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  • The Last Defenders of the Laager: Ian D. Smith and F.W. De Klerk
  • Surendra Bhana
Mungazi, Dickson A. 1998. The Last Defenders of the Laager: Ian D. Smith and F.W. De Klerk. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger. 266 pp. $65.00 (cloth).

This book sets out to compare the "laagers" created by white rulers in colonial Zimbabwe and the pre-1994 South Africa primarily through educational systems tailored to create subservience among the African majorities. Operating in a racially closed and undemocratic system, these white-ruled enclaves failed to ensure the full development of the human potential of their African subjects. The author brings special knowledge of colonial Zimbabwe education. It was the subject of his 1977 doctoral thesis as well as two books in 1982 and 1990.

In colonial Zimbabwe, various administrators debated about the kind of education to plan for their African subjects without endangering the "laager," that is, white privilege and domination. There were those who [End Page 151] sought to promote education that prized "human relationship based on equal opportunity" (p. 64); the chief one was Harold Jowitt. Even so, the disparities were significant--40 cents spent on an African pupil as opposed to $20 on a white pupil. Conservative whites, however, were determined to maintain domination at the expense of African education; Godfrey Huggins (1933 to 1953) and Ian D. Smith (1964 to 1979) were the strongest advocates of this position. Smith was the"ultimate defender" of the "laager" because he vowed that there would be no majority rule in his time, "not in a thousand years." He combined education with land policy to achieve his aim, and sparked off a rebellion in the schools that undermined the stability of his regime.

In South Africa, segregated and unequal education was in place long before the apartheid regime introduced the Bantu Education Act of 1953 whose aim was to give Africans a watered down education more suited for their politically subservient position. As in colonial Zimbabwe, there was a huge gap in the allocation of educational resources. The apartheid state sought to tighten its control by insisting on Afrikaans as the medium of instruction and thereby sparked off the Soweto uprisings of 1976, whose impact the author hyperbolically compares to the "destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki" (p. 43). The student action was to unleash forces of destabilization which, together with other factors, was to see the eventual fall of apartheid.

The author is on familiar grounds in dealing with political developments in Zimbabwe insofar as they concerned education policies, but he might have strengthened his presentation by undertaking a more thoroughgoing analysis of the educational system. Political policy-making aside, how did the system work on the ground for Africans and whites? What was the curricular content and makeup of education in white and African schools? While such analysis was necessary to explain the situation in Zimbabwe, it was imperative to see relevant details about educational policies in South Africa. The state in South Africa not only provided inferior education for Africans, it shifted some of the resources to make schools in the newly created Homelands viable. There is no discussion of this in the book. When the Soweto uprising occurred in 1976, it recognized its error in neglecting to provide for the expansion of African education in urban black areas. It belatedly attempted to make amends by diverting some of the resources after 1976, but by then the situation had become highly politicized. African students were not interested in apartheid education as is apparent in the slogan they used, "Liberation before education!"

The South African part especially lacks the depth of details to support the book's argument. The comparison would have been effective only if the author had drawn upon the vast body of literature that is available on South Africa. There is far too much reliance on foreign newspapers and magazines or some incidental material supplied by the South African Consulate in Los Angeles (it is not an Embassy, as the author says). Educational [End Page 152] developments needed to be properly located within the context of the roles played by the mass democratic movement, labor unions, guerrilla activities, and international...


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