It is now twenty years since”Model C” was forced on formerly “white” schools in South Africa, and we still haven’t heard the end of it.
Two years later apartheid officially ended, democratic elections were held, and one would have thought that Model C schools, a last-ditch attempt to retain a vestige of apartheid in the former white schools, would have been swept into the dustbin of history, never to be heard of again.
But instead we hear of them quite frequently, and people speak of “Model Cs” and Model C accents”, so that instead of being seen as the last twitches of a dying monster, Model C continues, undead, like a vampire, to plague the new South Africa — as its inventors intended, though perhaps not quite in the way that they intended.
For those who weren’t around when Model C schools were introduced, perhaps a brief recap of history may be in order.
The Union of South Africa was formed, in 1910, from two British colonies and two former Boer republics, which became provinces of the Union, and education was regarded as a provincial matter. So the provinces had differing education policies, but within any province all schools followed the same syllabus, and wrote public exams (such as Junior or Senior Certificate) to the same standard. There was disparity between black and white schools, with more money spent on white schools, and white teachers being paid more, but they had the same syllabus and wrote the same exams.
Some provinces insisted on single-medium education for white pupils (either English or Afrikaans) while some allowed dual or parallel medium schools. Provinces could decide whether or not to subsidise church schools and by how much. Most church schools were subsidised.
When the National Party came to power in 1948 it took control of black schools away from the provincial governments and centralised them under the Department of Bantu Education, with a different syllabus tailored to National Party ideology. The government then established “homelands”, and when these “homelands” became “independent”, control of education was given to them, but only for black pupils. White pupils living in the “homelands” (or white enclaves within the “homelands”) had white schools still controlled by the provinces that the homelands had formerly belonged to.
The central government later took control of Coloured and Indian education, and, with the 1983 introduction of a tricameral parliament, took white education away from the provinces as well, placing it under the House of Assembly, the white section of parliament (the others were the House of Representatives, for Coloureds, and the House of Delegates for Indians, but even together they could not outnumber the House of Assembly, so whites remained firmly in control).
So white education became a white “own affair” under the House of Assembly, and all was well in the apartheid heaven that the Nats had created, except that the few remaining church schools (that had not been nationalised at the time of Bantu Education) were no longer anybody’s “own affair” and began to admit children of all races.
And then in 1990 the De Klerk government released jailed opposition leaders and unbanned opposition parties. The writing was on the wall. Democracy was coming, and soon all these white “own affairs” schools would come under the control of a non-racial parliament. How to preserve the little bit of “own affairs” apartheid heaven from what was still seen by many in the NP government as the “total onslaught”?
So they came up with a crafty plan. Democracy was beginning to become politically correct, so let’s give the parents a say in the schools. So they decided to hold referendums of parents at each school, and presented them with four Models — A, B, C, and D. If a majority of 90% of the parents in a school decided in an 80% poll to adopt one of the models, then they could have it.
Model A was basically the status quo. An all white school run (and largely paid for) by the House of Assembly own affairs. Model B was similar, except that the school could decide its own admission policy. That meant that if the governing body of the school decided to admit pupils of all races, it could do so.
Model C was essentially privatisation. The school would become a private school, controlling its own admission policy, and would become responsible for upkeep of all the buildings and property as well. There would be a subsidy for teachers, but not to cover all maintenance. Model D was basically one for special needs schools.
In some posh white suburbs the richer parents were attracted to Model C, which seemed to them to be a way of getting a private school on the cheap. Among the less rich, it looked as though in Model C the government was saying, in effect, “if you want black kids in your school, you must pay for it”.
The school our children went to, Clapham High School, voted overwhelmingly for Model B. Twice. Over 90% of the parents voted for it. The first time, in February 1991, it just fell short of the necessary 80% poll. So they voted again in September 1991, and made an effort to get all the parents to vote, and well over 90% again voted for Model B.
And a month or two later the school was informed by the government that it would become Model C, which the parents had rejected by an overwhelming majority of votes — twice.
It was a case of “You will be privatised, whether you want to or not”.
Perhaps that was a punishment for wanting to admit pupils of all races, and rejecting the apartheid dream.
And two years later the apartheid dream (which was a nightmare for most people) ended anyway.
Quite a number of parents from different schools held meetings to discuss ways in which Model C could be resisted, but in the end nothing came of them.
But Clapham High School became a Model B school in 1992, and on the 8th of January of that year the first black pupils came to the school. In 1993 it was forced to become Model C, like all the other “House of Assembly” schools. Some relations of ours were thinking of emigrating to New Zealand, and told us that it was because they had had to take out an extra mortgage on their house to pay the Model C fees.
One of the more cringeworthy moments was at a school annual general meeting, where the principal referred to “the successful integration of the formerly Model B and now Model C pupils”. To refer to non-white pupils as “Model C pupils” seemed patronising in the extreme. We hoped that after the democratic elections of 1994 we would hear no more of that sort of thing.
Model C schools were introduced about 18 months before the end of apartheid, in a desperate attempt to keep apartheid alive. The song has ended, yet the malady lingers on, and on, and on, and on…