How did the Historic Schools Restoration Project Begin?
Early in 2006 the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, was approached by the Minister of Arts and Culture, Dr Pallo Jordan, and asked to ‘champion’ a very special project. The aim of this project would be to restore historically significant South African schools – at present struggling to keep afloat due to lack of resources and funding – and to turn them into centres of cultural and educational excellence.
The years 2006 to about 2009 mark the bi-centennial of the commencement of the work of the African prophet Ntsikana – who was instrumental in promoting literacy among the AmaXhosa – and this was the inspiration for Dr Jordan’s initiative. His vision is to make this process part of a wider national movement to revive a culture of learning but also to revitalise African culture and reclaim parts of our African heritage that were ignored and marginalised during the apartheid years.
Christian missionaries and the institutions they established became the principal bearers of modern education among South African Africans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The historic mission institutions of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and those in the four provinces that used to be the Transvaal, were the incubators of the African elite and the breeding grounds for an African intelligentsia. Many of our leaders during the struggle for democracy in South Africa, and our leaders today, are or were products of these schools. People such as Nelson Mandela, President Thabo Mbeki, Ellen Kuzwayo, Wendy Luhabe, Thoko Didiza and Chris Hani. Many other leaders started their careers as teachers in these schools, including Robert Sobukwe and Oliver Tambo.
Unfortunately, as a result of the introduction of Bantu education in the early 1950s, many of these schools were taken over by the government, closed down or deprived of resources and funding. They were believed to be subversive in that they taught liberal African values at a time when black people were being prepared solely for menial positions in society. As a result many of the schools have now become dilapidated and are in a state of decay. Many of the facilities that these schools once had have fallen into disuse and even the historic buildings and installations are in a state of disrepair.
Despite their physical state however, many continue to function. They have held on to good management and good teachers. Many of the schools have kept up good standards and continued to encourage sound values. They still produce young men and women who achieve good matric results and who go on to become successful and productive members of society.