South Africa's new school oath revives the divisions of apartheid

It is only 67 words long but has prompted one of the biggest and most divisive public debates in modern South Africa since the proposed change of flag in 1994.

Ever since President Thabo Mbeki outlined plans for a school oath for pupils in his State of the Nation address three weeks ago, the country's airwaves and newspapers have been filled by opposing views.

Some say the pledge places guilt on white schoolchildren and smacks of totalitarianism, while supporters claim the three sentences engender national pride and a clearer identity for the Rainbow Nation. Academics and linguistic experts say it is too clumsy.

In his address, Mr Mbeki said: "We should develop an oath that will be recited by learners in their morning school assemblies, as well as a youth pledge extolling the virtues of humane conduct and human solidarity."

Five days later his Education minister, Naledi Pandor, revealed the the pledge, which reads: "We the youth of South Africa, recognising the injustices of our past, honour those who suffered and sacrificed for justice and freedom. We will respect and protect the dignity of each person, and stand up for justice. We sincerely declare that we shall uphold the rights and values of our constitution and promise to act in accordance with the duties and responsibilities that flow from these rights."

She has said that she cannot "imagine any parent objecting" to the pledge and is understood to be privately surprised by the reaction to the plans. She has already had to "clarify" to Parliament that under current proposals the oath will not be forced on schools.

Ms Pandor has not said how often and what ages of children will have to say it, or whether it will be in assembly or beneath a flag.

All those issues will be decided by the cabinet once the consultation process finishes on 20 March, said Granville Whittle, director of race and values at the Department of Education (DoE). "We have received a large correspondence on this subject already. The only time when I can think that we've had as many letters was when we discussed proposals for a new flag in 1994-95," he said.

One group bitterly opposed to the plans is the right-wing Freedom Front Plus party. Its leader, Dr Pieter Mulder, said the proposals were "shocking".

He said: "It's indoctrination and has all the hallmarks of the old Soviet Union, where most of the ANC leaders looked to. It's about the past and not the future and will not promote nation-building. The first line will indoctrinate Afrikaaner children with a permanent guilt complex.

He added: "We find it shocking that while the government has phased out compulsory religious education, scripture reading and prayers at public schools, it now wants to expose those same children to their twisted ideology."

While not as abrasive, former president FW de Klerk last week also criticised the pledge, saying it would make white children "morally inferior".

He added: "A school pledge is being proposed that would consign those children whose parents and grandparents were not part of the revolutionary movements to perpetual moral inferiority – because no mention is made of the essential contribution they made to the creation of the new society."

The idea does have its backers, including the National Association of School Governing Bodies, the opposition Democratic Alliance, the Afrikaans teaching union Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie and the National Youth Commission (NYC) – albeit with some wording changes.

The NYC's chair, Nomi Nkondlo, said: "Recognising that our country emerged from an uneven, divided past we view the pledge as a fitting legacy that should remind young people at all times that the right to education they currently enjoy is as a result of sacrifices made by preceded generations."

Mr Whittle said it was too early to break down the numbers for and against, or those who support a pledge but with different wording.

"Clearly, the government thinks this is a good idea but they wanted to test the water on public opinion," he said. "We have had a mixed reaction to it, but it seems a lot of young people support it. They seem to want a clear identity for South Africa and to cement the different cultures."

Newspaper editorials have also been divided. Welcoming the pledge, the daily Star wrote: "Just as no farmer would plant a young sapling in the eye of the storm, no nation as young as ours can be expected to overcome its growing pains without some help." However, Business Day commended the idea but said the wording had failed. "The text contains much about the injustices of the past but little about what's important now," the paper said. "This is a troubled and fragmented society and we could do with some unifying values and rituals. But this pledge doesn't quite make the grade."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'