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Read – Business Day reviews Linda Chisholm’s Between Worlds: German Missionaries and the Transition from Mission to Bantu Education in South Africa

The transition from apartheid to the post-apartheid era has highlighted questions about the past and the persistence of its influence in present-day South Africa. This is particularly so in education, where the past continues to play a decisive role in relation to inequality. Between Worlds: German Missionaries and the Transition from Mission to Bantu Education in South Africa scrutinises the experience of a hitherto unexplored German mission society, probing the complexities and paradoxes of social change in education. It raises challenging questions about the nature of mission education legacies.

Linda Chisholm shows that the transition from mission to Bantu Education was far from seamless. Instead, past and present interpenetrated one another, with resistance and compliance cohabiting in a complex new social order. At the same time as missionaries complied with the new Bantu Education dictates, they sought to secure a role for themselves in the face of demands of local communities for secular statecontrolled education. When the latter was implemented in a perverted form from the mid-1950s, one of its tools was textbooks in local languages developed by mission societies as part of a transnational project, with African participation. Introduced under the guise of expunging European control, Bantu Education merely served to reinforce such control.

The response of local communities was an attempt to domesticate – and master – the ‘foreign’ body of the mission so as to create access to a larger world. This book focuses on the ensuing struggle, fought on many fronts, including medium of instruction and textbook content, with concomitant sub-texts relating to gender roles and sexuality.

South Africa’s educational history is to this day informed by networks of people and ideas crossing geographic and racial boundaries. The colonial legacy has inevitably involved cultural mixing and hybridisation – with, paradoxically, parallel pleas for purity. Chisholm explores how these ideas found expression in colliding and coalescing worlds, one African, the other European, caught between mission and apartheid education.

Yvonne Fontyn recently reviewed Chisholm’s remarkable book for Business Day. This is what she thought:

Mission schools have a mixed reputation in former colonies. They are lauded for offering a liberal and sound education when the state failed to do so, but they are also considered to have played a large role in colonial conquest.

Many well-known South African leaders attended mission schools, including Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe and Ellen Kuzwayo.

However, in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela relates the mixed messages he received at mission schools in the Eastern Cape. At his primary school in Qunu, his teacher Miss Mdingane gave the young Rolihlahla his English name Nelson.

“The education I received was a British education, in which British ideas, British culture and British institutions were automatically assumed to be superior,” he writes.

“There was no such thing as African culture.”

Later, he attended the Clarkebury Institute, where, he writes: “For the first time, I was taught by teachers who had themselves been properly educated. Several of them held university degrees, which was extremely rare.”

The college was founded on land donated by the Thembu king Ngubengcuka, illustrating the close ties that existed before apartheid between missions and traditional leaders.

One of the aims of a new book by Prof Linda Chisholm of the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Education Rights and Transformation is to point out these binary perceptions of mission schooling.

Continue reading Fontyn’s review here.

Between Worlds

Book details

  • Between Worlds: German Missionaries and the Transition from Mission to Bantu Education in South Africa by Linda Chisholm
    EAN: 978-1-77614-174-6
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