Changing the consciousness of the oppressed

Multicultural Studies

Indeed, the interests of the oppressors lie in “changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them,” (1) for the more the oppressed can be led to adapt to that situation, the more easily they can be dominated. To achieve this, the oppressors use the banking concept of education in conjunction with a paternalistic social action apparatus, within which the oppressed receive the euphemistic title of “welfare recipients.” They are treated as individual cases, as marginal persons who deviate from the general configuration of a “good, organized and just” society. The oppressed are regarded as the pathology of the healthy society which must therefore adjust these “incompetent and lazy” folk to its own patterns by changing their mentality. These marginals need to be “integrated,” “incorporated” into the healthy society that they have “forsaken.” -Paulo Freire from Chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed

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The nation of South Africa is a nation in flux, (Van Der Linde, 2002, pg. 511) as the revolutionary changes that began there with the absolution of Apartheid and the restructuring of society created a volatile environment of change. The nation will clearly take longer to recover from this abhorrent institution fifty years in the making and application than the time it took to conceive of or abolish it. The seeds of dissent ran much deeper but the established or official absolution of Apartheid occurred in 1994 and some 13 years later it is still a nation in transition. Sadly the history of South Africa, and the discussion of how far it has progressed away from the legacy of colonization and Apartheid cannot occur without and establishment of its oppressed past. As a standard, vocal idea many people all over the world believe that once the legal situation of an oppression is eradicated through official means that many if not all of the oppressive situations disappear. Yet as we, in the United States are aware having experienced Black Slavery, the Civil War, the ratification of the 15th Amendment and all the subsequent precedence and laws attempting to eliminate the condition of slavery in law and fact and lastly the long arduous process of reformation know this is definately not the case and the only way to understand a current set of problems with regard to oppression one must understand how the oppression was won, developed and hopefully eventually eradicated, as a process. That process is still unfolding in South Africa and the conditions today are the conditions associated with a period of transition, from a state of almost complete oppression to one that is only now attempting to erase the hundreds of years of damage that it has caused.

Brief History of Apartheid

In the history of South Africa are some interesting facts, that are very worth mention here within the broader discussion of racism and oppression, as the political and social reality in South Africa has a long history that evolved through the heavy period of colonialism and is forever scarred by the system. Colonization began in the 17th century, with the Dutch and English precariously maintaining a shared system of control for many years, mostly with. The period was not by any means angelic and racial disparity was clearly accepted, between both the English and Dutch colonizers against each other and the English and Dutch (Boers or Afrikaners) against the native populations, made up of many ethnicities of black nationals and some Asian populations (brought there through the colonial system usually for the purpose of labor). The English had periods of domination over the Dutch and there were also periods of the reverse. The Dutch established separate colonies during this period and until the discovery of diamonds in the Dutch controlled regions there was at least marginal peace where most parties were at least afforded the opportunity to work to provide for their family, though a very different work than the traditional that often involved separation from their home and also dangerous and depraved low paid employment for the blacks. This system of subjugation through the means of labor intensified exponentially with the discovery of diamonds and other natural resources. The Boer Wars as they are called were fought between the Dutch and the English as a result of the discovery of rich resources in Dutch controlled territory and the English eventually prevailed. Following eventual independence from England (as a nation) the two now descendant groups, the English descendants of colonizers and Dutch descendants of colonizers shared precarious control for many years until the 1940s, when the backlash 9to the Boer Wars) occurred and the Afrikaner governmental representation gained control at the national level and began asserting Apartheid to maintain/regain their control over the means of production and utilization of resources. In short the infighting of the two privileged white minorities created a situation of absolute dependency and disenfranchisement upon the native blacks, which simply worsened and already unfair system, by establishing a de facto and de jure system of white dominance over blacks and racial separation. The situation, rather than getting better with time actually got worse as fear began to be pervasive among the white minority that the system of control would break down without an assertion of power on the part of the whites so in the after years of legal and social control including an archaic system of identity which was designated by race (white, black (Africans), or colored (usually Indian and Asians)) “All blacks were required to carry “pass books” containing fingerprints, photo and information on access to non-black areas.” (Chokshi, et. al. 1995) 1960s the plan of “Grand Apartheid” was executed and territorial separation enforced by and police repression became the reality of the situation. (Chokshi, et. al. 1995)

There is no single place in the modern world that provides a better example of the foundation of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed than South Africa, and more specifically South Africa’s historical education system.

The foundation of the culture, up to the point of the first aggressive actions away from a marginalized majority, was dependant on the complete control of the native South African peoples. An attempt was made from the moment of political and economic conquest of the nation by colonialists to subvert the expression of independence and to assert a paternalistic and classical “banking” system of education, where the “official” education system only taught the history, language and belief system of the oppressors, with no regard for native, language, culture or history, in an attempt to establish order among the “pathological” inhabitants of the nation and region. “Before Black rule in South Africa, education was used as a means of social control and to reproduce a docile labor force since the first school was established in 1658.” (Hlatshwayo, 2000, p. 1)

Though education is not the only place where this occurred, in fact it occurred in a far more sweeping sense than this, all over the country, to maintain safety and order for the minority oppressors. Everything was effected from, where people were allowed to live to where they were aloud to work, and who they were allowed to marry, and even something as foundational as citizenship was basically stripped from native peoples. Realistically, the three most logical issues to discuss, with regard to how South Africa established its pedagogy of the oppressed are, education, employment and citizenship. “Education cannot be studied in a vacuum; it must be located within the broader context of linked political, social, and economic changes. In South Africa each of these aspects of social life is violently demarcated by ethnicity or “race.” (Hlatshwayo, 2000, p. 1)

Education Under Apartheid

The system of Apartheid was pervasive, and the only way to maintain such a system, according to the white majority was to foster a sense of “lesser” and “other” in the majority population and the best way to do that was through a segregated and inferior school system which taught only the pedagogy of the oppressor in an environment that was in contrast to the white minority education system, (which in isolation was in many ways better than any in the world in infrastructure, spending per student and student per teacher ratio.)

Though factual explanations, graphs, charts and mental pictures are not enough to isolate the real effect that a non-culturally diverse (in fact culturally void) school system must have been like it does much to explain the official rule of the white minority over generations of black South Africans and expresses the basis for the pedagogy of oppressed.

Formal educational knowledge can be considered to be realized through three message systems: curriculum, pedagogy, and evaluation. Curriculum defines what counts as valid knowledge, pedagogy defines what counts as a valid transmission of knowledge on the part of the taught. The term, educational knowledge… refers to the underlying principles which shape curriculum, pedagogy and evaluation.” This process occurs under integrated codes which depend on explicit ideology.” (Hlatshwayo, 2000, p. 20)

Formal education in South Africa was officially the education of a European student, teaching nationalism to the oppressor’s origin country, as apposed to one of multiculturalism. One of the best examples of the mentality behind the development of the pedagogy of the oppressed, with regard to education is the evolution of the official restriction of curriculum to that which the African would need to survive in the economy of labor.

A the solutions to the “poor Whites” problem, as was indicated in the Carnegie Commission of Inquiry into Poor Whites in South Africa in 1932, were not bearing the expected fruits of “innate superiority.” Thus, Verwoerd emphasized that the African “school must equip him [the African] to meet the demands which the economic life of South Africa will impose on him” (Mbere 1979, 106).The relationship between production and what is learned in schools reproduces unskilled and semiskilled labor power that allows domination and exploitation to occur. According to the CNE policy, Whites were perpetual parents who had to guide their “children,” the Africans. This relationship of superiority and dependence is an essential part of the outlook and function of the ideology of CNE [Christian Nationalist Education] which basically sees schools for the Africans as a necessity in the transmittance of the dominant culture and to reproduce the relations of production necessary for the exploitation of the African labor force. (Hlatshwayo, 2000, p. 60)

There is no more clear an example of the way in which the majority formed its opinions and developed its educational plan to meet the needs of its oppression of the whole of a very large and diverse population. Though education reforms did take place, some would sight the Bantu education reform acts, they were stifled by an inability of the native peoples representation to gain any real ground with regard to multicultural education and ended up being largely a ratification of the black South African inferiority as members of the labor force, who should be taught as such, vocational students. In the example above the ideology even goes so far as to say that the existence of poor white people in Africa can be in part blamed upon the system’s inability to support whites in their innate superiority through an education system that was better than that of the Africans, hence the reaffirmation of separatist and elite education delineated by race.

Citizenship and Displacement

With the enactment of the 1951 Bantu Authorities Act came what would be seen as a reservation system. The Act established a group of regions that were known as “homelands.” Homelands were independent states where each African was assigned by the white government according to official record of origin of each individual (which was frequently incorrect.) All the individuals political right, including the right to vote, was restricted by law to the region or homeland that one was assigned. Each African would then be a citizen of their homeland and would have no voice on a national level.

The idea was that they would be citizens of the homeland, losing their citizenship in South Africa and any right of involvement with the South African Parliament which held complete hegemony over the homelands.” (Chokshi, et. al. 1995) Between 1976 and 1981 four of these reservations were established and though the homeland administrations rejected the nominal independence of each homeland, in an attempt to retain citizenship and some voice on the national level the establishment of the homelands denationalized (and usually displacing) nine million South Africans who were now required to carry a passport to enter South Africa, as if they were aliens in their own country. (Chokshi, et. al. 1995) As a representation of the pedagogy of the oppressed the white minority created and enforced a system that was entirely paternalistic and dictated, every political, economic and social move that the oppressed made. The resistance to such control was great and the response by the national government was to continue to pass laws enabling them to brutally enforce accord, and severely and brutally punish transgressions and protests against the system. The system attempted to fully eradicate any sense of ownership or sense of belonging that might not have been eradicated by a brainwashing education. The white minority not only attempted to alter the minds of the pathological black Africans but they also made the system of oppression worse and worse as white fear of loss of social, political and economic control dominated the reality of the situation.

In 1953, the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act were passed, which empowered the government to declare stringent states of emergency and increased penalties for protesting against or supporting the repeal of a law. The penalties included fines, imprisonment and whippings. In 1960, a large group of blacks in Sharpeville refused to carry their passes; the government declared a state of emergency. The emergency lasted for 156 days, leaving 69 people dead and 187 people wounded. Wielding the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the white regime had no intention of changing the unjust laws of apartheid. The penalties imposed on political protest, even non-violent protest, were severe. During the states of emergency which continued intermittently until 1989, anyone could be detained without a hearing by a low-level police official for up to six months. Thousands of individuals died in custody, frequently after gruesome acts of torture. Those who were tried were sentenced to death, banished, or imprisoned for life, like Nelson Mandela. (Chokshi, et. al. 1995)

In a fantastic explanation of all the loaded terms that have come to be catch phrases for apartheid and all its atrocities there is a clear and concise explanation of the evolution of residential separation.

Residential areas were completely segregated by law: Under the Group Areas Act, blacks were moved to new townships far from the centers of town. Blacks could commute into work by day, but under apartheid, South Africa’s cities were expected to be “white by night” — except, of course, for the nannies and waiters, janitors and domestic workers who continued to provide services to white citizens. But apartheid went beyond exclusionary politics, urban segregation, or unequal public facilities. Long before the Nationalist Party took power in 1948, the British colonial government had passed the 1913 Land Act, creating native reserves which set aside 13% of South Africa’s land area for the roughly 75% of the population classified as African. After 1948, these reserves became “homelands” for black South Africans: (Seidman, 1999, p. 419)

The description of “homelands” was provided previously, but townships were in serious need of explanation and once again show that the level to which the white ruling class was willing to go to retain their position as the “parent” of the inferior South African people is vast!

Employment Under Apartheid

The issue of employment in South Africa has been touched upon through the previous two discussions as in a system where the pedagogy of oppression is so inclusive, the foundation of employment for the oppressed is predetermined to be maintained as inferior and in most cases menial. Unemployment was and continues to be one of South Africa’s most foundational problems with association to a multicultural society.

Apartheid, according to the Nationalist Government, was meant to solve the housing problems (of the new labor class) and concomitantly reorganize urban space through forced removals of location dwellers into new Bantu homelands (the erstwhile native reserves). As part of the Apartheid program, Bantu Education was to reproduce semiskilled labor and provide a place for ever-increasing urban youth, which was “increasing the crime rate” in cities (Eiselen Report 1951, par. 1047). Bantu Education sought to replace the missionary schools and to create a new form of hegemony; the new form of hegemony would be located in the state itself and would be capable of securing the support for a segregated education system and the social relations embodied in it. (Hlatshwayo, 2000, p. 10)

The economic realities that ensured white supremacy and ensured black dependence still exist today, as those who have a historically substantial economic situation, e.g. The oppressor whites entered the reformation with those resources while those who’s families and selves where repressed enter into the reformation with next to nothing. In fact with the generational foundation of poor education and physical and political displacement many have less than nothing.

South Africa is unique: For fifty years, it stood in the annals of social science as a monument to racial inequality. It appeared in most discussions as the place where white supremacy, authoritarian labor controls, and draconian security laws blocked normal patterns of gradual integration and modernization, where white privilege was entrenched and implacable. (Seidman, 1999, p. 419)

Conclusion / Myths and Assumptions

According to many who look at the noteworthy and fantastic situations surrounding the revolutionary changes that have taken place over the last twenty or so years in South Africa fail to realize that there are several issues with regard to the past and present state of race related conflicts within South Africa, the three assumptions that are most basic are that apartheid was a very old legal institution, that apartheid was a system that developed in isolation and that Apartheid is over and therefore no longer and issue, regarding the development of multi-culturism in education and elsewhere.

Myth 1: Apartheid was a very old institution.

Reality: Though Apartheid has seeds in a more than hundred year history of oppression, as is seen above it was in fact established in the mid 19th century as a means for the English (Afrikaners) to reassert social, political and economic control over all others after the Boer Wars in the 1940s. Apartheid was actually the response to the oppressors’ fear of a breakdown of less official systems of oppression. (Chokshi, et. al. 1995)

Myth 2: Apartheid was an isolated system that developed in isolation.

Reality: Apartheid was supported by many nations in alliance with the Afrikaners by de facto and de jure complacency and also by marginal support such as the established white only tourist entertainment industry (which many American’s benefited from) and the sales of billions of dollars worth of computer equipment by United States corporations to help them organize their system of segregation and racial disparity. (Chokshi, et. al. 1995)

Myth 3: Apartheid has been legally eradicated and therefore is over.

Reality: Apartheid as well as the hundreds of years of oppression that proceeded it during the colonial and the post colonial eras has raised generations of Black and White South Africans to believe, through the pedagogy of oppression that lasted for centuries and debased millions of people. It will not disappear with the sensational acts of the leaders to publicly get along and write laws of address. (Seidman, 1999, p. 419)

Multicultural studies is a concept that encompasses a complex set of needs and realities. South Africa is in a place of serious reformation and the impact of the years of oppression will likely be seen by even the casual onlooker, who bothers to look, for many, many years to come. The goal of developing a truly multicultural system of education will be a battle in reality and law and it has begun well in South Africa. South Africa and the many antions who have stood by her side through this process would be wise to look to history to establish the value of best practices for inclusion and fair practices in rebuilding a lost culture and history.


Chokshi, M. Carter, C. Gupta, D. Martin, T. & Allen, R. (1995) “Computers and Apartheid”

Computer Science: 201 Final Project: Stanford University Computer Science Department at:

Hlatshwayo, S.A. (2000). Education and Independence: Education in South Africa, 1658-1988. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Seidman, G. (1999). IS SOUTH AFRICA DIFFERENT? Sociological Comparisons and Theoretical Contributions from the Land of Apartheid. 419.

Van Der Linde, C. (2002). The Role of Good Educational Management in a Changing South Africa. Education, 122(3), 511+.

Chokshi, M. Carter, C. Gupta, D. Martin, T. & Allen, R. (1995) “Computers and Apartheid”

Computer Science: 201 Final Project: Stanford University Computer Science Department at:

Freire, P. (1993) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Continuum Books.

Figure 1. “Disproportionate Treatment circa 1978” Demonstrating the effectiveness of Apartheid at

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