Apartheid: Learning the Hard Way

  • In 1955, the South African Nationalist Government enacted the Bantu Education Act, which established an inferior school system for black South Africans. The law institutionalized apartheid and put in place a two-tiered educational system designed to ensure a supply of menial labor for the white economy.
  • According to Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, then minister for native affairs and later prime minister of South Africa, “There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labor.”
  • Yesterday's students in the “Bantu” education system are today's teachers in the New South Africa. Even if unlimited funds were available, the historically entrenched educational deficiencies of township youth could not be overcome using traditional teaching methods only.

closing the Digital Divide in south Africa

In 1997, when Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates presided over the opening of the first “digital village” in Soweto, he told the crowd: “Personal computers and the Internet have tremendous potential to improve education and raise business efficiency. This technology helps people expand their world by connecting to information as well as to one another. We firmly believe that technology will be a great enabler in developing South Africa.”

Soweto, an acronym for Southwest Townships, is South Africa's largest and best-known township. Like all non-white South Africans, the people of Soweto are struggling to recover from the decades of repression and discrimination they suffered under “apartheid” — the system of minority rule that formally came to an end in the spring of 1994, with the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela and the transfer of power to South Africa's first freely-elected government.

It was in Soweto that Africare established the first digital village, giving black South Africans community-based access to computers and to the boundless knowledge and connectivity available through the Internet, CD-ROMs, digital libraries and more.

Literacy and job training are the most immediate goals. Users have a chance to learn basic database and word-processing packages, accounting and language programs. In its first year, the Soweto Digital Village equipped more than 500 kids and young adults with the computer skills they will need to compete in today's job market.

Other users are discovering that the computers can support small businesses and promote activities like community meetings and local cultural events and workshops. People are even linking to online courses at universities around the world.

Trained by Africare, volunteers from the community serve as tutors at the digital villages. Through informal promotion and outreach, they also see that the facilities become well known and benefit the entire population of the townships in which they are located. The Soweto Digital Village, with 35 multimedia workstations, has more than 1,000 registered members. The center is welcoming an average of 200 computer users each day.

South Africa's journey to heal and restore itself will take decades, and Africare's digital villages are designed to contribute to that process. “We hope that by developing these computer resource centers,” continued Microsoft's Bill Gates at the 1997 opening in Soweto, “we will continue to put information at every South African's fingertips and therefore contribute to the skills development of the South African society.”

Africare's corporate partners in the digital villages, in addition to Microsoft, have included Eastman Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and The St. Paul Companies.

For South Africa's black population, an entire world of “equal opportunities” is finally becoming a reality.

Other Educational and Business Development Projects

  • Between 1989 and 1995, Africare placed more than 400 black South African graduate students in professional internships in U.S. businesses. They developed new job and coping skills to prepare them for entering South Africa's post-apartheid work force. Most have since assumed senior positions in government, business, education and voluntary organizations.
  • Members of South Africa's largest black-owned farm co-op, based in Duthasa village, received business-management training from Africare.
  • Africare's support of small business startups, a microenterprise credit program and workshops on public-/private-sector partnerships fostered economic development in three South African provinces. In the KwaZulu-Natal and Northern provinces and in the province of Mpumalanga, major multifaceted programs also supported agribusiness growth.
  • In Benin and Mali, Africare collaborated with a variety of organizations to improve coordination of lending programs for microenterprise startups.
  • Several hundred entrepreneurs in Malawi's Thyolo district have risen from poverty to profitability as a result of Africare training in business proposal development and credit management.

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