Two Stories About Art, Education and Beauty in 20th Century South Africa

Monday, 10 June, 2013 - 15:00

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This a story within a story, and the first story ends like this: on Monday, September 15, 1980, Silverman Jara was stoned to death. Jara was a school principal in apartheid South Africa’s Ciskei Bantustan; he was killed by his own students, apparently as he attempted to prevent them from destroying their school. His was the fourth death resulting from the riots that had roiled the region over the past fourteen days. The Ciskei’s top official, Chief Minister Lennox Sebe, flew in by helicopter, and noted that such a thing had never happened before. “People must realize that we are no longer contending here with students but with terrorists who have no consideration for human life,” he insisted, “I am convinced these children will kill their own parents.” Thus did Sebe enlist Jara’s death into the ongoing struggle for control over South African education under apartheid, a struggle that both activists and the government understood to be only a proxy for the real struggle between the state, its functionaries and the masses of black South Africa. Jara was a principal, a teacher, and a casualty of war, a man who died in a moment of spectacular violence, but also in a way that much extant scholarship on 20 th century South Africa makes legible and almost normal. Politicized (or in South African parlance, conscientized) students fought against the state and its functionaries across the 1970s and 1980s. These functionaries were most often the police or the military, but occasionally the struggle counted teachers and administrators as casualties as well. This was Silverman Jara’s world.


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