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Friday, 15 June, 2001, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
SA's challenges 25 years after Soweto
Students at Hillview high school
A mixed-race school: Unimaginable in 1976
By Peter Biles in Pretoria

The South African president, Thabo Mbeki, is preparing to lead a march in Soweto on Saturday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the student uprisings.

On 16 June 1976, thousands of schoolchildren rebelled against the education policy of the white minority government - hundreds were killed and many others went into exile.

The progress is in the fact that the children are learning for their future, that they are not looking at the colour of the person next to them

Naomi Myburgh, school principal
Now, the quest for better education is key to South Africa's young democracy.

In the morning assembly at Hillview High School in Pretoria, black and white children stand side-by-side, something that would have been simply unimaginable 25 years ago.

Twenty-five years ago, at the time of the Soweto Uprising, this was an all-white school.

Today it is fully integrated, and reflects far more accurately the racial composition of South Africa.

In many ways, it is the fulfilment of the dream they were striving for back in 1976.

Clear priorities

The class I visited is made up largely of black children. They are learning Afrikaans.

Soweto uprising 1976
Hundreds were killed in the 1976 uprising

It is a far cry from 1976, when the white minority government of the day tried to impose Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in black schools, and the uprising in the townships began.

Among the children in this class is 14-year-old Luzuko Baloyi. He is in his first year at high school and he already knows he wants to be an electrical engineer.

Many of his parents' generation sacrificed their education for the cause of political freedom. But now the priorities are clear.

"I hope I get a good education and don't waste my parents' time here. The school has everything," says Luzuko.

"All I have to do is just take it in and use it. It has everything for me so far. It's a very calm school. It's very nice. It's very enjoyable. The principal handles the school nicely. I can't say I have any complaints about it."

'Open discussion'

The principal of Hillview High, Naomi Myburgh, is in charge of 850 pupils. She has overseen the dramatic changes here during the past 10 years.

Soweto was a turning point in this country's troubled past, and is now consigned to school history books

"The progress is in the fact that the children are learning for their future, that they are not looking at the colour of the person next to them, and that they are associating with one another, and very definitely learning from one another," she says.

"They openly discuss what we do in our culture, what you do in your culture, and 'oh, that's strange - we don't do that', but it's an open discussion."

"There's never been any clashes or racial tension in this school."

South Africa's Deputy Education Minister, Mosibudi Mangena - who was in prison on Robben Island when the Soweto unrest began - vested the school and reminded the youngsters about what happened all those years ago.

Turning point

With its high pass rates, Hillview is a success story for the government. But Mr Mangena admits that in the poorer areas of the country, many school facilities are still woefully inadequate.

Students at Hillview high school

"Some of them don't have running water. They don't have toilets, let alone electricity. So we still have to attack that. And I think it will take us a long time, unless somehow we can find a big injection of funds to roll out the provision of classrooms in rural areas," he said.

So progress is slow, and the need for still better standards of education are paramount.

Fanyana Mazibuko, who was teaching in Soweto at the time of the uprising, says educated young South Africans are needed to drive the economy forward.

"Unless they participate fully in the economic life of this country, then we will lose this country. They must be out there in the boardrooms. They must be out there controlling the finances. They must be out there making policy, and then we will know that the struggle of '76 was worth our while."

Soweto was a turning point in this country's troubled past, and is now consigned to school history books. That, at least, is something of which South Africa can be proud.

The BBC's Panorama programme's
original coverage of the riots in 1976
See also:

08 May 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Cracks in South Africa's democracy
12 Jun 01 | Business
Investing in South Africa
21 Feb 01 | Africa
Poor benefit from SA budget
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