Monday, September 17, 2007

The Historical Impact of American Negro Education on Settler-Colonized South Africa

The Historical Impact of American Negro Education on Settler-Colonized South Africa

How the character and mechanism of national oppression in the US influenced the development of an education model for Africans in the sub-continent

By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

Legally slavery was abolished in the British colonies long before the same process had occured in the United States and other parts of the world. However, after 1833, the status of African slaves in the Cape Colony went from legal bondage to a period of
"apprenticeship," which implied some sort of training for a future role in the society. This system of post-slavery continued to tie the Africans and other imported slave labour from the Indian sub-continent and the Indonesian archipelago, to the exploitative system of agricultural production.

In regard to the access to educational facilities, the emancipated Africans in South Africa were facing a similar dilemma as the former slaves in the United States during the post civil war period. Bickford Smith points out in her contribution to the study entitled: "Breaking the Chains," that: "Nigel Worden has shown how their years as apprentices did not mean access to artisanal skills for ex-slaves. At least from the 1860s, education at the superior non-denominational government schools was de facto for the light skinned. Mission schools provided a limited education, often neglecting secular subjects, for the children of the poor be they black or white. Most freed slaves were unable to afford to give their children more than a basic education in reading and writing; many were unable to afford even that. The result was that by 1875, 69 percent of black Capetonians over the age of 15 could neither read nor write compared to 9 percent of whites. In the 5 to 15 year age group the respective figure for blacks and whites were 88 percent and 26 percent."

During the 18th century, education among the African population made litte headway. The expansion of British imperial dominance in the Cape and in the latter Natal region, gradually brought increasing numbers of the indigenous people under the control of the colonial authorities.

Taking the lead in regard to "Native Education" at this time was the Christian missionary societies who viewed their schools as a means of converting Africans to western religious beliefs and fostering the acceptance of white cultural and political dominance over the colonial subjects.

One such institution created by the Europeans was the Maravian Missionary Society at Bavaanklook (later renamed Genadendal), where the stated aims were to persuade the so-called Hottentots "to forego their nomadic way of life and to realize the need for discipline and regular habits."

By the turn of the century (1799), the first mission schools designed specifically for Africans came into existence near the areas which later became known as King WilliamsTown. As the 19th century progressed, additional schools were formed by missionaries in the Orange Free State (1823), in Natal (1835) and in the Transvaal beginning in 1842.

This limited expansion of missionary schooling for Africans coincided with the expansion of British colonial influence in the area which later became known as South Africa. However, it is important to note that the numbers of Africans attending these schools were infinitesimal in relationship to the proportion of the overall school age population.

All throughout the 1800s the process of developing schools for Africans continued at a very slow rate. However, by 1839, the Cape Colony had established a Department of Education in order to maintain control of the growth and character of the mission school systems. Beginning in 1841, the state granted some funds to the mission schools, although the bulk of the resources needed to maintain these institutions were provided by the churches and supplemented by contributions from the African communities.

As a matter of policy, the resources available for African schooling has always been disproportionately less than that allocated to European education. Molteno states that during this period in the 19th century, "the standard of teaching was low; minimal secondary education was offered and that usually by teacher training institutes. Only a minute fraction of the child population received any schooling at all."

As a reslt of the educational outcomes sought by the British colonialists of the 18th and 19th centuries, the emergence of a missionary trained intermediary strata often times evoked a strong distrust in this form of education from the traditional African leadership. In a report written by the Cape Colony Superintendent-General of Education, Dr. Langham Dale,: "The Kaffirs see in the school the agency that weakens and then effaces all tribal bonds and customs. The leveling tendency of popular instruction is not consistent with their traditions, and the chiefs specially watch the growth of schools with suspicion."

Consequently, the purpose of education for Africans was to break down the allegiances to their national cultures and to reproduce a labour force compliant with the economic interests of settler colonialism. As early as 1854, this policy had been enunciated by the Cape Governor, Sir George Grey, who submitted a proposal which explicitly advocated an education program designed to subjugate the African peoples. As an intricate part of the Cape's "border pacification" policy, Grey commented that:

"The plan I propose to pursue with a view to the general adjustment of these questions (frontier policy) is, to attempt to gain an influence over all tribes included between the present north-eastern boundary of this colony and Natal, by employing them upon public works, which will tend to open their country; by establishing institutions for the education of the children, and the relief of their sick; by introducing among them institutions of a civil character suited to their present condition; and by these and other like means to attempt to win them to civilisation and Christianity, and thus to change by degrees our present unconquered and apparently irreclaimable foes into friends who may have common interests with ourselves."

Although there were differences between the educational goals advocated by the colonial authorities and the missionaries, the objectives of schooling for the Africans was never designed as an emancipatory vehicle from cultural degradation and economic exploitation resulting from imperialist domination, but an integral part of the coercive mechanism geared toward the perpetuation of the national oppression of the indigenous peoples. The conflict between the missionary controlled schools and the British colonial state and the latter dispensation dominated by the Boer settlers, arose from disagreements over the control of African education by the state as opposed to the religious institutions in the country.

The shaping of national educational curriculums during the late 19th and early 20th centuries were heavily influenced by the rise of monopoly industrial capitalism. With the Africans in South Africa and the United States serving as a vast reservoir of unfree, cheap labour during this period, it is important to recognize the appeal to the educational theorist of the white dominated states of the notions of "industrial education" for Africans as a means of effectively maintaining their labour-power as the principal engine in the capitalist production process.

Whether the Christian missionaries favored a more liberal approach to the education of colonial Africans, was a secondary issue because both the advocates of industrial schooling and the more liberal approach, maintained that the long-term objective was to integrate the African into a subordinate status within the European cultural and political economy. These differences over the nature and character of Negro education in the United States and South Africa, was reflective of the debates occuring within the European colonial elite over how best to maximize the exploitation of African labour, land and resources.

As a result of these internal differences, the issue of the proper role of education in the overall policy of race relations became a focal point of discussion in South Africa and the United States during the early 20th century. Conservative elements within both societies questioned the efficacy of providing any substantial portion of the national budget to African education. These elements who were opposed to providing any schooling to the African population beyond the most rudimentary level, believed that the exposure to secondary and tertiary education would create a host of negative consequences for white society.

In a report issued to the Inspector of Native Education in Natal, in 1889, Mr Robert Plant exemplifies the attitudes of those conservative whites who vehemently objected to the utilization of state funds to finance public and missionary education for Africans.

According to Plant: "True, the transition state from barbarism to civilization in which these people are found today is not altogether satisfactory. There is much that appears forward, conceited, and insolent, but it is not fair to expect to jump in a single generation from barbarism to refinement, and the objectionable features referred to are not infrequently the natural exuberance arising from a consciousness of new power or an outward attempt to 'do the correct thing' and not infrequently the direct result of evil example set by Europeans. It is a noticeable fact that the farther removed from the larger centers of European civilization the more respectful, industrious, and obedient the partially civilized Natives are."

Despite the overtly racist character of this thinking, the so-called liberal or enlightened elements of the settler colonial intelligentsia posed no real alternative to the continuation of schooling for the purpose of reproducing cheap-labour and docile political subjects. Perhaps the most widely known white South African educational theorist, Dr. Charles T. Loram, exemplified the liberal parternalistic posture characteristic of the early 20th century.

Having received a law degree from Britain and a Ph.D in Education from Columbia's Teachers College, Loram looked outside of South Africa for a model of education that was suitable to the exigencies of the national political economy. Maurice S. Evans, who was considered by the colonial authorities as the leading expert on the so-called "native problem" in Natal, encouraged Loram, who served as Inspector of Native Education in the province, to look toward the United States for solutions to the problems of African education.

While doing doctoral work in the US (1914-1917), Loram traveled extensively in the South and observed schools designed for the education of African Americans. During this period he corresponded with Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and later visited this college along with Hampton Institute, Virginia Union University as well as a number of smaller African American schools in Maryland, Virginia, and Alabama in connection with his dissertation research. When Loram returned to South Africa he was soon appointed to the newly created position of Chief Inspector of Natal schools.

By 1920, Loram had been selected by the Union government to serve on the Native Affairs Commission. He held this post until 1930, and during this time he became recognized by the white community as the leading authority on Native education. It was in his capacity as a Native Affairs Commissioner that he became a part of the first Phelps-Stokes African Education Commission when it toured South Africa and Rhodesia in 1921. This involvement with the Phelps-Stokes Fund led to his re-establishment of links with the United States and eventually to his connections with the Carnegie Corporation. These institutions were instrumental in providing funding and pedagogical orientation for Negro education in the United States.

Thomas Jesse Jones, the education director of the Phelphs-Stokes Fund, had a tremendous impact on the ideas of Loram. The ties between Loram and the Fund propelled him into international recognition as an advisor on African education. Later in 1924, he was once again a member of the second Phelps-Stokes African Education Commission in South Africa. In 1926, Loram played a leading role in the Conference on the Christian Mission in Africa, that was held in Le Zoute, Belgium. By 1929, he had returned briefly as a visiting scholar at the Columbia Teacher's College in New York and became one of the leading candidates for the principalship of Hampton Institute in Virginia.

These men, despite their supposed liberal intellectual orientation, were never concerned with the liberation of African peoples from racism and national oppression. Their principal concern was to ensure the continuation of white dominance by inculcating Africans with the value of colonial society which necessiated the acceptance of black inferiority. The purpose of education for Africans was to protect the European political economy by insuring the complacency of the African labour force.

In Loram's widely praised study published in 1917, entitled: "The Education of the Native South African," he states that: "If, as seems commonly accepted in South Africa, the employment of Native servants in our houses, schools, and shops as well as on our farms and mines, is unavoidable, we should certainly take steps so that their contact with us is as little harmful as possible. Since the mental, social, and moral development of ourselves and our children is inextricably bound up with that of the Native, we must if only in self-preservation, see to it that the 'essential kafir' is educated."

Loram viewed the curriculum offered to Africans at Lovedale and Fort Hare, the first two institutions built by Europeans designed to provide "higher education" to the "natives", as wholly inadequate. His observation of Negro schools in the United States provided what he considered, a more appropriate model for South Africa. Despite his position that the Negro university model as exemplified by Fisk and Howard was not appropriate to the needs of South Africa during the World War I period, he felt that the Industrial and Normal School models were more suitable to the situation in southern Africa.

According to Loram, in his same above-mentioned study published in 1917:

"The social conditions of the Negroes in the United States are such that there is a constantly increasing demand for Negro preachers, high school and college teachers, lawyers, doctors, dentists, pharmacists and other professional men. These demands the Negro universities are supplying; and although many of the institutions do not deserve the name of university, and the standards required for graduation are considerably lower than those of the white colleges and universities, the services rendered by their graduates to the Negro people are very valuable. The Negro university is giving the American Negro the kind of professional service he wants and needs, and in doing so sets us an example in South Africa. Instead of aiming at a university standard which is difficult for the Europeans and almost impossible for the Natives to attain, we need to meet the present requirements of Native people; and as these increase in number andin the degree of skill required, the courses of instruction could be changed accordingly. The work of the Negro universities is almost entirely academic and professional. The need for such institutions has not yet made itself felt in South Africa and we should take cognizance of the danger (so apparent in India and Egypt) of educating any considerable number of individuals beyond the requirements of their race."

Despite the inherent racism of the Loram model of Native education, more conservative forces began to gain predominance after the 1929 election victory of the Nationalist Party. In 1930, Loram was dropped from the Native Affairs Commission by Prime Minister Herzog who oversaw the enactment of racist legislation designed to further consolidate the expropriation of African land, resources and labour. His involvement with the Phelps-Stokes Fund and the Carnegie Corporation drew suspcion from the Hertzog government, who viewed Loram as to heavily influenced by American intellectual traditions. By 1931, Loram had immigrated to the United States where he was offered a faculty position at Yale University.

After his fall from grace in South Africa, Loram felt that he could contribute more to the field of Native Education from the United States. At Yale he participated in the training of officials of the colonial systems, as well as missionaries who were interested in Africa and the education of its people. Despite the fact that his interestin subject peoples expaned to include such programs as the Yale-in-China Conferences on 'Education in Pacific Areas' and a study on Native Americans entitled: "The North American Indian Today," his principal interest remained in the realm of African and American race relations. He was later instrumental in organizing the "Jeanes Conference" in Salisbury, Rhodesia in 1935, and a 1937 seminar on "The Education of the American Negroes and the African Natives." In addition, up until his death in 1940, he continued his affiliation with the Phelps-Stokes Fund and the Carnegie Corporation.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. His articles, essays, research reports and press dispatches have been published in dozens of newspapers, journals and web sites throughout the international community.

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