The Struggle for Education in South Africa: How has architecture been impacted?

Fig.1. Soweto Uprising


Racial segregation, a tragedy still seen today, has stomped down hard on the future of the recent and current generations in South Africa. Apartheid was officially abolished in 1994, yet the pain from its brutal infection is a reality for a majority living in the country now. Though the entire government has turned one hundred and eighty degrees toward the positive, the social conditions within the population were so significantly damaged by oppressive law that policies are struggling to break the system of racial tension. Specifically, racial struggle has tightly woven itself into the school systems of primary, secondary, and high school education within the cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town, as well as across the entire nation. Making it difficult to untangle schooling into a fair and integrated experience, Apartheid’s policies effectively impacted the architecture of both educational facilities and the social structures among the students of present day South Africa. By examining the vast differences in school resources and buildings constructed in Johannesburg and Cape Town, we can see how architecture has become a reflection of the apartheid struggle within the social fabric of South Africa.

When the Dutch settled on the Southern Cape of the African continent, few could deny that a relationship between black and white would be anything other than a wound that would continue to fester until the entire body of a nation had been plagued. From day one, Apartheid targeted black, colored, and Indian students with the Bantu Act, which separated schooling into fifteen different departments of education. Four served the main racial groups, while the other ten monitored the homelands and one served as an overseer of the entire group. In addition, each of these departments was separately funded with the most money going to white schools and virtually none put toward black schools (Fiske, Ladd 2005, 2). Due to a lack of funding for educational programs, the purpose of Apartheid was beginning to become realized and the Afrikaners put non-white students “in their place.” No school meant no jobs for thousands of youth in South Africa. The goal of the Bantu Act was to keep the non-whites away from any opportunity to become dominant over the Afrikaners and when black students could not become employed, the white youth filled in their place continuing to fuel the segregated system. However, African students refused to go down quietly under this law and began to mobilize against the government. Starting with the Black Consciousness Movement and the South African Students Organization, the youth of the country developed a significant anti-Apartheid attitude and decided to band together and march peacefully against the implementation of Afrikaans as a compulsory language in schools. On June sixteenth, nineteen seventy-six the Students of Soweto began their march toward the ending rally at Orlando Stadium. However, the thousands of youth were viciously interrupted by the police force that fired into the crowd of students and killed a young boy named Hector Pieterson (South African History Online). This one uprising had the power to change the face of what Apartheid was forever. People witnessed the brutality and soon the African National Congress began to achieve significant support which ultimately led to the abolishment of Apartheid and the integration of schools and funding for the entire nation.

Fig. 2. A typical Johannesburg school
Fig. 2. A typical Johannesburg school

We are thus focusing our research on the conditions of post- Bantu primary and secondary schools, and how their architecture is a reflection of the apartheid struggle that is still taking place in South Africa today. In Johannesburg, typical primary and secondary school buildings consist of the bare bones of architecture: four walls and a roof, barely more than a shell of a room. The conditions are terrible, with trash overflowing everywhere across the city, even covering parts of their schools. The buildings themselves are rundown and dilapidated, and for the select schools with “playgrounds” outside their buildings, there are little more than a couple of steel poles stuck in the ground for the children to play around with. These are hardly the conditions anyone would want students to be learning in, but coupled with inadequate teachers, a poorer curriculum, and less textbooks, it makes for a terrible educational existence. It is common to find approximately thirty students crammed into one small room, and sometimes, that room does not even house enough desks and seats for them. This poor education and even poorer conditions that their education takes place in seriously impacts them after they leave school (generally right at the compulsory limit of education age of 15) to try to find work. Since their schooling is so poor, they have a difficult time finding a good job to provide for their families, which means that their future children will also be stuck in the same desperate situation as them, and then the vicious cycle starts again.

Fig. 3. A basic resourced Cape Town school

Contrast this with Cape Town, a city that is cleaner, wealthier, more prosperous…and primarily white. Despite the Bantu Act being abolished roughly twenty years ago, the effects of racism and segregation are still very much present in society, and in terms of our research, seen through the physical architectural qualities of primary and secondary schools. The architecture is much more characteristic of a modern, industrialized city instead of a poverty-stricken one. The buildings look more substantial and livable, and seem more inviting and encouraging to students to learn, then in derelict and dingy buildings. However, not all schools are as idealized as this. Schools in Cape Town range widely from being somewhat resourced to very well resourced, with some schools even being wealthy enough to afford a computer lab.

Fig. 4. A well-resourced Cape Town school




Fig. 5. A computer lab in a well-resourced Cape Town school
Fig. 5. A computer lab in a well-resourced Cape Town school

However, it is not just enough that Johannesburg try to improve their physical school building conditions to improve to Cape Town’s standards; a change in curriculum is necessary as well for both schools. Post Bantu-Act, history was taught as a mixture of geography and social sciences that either glossed over or completely sidestepped their past apartheid history. This was done in an effort to promote “reconciliation” but many critics have claimed that this will ultimately backfire and harm students as they are going to forget the painful past they fought to free themselves from. This pressing need to represent their history accurately is being primarily led by Kader Asmal, the new Minister of Education. The project, entitled “South African History Project,” is to use history as a tool to reconcile both races by understanding and learning from the mistakes of the past to create a unite future. (Polakow-Suransky, Sasha. 2002)

Fixing the physical conditions of schools is one thing, but how they teach certain subjects like history, is also important and another subject of reform. Asmal’s project takes care of the latter, while organizations like Classrooms for Africa, or C4A, takes care of the former. C4A was founded as a non-profit organization in Canada and run under the Dunamis Education Society. Their mission is to create “’educational opportunities for the disadvantaged.” (Classrooms4A, web) As the name implies, C4A provides the fundamental needed classroom space for needy schools in places like South Africa, which are then paid for by grants and built by volunteers.

Though progress appears to be slow, post-Bantu South Africa is making the needed reforms towards equality, and perhaps in another twenty years, we will see a country of equality reflected specifically in the architecture of their schools.



Annotated Bibliography: Recent end to Apartheid sparks educational change in South Africa

Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa


Tiffany Pau and Karina Roberts

Throughout the recent decades, South Africa has made severe changes to the educational system as a result to the end of the Apartheid movement.  Though schools have now fully integrated, children are still struggling daily to receive the necessary education they need to become employed in the future.  Primary school is most common, but a shockingly low percentage of students even make it to their secondary, or high school, years.  Higher education remains for the wealthy and it is rare for a large percentage of students to make it into universities.  Unfortunately, not much has truly changed as far as racism and segregation goes.  Many students still feel the pain of the recent struggle for freedom in South Africa, particularly in Johannesburg. Cape Town by comparison, starkly opposes Johannesburg with its clean city and wealthy and prosperous people…most of whom are primarily white. Thus, these two cities will act as our main study to examine how racism is affecting educational facilities, and how the nation can move forward in the building or renovations of primary schools. Though it may be small, it only takes a few projects to kick start a major reform process for schools in order to get children out of large classes in rundown buildings and into better learning environments.



TNO staff, . “Apartheid’s “Bantu Education” was Better than Now, Says Leading South African Black Academic.” The New Observer, August 26, 2013. (accessed September 8, 2013).

Playing Devil’s advocate, this piece explores the perspective of how education was better under the Bantu Act (it sanctioned apartheid.) Some professionals point out how the quality was better. For example, after the Bantu Act was abolished, the pass rate dropped to 30%, which means there is less motivation to do well at school and turn out productive members of society.

Polakow-Suransky, Sasha. 2002 Erasing history: eight years after apartheid, school segregation persists and history is out of style. (South Africa in Focus). The Free Library (June 22), history: eight years after apartheid, school segregation…-a086058525(accessed September 08 2013)

This article focuses on how the education curriculum is beginning to change. Having integrated schools is the first step to banishing apartheid from the schooling system, but how they teach certain subjects like history, is another subject of reform. Publishing a textbook that does not suppress the hard facts of their past apartheid history is another step in the right direction.

Encyclopedia Entries

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Johannesburg,” accessed September 09, 2013,

“Johannesburg” gives an extensive overview of the history of South African demographics with a large focus on the start and end of Apartheid.  It helps describe the uprisings of youth in schools and the struggle people faced in attempt to overcome the harsh laws set against them.  Overll, this soure will help provide more general knowledge specific to what it looks like to live in South Africa.

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Cape Town,” accessed September 09, 2013,

Similar to the article on Johannesburg,  this article describes the demographics and history in Cape Town.  Historically, much of Apartheid’s action occurred in main cities like Johannesburg.  Cape Town, however, has a much different history as a result of the higher percentage of white people in the city.  This article provides an opportunity to compare and contrast the struggle of students in each area based on the general aspects of what life is expected to be like there.

Scholarly Articles

Fiske, Edward B., and Helen F. Ladd. “Racial Equality in Education:How far has South Africa come?.” Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy. (2005): 4-20. (accessed September 8, 2013).

This article examines how far South Africa has improved in terms of its racial equality in schooling systems since the abolishment of the Bantu Act in 1994. Unfortunately, the prognosis is not very positive. Even when the act was abolished, the blacks did not have the money required to get good teachers, textbooks, and buildings. As a result, they were forced to teach their kids poorly, and since poorly educated kids cannot contribute back to society, it leaves them once again trapped in a cycle of disempowerment and poverty.

Yamauchi, Futoshi. RACE, EQUITY, AND PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN POST-APARTHEID SOUTH AFRICA: IS OPPORTUNITY EQUAL FOR ALL KIDS?. working paper., International Food Policy Research Institute, 2004. FCND DISCUSSION PAPER (182)

This study provides graphs, simple models, and statistics detailing the relationship between the quality and equity differences in South Africa post-1994. The conclusion is that Blacks are still suffering from poorer quality schooling and having access to less opportunities than the Whites.

Orthographic Documentation

Architects, MunnikVisser. “UCT Leslie Building.” MunnikVisser Abayili Architects . Web,

The Leslie Building is a new construction for the University of Cape Town and is for the social sciences department.  This new building can be useful to us so that we can compare and contrast higher education to lower education facilities in South Africa.  Also, its region plays a huge role in the schools different population.

Architects, MunnikVisser. “Cedar House School.” MunnikVisser Abayili Architects . Web

Here is a great source for compare and contrast to see what has to change in a new school environment.  Currently the Cedar House School already exists, but the 600sq’ addition will allow for more opportunity to change what ever is not currently working in the present learning environment.

Video and Audio

Vassen, Bob, & Yusuf Omar. “Interview.” Interview Segment Recorded December 6 2006. South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid Building Democracy. Web,

An interview with Yusuf Omar details how hard life was growing up in Fordsburg. For example, even trying get registered for school was a challenge. He had to “reclassify” his race to get into one of the better high schools in his neighbourhood.

Video source taken from personal archive of media from trip to South Africa. (Karina Roberts)

This video depicts the difficulty many children face when attending school daily.  Thirty children fit in one tiny room and stood up to sing our group a song.  I had to take the video from outside the window because we could not fit inside to watch the kids perform.  These children barely get a roof over their school and meals are prepared over a fire in a large pot out behind the classrooms in a small concrete hut.


Classrooms for Africa, “Welcome to Classrooms for Africa.” Last modified 2012. Accessed September 16, 2013.

A non-profit organization that builds needed classroom space in impoverished areas.







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