Desmond Tutu: Education and apartheid

From the inagural lecture by the Visiting Professor in Post-Conflict Studies at king's College London

When I first arrived at King's College London, I used to sit next to an English-speaking South African who bore an Afrikaans surname, Brian Oosthuizen. In South Africa, we would not have been educated in the same institutions. We had an obsession there with race, with discrimination and separation. Apartheid refined racial oppression to a fine art.

That mundane, everyday occurrence of students sitting side by side was, in fact, of monumental significance. It was saying as eloquently as any massive tome that you were human too, despite all the machinations of the ungodly to impress on you that in fundamental ways you were inferior.

The seemingly innocuous juxtaposition of two South Africans, one white, one black, had profound consequences for me as it all seeped into my psyche, trying to exorcise all kinds of demons of self-hate and a negative self image.

It was like a breath of fresh air coming from the claustrophobia of apartheid's repression when the purpose of education was to produce those who could regurgitate the right answers, nearly always learned by rote. It was not to cultivate an inquiring mind that would keep asking awkward questions. When I came to King's, I was quite amazed how much our lecturers seemed to have an allergy against being dogmatic. We were encouraged to examine the facts for ourselves and to arrive at the conclusion which seemed best to make sense for us of the available evidence. We had come from a country where you did and believed things because someone in authority said so.

You were supposed not to rock the boat but to tow the party line, to kowtow, be osequious and compliant.

Thus it was that King's helped to prepare and to inspire some who were able to reinforce the calls and efforts of those working for the demise of apartheid and who looked forward to the day when South Africa would belong, as the Freedom Charter put it, to all who dwell in her, to the day when ethnicity and skin colour would be seen for the total biological irrelevancies they are in determining the worth of persons.

King's contributed to produce those who in the face of provocation, intimidation and vilification were passionate in their commitment to reconciliation, to the non-racial society.

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