There is so much to say about Enver Motala's essay that I am somewhat at a loss to know where to begin. I have, over the years, written a great deal about education both here in the United States and in South Africa. I shall draw on some of that body of material in this discussion, which, now that I am started, strikes me as likely to last more than a single day. From time to time I shall even incorporate passages from those writings into this extended essay. I suppose I think of myself as being somewhat like the composers of the baroque or classical period who did not hesitate to borrow from themselves.
Let me start by telling you a bit about the context within which Enver has spent his life working. South Africa in the apartheid era had an extremely rigid and traditional educational system at every level from elementary to higher education. As you can imagine, the schools were rigidly segregated, not simply into white and non-white systems, but into White, African, Indian, and Coloured systems mirroring the geographic and residential segregation of the nation. The Indian people are the descendants of workers brought from India to labor in the sugar fields of Natal Province on the eastern side of the country. The Coloured people, who speak Afrikaans, not English, as their native language, are the mixed race descendants of Dutch settlers and Malay and African residents of the Western Cape section of the country. When the Boer government implemented the theory and practice of apartheid, or "separateness." the non-white peoples were forced to relocate in areas designated for them, with the African majority population being forcibly separated into ten or more groupings according to their native languages. The white population depended on the labor of non-whites, but at the same time did not permit them to live within the cities where their labor was required. Thus grew up the institution of racially segregated townships just outside the White cities where African, Indian, or Coloured families could stay when their work day was done. [The so-called influx control laws and pass laws forbade non-whites from saying in the cities after sundown, so early each morning hundreds of thousands of Black men and women would begin the long trip by train or bus into the cities to work and then retrace their steps each evening.] The best known township is the African township Soweto [ = SOuth WEst TOwnship].
The educational systems were organized along the same racial lines, with elementary and secondary schools for Whites only, Africans only, Indians only, and Coloureds only. Although the official ruling ideology originally denied that non-Whites were capable of higher education, eventually the economy developed to the point at which there was a need for non-White workers trained even beyond secondary schooling, and so in addition to the Afrikaans-language and English language universities that were established by Whites and which flourished, a series of universities came into existence specifically to educate non-Whites. The oldest such university, Fort Hare, is the alma mater of Nelson Mandela and many other South African and Southern African political leaders. The University of Durban-Westville was established to educate Indian students, the University of the Western Cape was founded to educate Coloured students, and several universities in addition to Fort Hare were founded to educate African students, among them the University of Zululand, Transkei University, and the University of the North.
The education in the universities was a mixture of British and Continental traditions, in both cases extremely hidebound, with year-long courses graded with a single end of year examination, and virtually no possibility of partial credit for the work done during the year. There was also no way to transfer credits from one institution to another, not even, say, from The University of the Witwatersrand to Cape Town University, the two leading English language universities in the country. All of the good jobs were reserved for whites, of course, and typically required university degrees. Virtually the only fellowship support came from the mining companies, which offered bursaries to undergraduates who were willing to commit to working for the companies after they earned their degrees.
Even to be eligible to apply for admission to a university -- any university -- required a performance of a certain level and nature on the school leaving exams called by everyone "matrics". All of the universities are state funded, and if one of them chose to admit a student who had not "earned a matric" the university would not receive state support for that student in the funding formula used to calculate how much each university received each year. Each racial group took a separate set of matric exams, and the exams administered for the small group of African students who actually took them were often graded in a haphazard and irrational fashion. Roughly two percent of each African age cohort "earned a matric." This does not mean that two percent of each year's Black eighteen year olds went to university. It means that only two percent were even eligible to go to university. When Jakes Gerwel, the first Coulored Rector of the University of the Western Cape, declared a policy of "open admissions," he did not mean -- he was forbidden by law from meaning -- that every young Coloured or African or Indian man and woman who completed high school would be admitted on a first-come first-served basis [which is roughly what "open admissions" at City College in New York meant during its open admissions policy.] Gerwel meant that he would accept any student who managed to earn a matric. Some years later, using a loophole in the law, UWC experimented with admitting several hundred non-matric students under a State policy of allowing a University Faculty Senate some discretion in admissions. These so-called "Senate Discretionary" students, for whom of course the university received no state subsidy, were then followed at UWC to see how their performance compared to that of students who had earned a matric. I was not at all surprised to learn that there was no discernible difference in the academic performance of the two groups. For several years, my scholarship organization gave money to UWC specifically for bursaries for those non-matric students in an effort to encourage the experiment.
How does this relate to what Enver Motala has spent much of his life doing? [You may be able to tell, by the way, that having spent twenty-five years of my life deeply involved with South African education, I could go on for many, many pages discussing this or that aspect of the system, but I will spare you.] Well, while all of this was going on in the universities of South Africa, millions of African, coloured, and Indian men and women were leading their lives effectively excluded from formal higher education, and provided with woefully inadequate primary and secondary education as well. Enver and many other committed activists have devoted their lives to offering worker education to union members [mine workers, factory workers, and so forth], to township residents, and to the rural population forced to live in the so-called Homelands.