Delivered by Ismail Vadi
This TCE re-union is a laudable initiative. My compliments to the entire team that pulled it together – Nagulin “Aksie” Pillay, Naeema Maal, Bashir Bagus, Afeera Khan, Anisha Vittee, Trevor Masher, Rabia Coovadia, Yunus Chamda, Geeta Rowjee, Colin Francis, Vasela Ayob, Dawn Naidoo, Sandra Moodley, Nazreen Maal and Fazila Carrim. I mentioned this event to someone the other day and he remarked that a “reunion after a long separation is even better than one’s wedding night.” Well, I’m not sure about that. Reunions are naturally emotional affairs. This afternoon it was so good to see friends and colleagues meeting one another after many years. On this occasion, I am reminded of the words of Ella Wheeler Wilcox: “Back on its golden hinges, the gate of memory swings, and my heart goes into the garden, and walks with olden things.”
Transvaal College of Education. TCE. Who would have thought that those grim buildings on the fringe of Fordsburg, with a dark brown brick façade, with little in the way of a garden or a sports field, and nothing resembling a campus, would have produced some 3500 graduates over 44 years. As the racist National Party introduced mass schooling for Indian South Africans with the passing of the Indians Education Act in 1965, these teachers went on to educate thousands of students in schools throughout the Transvaal and produced some of the most distinguished sons and daughters in the community. The TCE graduates – all of you here and so many more in the country and in other parts of the world – carried the day for at least four generational cohorts of students from the community. For this achievement you deserve a hearty pat on the back!
As we’ve heard already the TCE has an history spanning 44 years. The first intake of students was in 1954, within the confines of the Johannesburg Indian High School (JIHS). It became a fully-fledged teacher training college in the early 1960s, and it eventually closed its doors in 1998 in Laudium.
Let us assume that the Indians arrived in South Africa in 1860, although there is historical research that shows that they came much earlier. The question we must therefore ask is: Why was a teachers’ training college catering specifically for the Indian community in the Transvaal established only after 100 years since the arrival of the first Indian indentured labourers?
The policy of successive white colonial, republican and Union governments toward the Indian South Africans was to reject the principle of social assimilation and political incorporation. The racist Nationalist Party (NP) government that came to power in 1948 had a straight forward policy on Indian South Africans. Their slogan was simple: Die kaffer en Boesmans op hul plek en die koelie uit die land! In its election manifesto the NP clearly outlined its policy on Indians as follows: “The Party holds the view that the Indians are a foreign and outlandish element which is unassimilable. They can never become a part of the country, and therefore must be treated as an immigrant community. The Party accepts as a basis of its policy the repatriation of as many Indians as possible.” To induce Indian repatriation discriminatory laws were passed that severely restricted Indian occupational and trading rights; denied them effective political representation in government; provided inadequate social welfare, health and educational facilities; and, that undermined their cultural and religious rights.
If that was the case, why would Hendrik Verwoerd’s government in the 1960s establish a training college for Indians against his party policy? Was this merely a product of the goodwill of Mr Louis Nieman, the first Rector of the TCE?
To answer this question, one should locate the birth of the TCE to the intensification of resistance to apartheid in the 1950s. Confronted more directly with the harsh realities of apartheid after the coming to power of National Party, the Transvaal and Natal Indian Congresses strengthened their links with the ANC and other Congress-aligned organisations such as the Congress of Democrats and the South African Coloured Peoples’ Organisation in a common struggle against apartheid. Consequently, they became fully enmeshed in the numerous campaigns of the ANC such as the Defiance Campaign of 1952, the Campaign for the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter in 1953, the historic Women’s March against the pass laws in 1956, and the turn to armed struggle after the banning of the ANC and Pan Africanist Congress in 1960.
After having banned the ANC and the PAC, the Verwoerd government declared a state of emergency, detained thousands of political activists and rushed through parliament a host of repressive laws aimed at curbing black political opposition to its rule. The Congress movement was decimated by these acts of state repression. All their political leaders and activists were either banned, detained, imprisoned or exiled.
Against this background the apartheid state modified its strategy to co-opt sections of the African, Indian and Coloured communities into its political orbit. It acted swiftly to develop the Bantustan system for Africans and introduced a carefully managed strategy on limited political inclusion of Indians and Coloureds into the racialised system of government. The apartheid government, in its efforts to co-opt the Indian community within the apartheid social framework, used political repression and concessions to win support for its racial programme.
A national administration in charge of Indian education was created, and a gradual process of “Indianisation” of the educational bureaucracy was set into motion. The Department of Indian Affairs was established; Local Management Committees were created in Indian Group Areas; there was limited provision of housing, health and educational facilities in Lenasia, Actonville, Azaadville, Roshnee and Laudium; an Indians-only university was launched at Salisbury Island (later named the University of Durban-Westville); and the TCE was established formally. In 1964, at a secret meeting with selected reactionary leaders in Laudium, the South African Indian Council. All of these developments represented crucial elements of a strategy of active co-option of a racial minority witihn the apartheid system.
After a full century Indians were now to be treated as a permanent minority for whom separate political institutions was developed. However, it was made clear that Indians would not enjoy equal rights as whites. Indian educationists, “assisted by white advisors,” had to suggest curriculum changes in various subjects; formal recognition was granted to Indian teacher associations for purposes of “consultation”, and parents were allowed to participate in education through Education Committees, which had advisory powers only. Any person convicted for sabotage and/or treason, and listed under the Suppression of Communism Act, was not eligible for election onto these committees. At the same time, it spelt out an elaborate definition of teacher misconduct through which disciplinary action could be taken against recalcitrant teachers. Improvements were effected in the service conditions of Indian teachers. Their salary scales, though still not equal to that of their white counterparts, were brought up to the level of Coloured teachers.
The apartheid government’s strategy of co-option and control of the Indian community did bear limited fruit. In the ensuing years, the gradual process of “Indianisation” of the educational bureaucracy succeeded in creating an authoritarian layer of Indian inspectors, subject advisors, planners, principals and teachers, who administered the education system in a highly rigid, and at times, brutish manner. In them the protagonists of Christian National Education found a collaborative elite who was willing to sacrifice the vision of non-racial, unitary system of education or society for a narrow careerism that led upwards on the promotion ladder. In particular instances, some joined hands with their white oppressors against their own communites. They sought the favour and admiration of the Marks’ and van der Banks of the white educational adminstration. Some worked behind closed doors with the apartheid security police to spy on the anti-apartheid activities of their students and fellow teachers. They know who they are and none has gone to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in search of redemption. The essence of the national reconciliation process initiated under President Nelson Mandela enjoins us to forgive them but never to forget their role in promoting the despicable system of apartheid.
We have had the good fortune of witnessing the collapse of the apartheid system. The growth of the Black Consciousness Movement in the 1970s succeeded in changing the consciousness of intellectuals and students at the University of Durban-Westville, the ML Sultan College and the two teacher training colleges in Transvaal and Natal to intensify the fight against apartheid. These varied anti-apartheid groups were to coalesce during the student boycott of 1980 – the first visible sign of mass-based resistance to apartheid in the Indian community since the 1960s. By then discontent with apartheid education had surfaced as thousands of high school students In Lenasia and other areas joined in boycott action with their counterparts in Eldorado Park and Soweto. The students put forward the demand for a single, non-racial and unitary system of education.
In subsequent years teachers under a more progressive leadership of the Teachers’ Association of South Africa (TASA) led by Poobie Naicker in Natal and the Progressive Teachers’ League led by Billy Morgan in Transvaal had displayed greater militancy. The vast majority of teachers joined the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU), thereby opening a new chapter of teacher unionism in education. By the late 1980s, several thousand African pupils had been admitted into so-called Indian schools paving the way for the desegregation of education. These developments seemed to signify a firm commitment by educators to a non-racial, unitary system of education.
This evening cannot pass without us recognising and honouring the gallant men and women who fought against apartheid education. Highly placed on the roll of honour must be “Murvy” Thandray, the first school principal that gave up his post to join the Passive Resistance Campaign in 1946. This is what Ahmed Kathrada had to say about him:
A master of discipline, utter selflessness, devotion, courage, rigid morality, modesty, honesty, and with a remarkable sense of sacrifice. In 1946, he gave up his post as a school principal and a salary of 80 pounds a month to work at the passive resistance offices in End Street for a meagre stipend of 12 pounds. In the process he lost his pension, and often did not receive his stipend in time. On occasion he would walk the six miles home to Denver, and many times there was no food on the table, but he never complained. He later worked as a teacher in the Central Indian High School or “Congress School that was established when Indians refused to move to Lenasia.
Alongside him we must honour Billy Nannen, Tommy and Bobby Vassen, Fakir Saleh, Herbie Pillay, Dasoo Moonsamy, Moosa Moosajee and Solly Vania – all of whom were forced into exile in the 1960s. Then there is Mohamed Tickly, who went into exile and was appointed the Chief Administrator at the ANC’s Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College established in 1978 in Mazimbu, Tanzania. We cannot forget PS Joshi, the gentle educator and author of the book, The Tyranny of Colour, and Maniben Sita, who remains an adherent of Satyagraha up to present day. We remember Jasmit Dhiraj, who joined the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC), and made representations to the United Nations to isolate apartheid South Africa in the sports arena.
Then there is Ahmed Timol. He enrolled at TCE in 1961 and completed his diploma two years later. He went to London in 1967 and the Soviet Union, where he received political training and returned to South Africa in February 1970. He worked in the underground structures of the ANC and SACP for 18 months. He was arrested at a road block near Soweto and a few days later, on 27 October 1971, aged 29, his body was thrown from a window of the 10th floor of John Vorster Square Police station. During his brutal detention he was forced to write about his political activities. This is how he described his years at TCE:
My activities were confined to student problems and in the period 1962-63, I was elected Vice-Chairman of the Students’ Representative Council. In that year we got the College Union affiliated to the National Union of South African Students despite the annoyance and threat of victimisation by college authorities. At college most students saw the bankrupt nature of the courses that were offered; idealistic philosophy and bourgeois ideology permeated our courses, and this idealistic mish-mash contradicted in the most visible and naked terms the realities of the majority of people’s material existence in South Africa and most parts of the world which were under the domination of either colonial or imperialist powers, or by their own reactionary national rulers.
His nephew, Imtiaz Cajee, has recorded in his book on Timol that Moosa Waja, SRC Correspondence Secretary, vividly recalled Timol’s last speech at the College:
The students had already taken their seats in the hall when the Rector, Vice-Rector and other senior lecturers entered. Ahmed’s speech knocked them off their feet. It focused on the condition and brainwashing of the students and amounted to a powerful exhortation to them to learn to ‘think’ and to ‘read’ the media. If I had been a white person that day, I would have sunk into the floor or moved out of the hall discreetly without anyone noticing. Ahmed was a very clear, powerful and forceful speaker. The audience were too scared to move their legs lest a squeak or noise would disturb things. For days people spoke about Ahmed’s speech. It was obvious that this man, Timol, was special. Someone who had understood the essential evil of the society in which he lived and was prepared to do something about it.
Not surprisingly, after the speech Timol was called to the office of John Smith, the rector, and reprimanded. At least one of the alleged killers of Timol, Joao Rodrigues, has finally appeared in court last week on a charge of murder. Former President Thabo Mbeki had this to say about Timol:
He was himself the light in a darkening room. The apartheid regime had banned us earlier and had brutally set out to break and torture our scattered comrades. They believed that they had broken the back of the underground. And then they found Ahmed…They performed upon his body a dance macabre of exorcism through violence. It was their own neurosis that spoke through every blow, because in him our revolutionary spirit was made flesh and they simply could not believe it. He was and remained, even after his death, the spectre that was haunting South Africa.
I want to propose that we approach the Johannesburg Muslim School, which is currently occupying the college premises, to rename the school hall in honour of Ahmed Timol.
There were others who led the struggle against apartheid education in the 1970s and 1980s. Some were detained and others lost their jobs. These include Dr KC Naik, Sadeque Variawa, the late Solly Ismail, Yusuf Cajee, Yusuf Eshak, “Bobai” Naidoo, Hassen Jooma, Mohamed Valli Moosa, the former Minister of Environmental Affairs, and the legendary novelist, Ahmed Essop. Others were expelled from the TCE after a meeting held in 1977 at The Barn in Lenasia organised to protest the detention of Steve Biko and the banning of newspapers and organisations linked to the Black Consciousness Movement. Among those were Hassen Lorgat, Unjini Poonen, Solly Dinath, Jessie Naidoo, Siva Naidoo, Haroon Mahomed, Dan Moohanlal, Rathi Mothilal and Vijen Chetty.
Then we must honour Mr Billy Morgan, who for years had his promotion held back because of his opposition to apartheid. He had his passport confiscated after he and Sathia Pillay from Laudium joined the NIC/TIC delegation that met with the ANC-in-exile in 1988 in Lusaka. He was the founder and President of the Progressive Teachers’ League and the English Teachers’ Society. Mr N Rathinasamy played an important role in the Transvaal Council of Sports with Reggie Feldman. Ebrahim Seedat from Lenz High would go on his own to read progressive poetry with Don Mattera in black townships. Then there were the lone forms of resistance by teachers such as Moosa Ali Moosa at Nirvana High, who refused to join the assembly when the flag was to be hoisted as part of the apartheid Republic Day celebrations.
The other members of the Progressive Teachers’ League and SADTU leadership who should be honoured tonight are Benjy Richards, the late Feroz Patel, Diar Soma, Robert Abrahams, Vijay Naidoo, Nagulin “Aksie” Pillay, Nithia “Nits” Palani, Paresh Devchand, Dr Muthal Naidoo, Craig Padiachie, Sakina Beg, Omapathy “OP” Padayachee, Mr Kalan, Leonard Francis, Albert Chanee, Alan and Sushila Moonsamy, Azhar Saloojee, Dees Lalla and the late Jakes Vandeyar. As a matter of course, they must be celebrated together with teacher leaders such as the late Curtis Nkondo, Sheperd Mdladlana, Vivian Carelse, Duncan Hindle, Ronnie Swartz, Mike Davies, Yusuf Gabru and Randall van der Heever.
We must acknowledge the role of those in the Inspectorate and principals, who at a critical period during the transition to a democratic order, made common cause with the progressive bloc in our schools: Edcent Williams, Abdul Samad “Sampie” Essack, Billy Motala, Ebrahim Seedat, Mr Magan Ranchod and Ebrahim Ansur.
This speech cannot end without mentioning Kantilal Parshotam, a key TIC/UDF activist in Lenasia in the 1980s, who taught at Lenz High, and Neeshan Balton (CEO of the Kathrada Foundation), who was expelled from his post at Topaz Secondary by the House of Delegates after his detention during the State of Emergency in 1986.
May I add that there were countless teachers, who in the very depth of their hearts and in silence, opposed apartheid. I want to single out just one person, Mr Dhanjee, the History teacher from Lenz High, who in his quiet and unassuming manner supported materially and emotionally the family of Laloo “Isu” Chiba, who was sentenced to 18 years on Robben Island for his activities in the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Over the years some have made disparaging remarks about the TCE saying that it was “nothing more than a glorified high school”. That might or might not be true. But what I can say is that from those grim walls emerged educators who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for the freedom of all South Africans. There were steeled activists who turned apartheid ideology and the philosophy of Christian National Education on its head. They conscientised thousands of students to join the fight against apartheid and made a profound contribution to both the Congress and Black Consciousness Movements in our country. There were so many who helped to develop independent community structures, sporting clubs, social welfare and charitable organisations, media groups, labour unions, professional bodies and business chambers. Collectively, they educated an oppressed people and gave them dignity. Tonight, we pay tribute to every one of them!
HELD ON 10 AUGUST 2018 AT THE NIRVANA HIGH SCHOOL, LENASIA