Rural schools from apartheid cloud S.Africa's future

Wed Jul 21, 2010 10:21am EDT
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By Jon Herskovitz

KNOPPIESFONTEIN, South Africa (Reuters) - A tap with running water came when apartheid ended, electricity came 14 years later but the text books for each student have yet to arrive at Knoppiesfontein Primary Farm School.

It is one of nearly 2,600 remaining schools set up by white farmers to warehouse the offspring of farmhands until they could work the fields -- a glaring symbol of an apartheid-era education system designed to suppress the black majority.

Set in fields dusted orange from the clayish soil and among grazing cattle looking for sparse plants in the parched ground, the school also stands as a symbol of the 16 years of unfulfilled promises after the African National Congress took over, ending white minority rule.

The ANC called for drastic measures for farm schools but little changed in a decade of dithering, trapping another generation of black youth in a lifetime of rural poverty.

In local elections next year, President Jacob Zuma and his government could take hard hits if they fail to convince voters they are making headway on basic promises including Zuma's top priority of better education.

"Even our toilets are very bad because we are still using the pit toilets," said the school's principal Fredah Mpai.

A newly formed Ministry of Basic Education has begun a long and expensive process that has turned some of the farm schools into places with qualified staff and basic infrastructure.

During the World Cup hosted by South Africa, Zuma placed a new emphasis on education, holding an education summit and linking the event to improving local schools.   Continued...