own cutlery and cups and plates. After supper we all had to wash our own dishes. This inadvertently created an ice breaking opportunity as learners introduced themselves to others from different schools while doing the dishes.

After supper learners participated in different sporting activities and took the opportunity to get to know each other and spend time with learners from other schools.

Day 2

The day started with breakfast in the morning and everyone met in the main hall to begin the day's proceedings. The facilitator welcomed everyone and learners took turns in introducing the person sitting next to them. They had to answer three questions:

It was a very large group and not everyone got the chance to introduce themselves due to time constraints. After this the learners were divided into four groups according to the schools they come from and they were asked to discuss the history of their school by answering the following questions:

The learners were given time to prepare this and to come back and make presentations in the plenary.

After the presentations the learners, with the guidance of a facilitator, debriefed by reflecting on the following questions:

After each session the learners were kept engaged by energizers and brain teasers.

There was a presentation from Noor Nieftagodien, a lecture in Oral History from Wits University. He built on his presentation given in the Constitution Hill workshop and spoke about youth and the challenges of racism (see Annexure 4).

Before the camp, the facilitators had encouraged all participating schools to prepare presentations on the three themes. The learners found creative ways of making their presentations; some used drama, others used song and some used poetry to make their presentations. This was the highlight of the project!

After the presentations, learners were invited to prepare a concert of music and entertainment amongst themselves for the evening session. This was a great success and learners demonstrated both creativity as well as the ability to work together.

Day 3

Since the main aim of the camp was to consolidate the work to date and to evaluate its success, the project team had agreed on using debate as a tool to measure the level at which the learners had grasped the themes.

The learners were grouped into four separate groups and were provided with two questions for debate. These were:

Each group picked a question and a side – either affirmative or negative – and then developed amongst themselves an argument in support of their position. Although facilitators assisted with preparations they were not the same facilitators who had worked with the learners in their schools. The intention here was to ensure that no content input was provided and that all arguments and content came from the learners themselves.

Once the learners had finished preparing, the whole group reconvened at plenary and the debate commenced. Again strict ground rules were set up and agreed upon that would govern the debating process. Worth noting is the fact that these rules were set with the participation of all and were therefore owned by all and agreed to be everyone's responsibility. The Code of Conduct for the Debate was:

The debate was a major success and covered the issues raised during the course of the project. It also allowed some of the learners who had been quiet within the class, a platform to express their views. There was some heated debate in the session and emotions ran high but at the end of the session the facilitator reminded everyone that there are no wrong and right answers and people should not take some of the points raised personally.

At the conclusion of the camp facilitators committed themselves to follow up with learners by:

Annexure 4: Youth and the Challenge of Racism

By Noor Nieftagodien, History Workshop, University of the Witwatersrand

September 2003

[Paper prepared for Grade 10 learners participating in the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation programme]

Race and Racism in the new South Africa

This brief paper will attempt to raise a few important issues about how race and racism affect our society. Its main aim is to suggest questions that youth should think about when addressing the question of racism. A few ideas are raised which should serve as the basis for debate in classrooms.

Three recent events have highlighted the importance of race and racial discrimination in contemporary South Africa. The debate over the unfairness of the tv Idols competition showed that there exists a strong perception that South Africans continue to support people of their own 'race' when it comes to competitions. Thus it was believed that viewers would probably cast their votes not in terms of talent, but race. The format of the competition was regarded as unfair because whites have greater access to the technology (telephones and internet) to make their votes count. It was likely therefore that a white contestant would win, even though whites are a minority in our society. There is of course some truth in all of this. There was also another level of perceived unfairness, namely, that whites do not have the same talent as blacks and therefore did not deserve to win. In this view talent is linked to race.

The furore surrounding the 'racial incident' in the South African rugby camp seemed to confirm certain stereotypes: rugby is an Afrikaner sport, Afrikaners are generally racist, therefore rugby remains a racist sport. In the incident, a white, Afrikaans player was accused of not wanting to share a room with a black player. As such, he seemed to typify this stereotype (even although he was not found guilty). Again, there is some truth in the accusations of racism in rugby. Despite the claims by the rugby bosses that racial barriers have been overcome in the sport, it is evident that racism still runs very deep in the ranks of the rugby fraternity. The outrage expressed over this incident was both justified and understandable. But it is not as if rugby is exceptional. In fact, both these events seemed to confirm something all of us know – racism remains rife in our society. They have demonstrated that race remains a highly sensitive issue and showed how quickly South Africans become polarised along racial lines.

A third incident has shown that perhaps our society is still not properly equipped to deal with the questions of race and discrimination. The sad tale of Happy Sindane posed a number of serious questions about how we understand the meaning of race. Here was a teenager who was brought up in an African family and who was accepted as such by his community. He then claimed that his parents were both white, implying that he was therefore also white. However, investigations revealed that he was most likely the offspring of a white man and an African woman. Under apartheid such a child would have been classified as coloured. But Happy Sindane has not asked that he be characterised as a coloured. Moreover, Happy's mother tongue is Sotho, and he has a Sotho surname. Now we know that Happy Sindane, is in fact Abbey Mzayiya and that his mother was Rina Mzayiya. He seems to have given up on being white. Abbey has even changed his slick, flat hairstyle in favour of a more chic, African-style look. So, what or who is Happy?

Part of the problem in the Happy Sindane saga is that people very quickly tried to place him into a racial pigeonhole. Why, we should ask ourselves, do we so readily think of people in racial terms? In order to begin to make sense of all these dilemmas we should perhaps begin by thinking critically about the meaning of race: what is it and where does it come from? Nearly a decade after the formal ending of apartheid, race and racism remain part of our everyday lives. This should not come as surprise considering that racial discrimination continues to haunt countries, such as Britain and the United States, where legal racial discrimination was outlawed many decades ago. If racial discrimination is such a regular and even routine occurrence, should we accept it as inevitable, as part of our existence. Or should we be more critical? In this very short paper, I want to suggest that youth have a particularly important responsibility to challenge common sense or accepted views about race. It is not sufficient for public pronouncement to be made by public officials. Changes should be made in our daily lives, if we are to ride our society of the scourge of racism.

Apartheid and Racial Discrimination

Many young people are of the view that the past is not important, that the ills of the past are best swept under the carpet if we are to move forward. 'What is in the past, should be left in the past', they say. It is true that we have had a horrible history and it is therefore not unusual for many people to want to forget about the past. Yet, as the examples above show, the past has a very direct and important influence on our lives today. Therefore, it is important to understand why and how racial discrimination came to dominate South African society. It is especially important to know how our attitudes and perceptions about other people have been shaped by past policies and practices.

It is of course not possible in this brief paper to provide a comprehensive explanation of the origins and development of racial discrimination in South Africa over the past three centuries. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile focusing attention on some of the most important issues. Racial discrimination has a long history in our country, starting with the colonisation of the Cape, first by the Dutch and then the British. The violent subjugation of indigenous populations such as the Khoi and San, Xhosa, Zulu, Pedi and others, as well as the importation of slaves from the East and other parts of Africa, all contributed to the development of a racial order in South Africa. Racial segregation was a key feature of colonialism. During the course of the twentieth century successive white governments adapted and entrenched racial segregation. But it was under apartheid, which was introduced by the Nationalist Party from 1948, that racial discrimination was systematically and often brutally enforced.

Apartheid laws placed all people into particular racial categories. The Population Registration Act identified four main racial groups, based on skin colour. These were African (then referred to as 'Native' or 'Bantu'), Indian, coloured and white. Africans and coloureds were further sub-divided: Africans were put into ethnic categories such as Sotho, Tswana, Xhosa, Zulu, Pedi, etc. Coloured were divided into Cape coloureds, Griquas, Malays and other coloured. If an official could not determine a person's 'race' by their appearance, then certain tests were conducted to determine their racial category. Possibly the worst of these was the 'pencil test', which was used to distinguish between coloured and African. An apartheid official would place a pencil in the person's hair. If the pencil stayed in the hair, the person would be classified African. If the pencil fell out, the person would be classified coloured. Many families were broken up by this and other tests as some might be classified coloured and other African.

The humiliation suffered by black people did not end with their racial classification. Millions of people were forcibly removed from their homes and dumped in group areas, which were often far from their places of work. Before the introduction of group areas, thousands of black families, that is Africans, Indians and coloureds, lived in the same locations such as Sophiatown, Fietas, Stirtonville (now Reiger Park) and Alberton Location (now Verwoerd Park). In the 1950s and 1960s these locations were demolished and residents were forced to live in racially exclusive townships such as Thokoza and Soweto (for Africans), Reiger Park and Westbury (for coloureds) and Lenasia and Actonville (for Indians). The people resisted but were eventually forced to move.

Black people were also denied political rights. They could not vote and were therefore not represented in parliament, which was an exclusively white institution. The laws that emanated from parliament were largely designed to maintain white privilege and to keep the black majority under control. Apartheid laws also affected people's personal lives. For example, under the Immorality and Mixed Marriages Acts it was illegal to have relations with anyone who was not from the same racial group. Petty apartheid laws attempted to extend racial discrimination to every aspect of public life. Thus the Separate Amenities Act forbade black people from sitting on benches, using trains or buses, or enjoying beaches designated for whites. Black people were thus regarded as second class citizens in every sphere of life. The question of race is therefore not merely an abstract issue. Our own recent past shows that it affects people in real and often very harmful ways.

Moreover, the effects of past injustices have not disappeared. It is still the case that the overwhelming majority of poor people are black and the majority of rich people are white. The unemployment queues remain predominantly black. Only a handful of black people have managed to join the wealthy elite. Most black areas, such as Soweto, Westbury and Thokoza remain overcrowded and suffer from poverty.

Internationally, the problem of racism continues to affect many societies. In Europe, residents of African or Asian descent face racial discrimination in their daily lives, even if there are no discriminatory laws. It is not uncommon for these people to be violently attacked by bands of neo-fascist youth groups. Britain, Germany, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands – all supposedly liberal democracies – have experienced outbreaks of violent racist attacks against black people over the past decade. Racism is a particularly serious problem amongst soccer fans across Europe.

What is Race?

From the end of the 19th century race theory was developed to explain differences between people. According to this view, the physical differences between people, such as skin colour, define who they are. It was argued that there are fundamental biological differences between people, which determined not only their outward physical differences, but also their mental capabilities. From these beliefs a racial order was created, in terms of which whites occupied the top position. In terms of this theory, the supposed inferiority of black people or superiority of white could be explained in biological terms. Black people, it was argued, occupied the lower position in the evolution chain whereas whites constituted the 'pure race'. In some instances, this view was even backed up by religion: whites (in the case of South Africa, the Afrikaners) were seen as God's chosen people who had a god-given right to rule the world. Blacks were uncivilised and could not look after themselves. In this view people of different 'races' were born unequal and therefore the political and economic inequalities that existed in society were natural and justified. In the United States, black people were initially regarded as good enough only to be slaves. And when slavery was formally ended, they were still not given political rights. In South Africa and other colonised countries, the black population was regarded as good enough only to tend to the needs of their white masters. These flawed ideas have been challenged for a long time but for most of the 20th century remained widespread across the world.

The biological differences between men and women have also been used as an explanation for why women are supposedly inferior to men. Gender inequality was thus justified in a similar way to racism. As a result, women have been systematically oppressed and denied certain basic human rights, practices that continue in some societies. Today we know that there is absolutely no justification for regarding women as inferior.

It is now also common knowledge that racial theory is utter nonsense, it has absolutely no scientific basis. The genome project and other advances made in genetics and DNA studies have conclusively proven that there are virtually no differences between the so-called different races. We are all made of the same stuff! Race is therefore not a natural phenomenon. A recent study showed, for example, that Arabs and Jews are identical. The outward physical differences between us, such as skin colour, hair texture, height, etc, are all superficial differences that have little bearing on our mental or physical abilities, our psychological state or personalities. There is no such thing as a 'chosen people'. To put it differently, there is no such category as a 'pure race'. Indeed, in scientific terms, there is no such thing as race. Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, in everyday life, black people as well as women are still viewed as unequal. Moreover, many people in South Africa continue to view themselves in racial terms. This has partly to do with our history and it will understandably take time before race will not be important. But people also cling onto race because they view it as part of their identities.


In South Africa, as in other parts of the world, the issue of identity (who or what we are) is very important in people's lives. Since 1994 serious attempts have been made to create a common national identity. Daily we are encouraged to embrace our South African identity. To some extent this is understandable, as we are trying to overcome the divisions imposed on us by the apartheid government. One may say that most people do in fact regard themselves as South African. They pay allegiance to the new flag, sing the national anthem and support national sports teams.

It is also true that most people identify themselves in different ways. For example, if asked by a foreigner what you are, you might answer, 'I am a South African'. If someone in your street asked the same question, your answer would probably be different: you might answer, 'I am Christian (Anglican, Catholic, Apostolic, etc) or Muslim or atheist'. When this question was asked in a workshop attended by students from different schools, many students gave the following answers: 'I am a coloured', 'I am Tswana' and 'I am an African'. We may therefore say that people have different identities, which they express depending on circumstances or what they perceive to be their main identity. Moreover, these identities seem to be 'natural' (that is, something that we inherited from our parents and that has always been with us) or simply common sense.

Some of these identities may have some real meaning to people: they may signify an adherence to language, culture, religion or tradition. Where does race fit into this? Is it possible to attach a particular culture or language to a race? Let's take the group that was categorised as whites in South Africa. They are made up of many religions: Jews, Christians, Buddhists; they originate from different countries: Italy, Poland, Netherlands, England, and Portugal. So they are made up of numerous different cultures, languages and traditions. Yet, they were all classified as the 'white race'. Therefore, what does 'white' mean? What about coloureds? This racial group is also made up of different religions (mainly Christian and Muslim), they have different descendants (Khoi, San, Xhosa, Indonesian, Malaysian, Tswana, Dutch, Chinese, Mocambican, etc) and therefore various cultures and traditions. Is it possible to refer to a coloured culture? The term Indian refers to those people whose descendants were brought from India as indentured labour. That occurred about 100 years ago. Very few people classified as Indian in South Africa today were born in India. Strictly speaking they are no longer Indian. Moreover, people classified as Indian have different cultures and religions (Christian, Muslim, Hindu – Gujerati, Tamil, etc). Besides, if we are to classify people according to their country of origins, why not refer to whites as Italian, Dutch, English, etc?

The racial identities that people use to define themselves thus have very little meaning. They have been created over time and are constantly undergoing changes, just as any other identity. Moreover, identifying people by the colour of their skin says little about their culture, traditions, language or religion.


We have become accustomed to explaining inequalities and differences in society in racial terms. Black people are poor, it is argued, because they are black. The high crime levels in our country are blamed on the fact that we have a 'black government'. In the sports arena it is common to hear views such as 'blacks can dribble', 'whites can play cricket but not soccer' and 'rugby is an Afrikaner sport'. It seems 'logical' to explain people's actions in terms of race. How can we build a truly non-racial society if we do not challenge these supposedly common sense views? What should young people do? The next time someone attaches a racial label to another person's actions or utterances, ask them whether such a labelling explains anything. Do not accept the 'common sense' views about race. Racism divides, oppresses and humiliates – our own history is evidence of that. Each of us should ensure that racism in our public institutions, communities, schools and families is rooted out.


1 This introduction updates the proposal Consolidating Citizenship and Reconciliation in the Post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission Period submitted to the Ford Foundation (2000).

2 Perpetrators of political violence had to fully disclose details of their past crimes in order to qualify for amnesty. Simply put, it was agreed that justice would be overlooked provided that the perpetrators publicly told the truth. The truth, it was hoped, would help the process of healing individual victims and the nation.

3 Theissen, G. (1997). Between Acknowledgement and Ignorance: How white South Africans have dealt with the apartheid past. Research report based on a CSVR-public opinion survey conducted in March 1996. Braamfontein: Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

4 Dewhirst, P. & Valji, N. (2003, April) Little joy, no rainbow, victimized again. City Press.

5 Oakley-Smith, T. (2003, May). Editorial, The Star.

6 The term 'Black' here will include Africans, Indians, and the so-called Coloureds (people of mixed race including Malay, Griquas and other coloureds) (Nieftagodien, 2003). Where it is necessary to make distinctions, the terms coloureds and Indians shall be used. Where direct quotations are made the original usage will be left intact.

7 For the code of conduct see attached Facilitator's Report.

8 The term 'hosting' is used fairly broadly to describe a phenomenon whereby institutions of learning (and this can be extended to other institutions) expect groups, other than those the institutions were originally designed for, to conform to the cultural ethos of the 'hosting' institution. Thus, the 'guest' groups are left virtually invisible as racial, religious and cultural entities.

9 Apartheid was spawned by Afrikaner nationalism, which was based on a belief by the Afrikaners in their 'divinely ordained mission' to save the natives from their barbarism (see for example Jansen, available online). The Afrikaner Volk (people) were galvanised behind voting into power the Nationalist Party in 1948 on the back of a 'Swaart Gevaar' (Black Peril), which portrayed blacks as a permanent threat to the Afrikaaners' mission to fulfil God's will to rule over them (see van der Merwe, 1999). Afrikaans as a language became an official language, and the language of the apartheid state apparatus. Ndlovu (1998) explains in his book that while the protesting learners were opposed to the arbitrary imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, they were not protesting against the language qua language. Afrikaans, despite its history as a language appropriated as symbolic of Afrikaner nationalism, can be considered an African language derived from various European, Arabic and African languages. Many black South Africans consider it their language as well.

10 Prior to this the day was celebrated by the anti-apartheid movement, represented mainly by the African National Congress, the Azanian People's Organisation, and the Pan Africanist Congress, and was used to galvanise youth for the anti-apartheid struggle. Organisations that were clients of the apartheid state and its sympathisers were excluded from these celebrations.

11 For instance ceremonies that include traditional rituals such as slaughtering are hidden from white friends by their black counterparts.

12 Project proposal (2000). Consolidating citizenship and reconciliation in the post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission Period, submitted to the Ford Foundation.

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