Amersfoort Legacy - Turning points

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Early British Domination

The establishment of a proper system of education begins with the period of British rule at the Cape. This period was marked by a systematic attempt on the part of the British to anglicise Cape society. The period beginning with the occupation of the Cape by the British in 1795 ushers in important social, political and economic developments. The slave trade is abolished in Britain in 1807 and slavery is formally abolished in all colonies of the British empire, including the colony at the Cape,  in 1833. The period is marked by the emergence of colonialism proper.

Schools played an important part in this experience. In 1839 an Education Department was established at the Cape with a superintendent, James Rose Innes, at its head. This position was bureaucratised with an administrative apparatus by the end of this century. In Natal, after annexation in 1843, attempts were made to develop an education structure. These only stabilised in 1858. Meanwhile, constitutional provision was made for education in the Transvaal Republic in 1858 and properly so in 1863 in the Orange Free State. Important about this period is that it marks the institutionalization of education in the country and its formal deployment in the cause of building a white identity. One might refer to this period as a period of state-building on the part of the white establishment. The great apparatuses of power were introduced, such as the formal parliaments, the institutions of the military, the hospital services, and alongside these, the institution of the Anglican Church. Yet, at the same time, during this period there is evidence of black and white children being educated in common classrooms. The oldest schools in the country, such as the South African College School (SACS) founded in 1829, for example, has children of colour. As the process of Anglicisation happens, it happens with some ambiguity.

Alongside of this process of formalisation, another key experience takes root. Significant steps continue to be taken by the rapidly growing missionary movement to provide education for both black and white children. This story begins with the arrival of the London Missionary Society in 1799 and takes shape in the work of people like Dr Phillip and the subsequent establishment of important institutions such as Lovedale College. Emerging clearly out of this development, of course, are the abiding themes of conflict. These conflicts are expressed on several levels and persist in the missionary movement itself, in its target community, the African and slave people, and between the missionaries and the latter, into the climactic era of full modernity in the middle of the 20th century.

Last updated : 10-Mar-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 21-Jul-2011