Colony of Natal: British Rule and Education [Part One]

Because the preceding article looked at the management and delivery of education at the Cape, this article aims to look at the management and delivery of education in Natal during the 19th century under British colonial rule. The article deals with the state of education in Natal under the management of the Volksraad, the management and delivery of education under British colonial rule, for the most part, looking at the position of education under representative and responsible government. The article also reviews African education, thoroughly detailing the way in which education was used to keep Africans within inferior positions in Natal. While the Indians were and still are an important group in Natal, for this article, however, only African education will be given attention to. Part two of this article, however, will deal with the history of the Indians in Natal along with the management and delivery of Indian education in Natal.

Inanda Seminary School for girls founded in 1869 by Daniel and Lucy Lindley. Image Credit:

Founding of Natal and Educational Provision

A large number of Afrikaners left the Cape during the 1830s pursuing freedom from British colonial rule. Those who left the Cape, journeyed into the interior of present-day South Africa, settling in different parts of the land. Throughout these years of travelling, the management and delivery of education fell into the hands of parents and caregivers. Since children were typically educated to be church members, the Bible was respected and used as a central resource in the education of children and young people, and since education could not be abandoned, tents were set up as schools, and several Afrikaners freely and willingly worked as teachers. By 1839, however, a great number of these Afrikaners settled in present-day Natal and founded the Boer Republic of Natal. Under the Boer Republic of Natal, the Volksraad was started to manage and deliver education in Natal. Although education was, in general, largely disregarded, in 1841, with the approval of the government, the Church Council of Port Natal set up a church and a school on government land.

In 1843, however, the British seized Natal from the Afrikaners and established the Colony of Natal. Similar to their response to British colonial rule at the Cape, the greater part of the Afrikaner population moved away from Natal and, once more, journeyed into the inner regions of the land. Reminiscent of British colonial rule at the Cape and, yet again, different from the Afrikaners, in Natal, the British saw education as a tool that could be used to extend British culture and values and, because they did, they were determined to develop education in the colony. As a consequence, a lot of British people, British teachers, established themselves in the colony and, a small amount of those who did, found schools through their own will and efforts, establishing a British system of education in these schools. The first school was founded in 1849 and, by 1851, government funds were being set aside to support these privately-established schools in the villages, provided that English was taught in each school. Like the Cape, church and private schools were also established. Despite these developments in education, only a small number of children attended school. Attendance still wasn’t compulsory.

Representative and Responsible Government

By 1856, Natal no longer fell under the management of the colonial administration of the Cape and instead, was ruled by a representative government. In 1858, a Select Committee was formed and within the same year, the Central Board of Education was established. Local school committees, recommended by the 2 commissions of enquiry that were formed during the early 1850s, were launched, allowing parents, caregivers, and the greater community to have a say in educational concerns. A schooling system, which was also recommended by the 2 commissions of enquiry, divided into state and state-aided schools, was also established. Furthermore, the Board also appointed the first Superintendent of Education in 1859 and, from that time on, education in Natal reflected the nature of the appointed Head of Education. For example, while T Warwick Brooks (1872-1876) addressed the establishment of boarding schools, establishing boarding schools in Greytown and several areas, Dr Robert Russell (1879-1903), on the other hand, focused on allowing the instruction of other languages, Dutch, German, and isiZulu – with the latter only being taught after school – in schools on the condition that the instruction of these languages didn’t interfere with the instruction of the English language.

Although there were a lot of developments in education under representative government, schools, however, still failed to draw in as many children as the British colonial administration had hoped. By the 1890s when education fell under responsible government, there were a lot of interruptions that shook developments in education in the colony. First, Zululand was integrated into the colony in 1897. Second, the British were engaged in the South African War from 1899. While education wasn’t as interrupted in the British colonies as it was in the Afrikaner colonies, it still was, however, interrupted. Despite that, there were some developments in education during the last decade of the 19th century. In 1894, the powers of the Council of Education, the Council that was also responsible for the administration of African schools, were passed on to the Department of Education and, in 1895, the adjusted guidelines for state schools, guidelines that were introduced to British primary schools, were shared. In addition, since the number of children that were attending schools was still fairly small, to increase numbers, suggestions were put forward to make school attendance compulsory and to assign school attendance officials.

African Education

The British, once again, set on extending British culture and values, gave more attention to the education of Africans than the Afrikaners did. Be that as it may, they were also set on using education to create and maintain their position of power. Thus, although schools were established throughout the century and African children were educated in these schools, these schools were, however, established in very poor and isolated areas where Africans were largely found. What’s more, there was also a general plan by the government to segregate people according to race and because of this policy, Africans were placed in reserves and were required to carry passes. It was in these reserves that African schools were built, using African labour to build these schools. These reserves were, for the most part, poor. Africans were isolated and set to these reserves because they were expected to live and remain there.

The kind of education that Africans received also played an important role in the effort to keep Africans within inferior positions. Africans did not just have a separate curriculum but the kind of schooling that they received was intended to develop them into people who could do work that was believed to be less important in society. The British believed that the purpose of education was not only to extend their culture and values to Africans but as well, to educate them so that they could only do particular work. For example, in a statement made to the Natal Native Commission in 1881, it was stated that: “If the natives are to be taught at all, they should be taught industry. I do not myself see much use in teaching the natives to read and write without teaching them to make use of their hands as well. Industrial instruction should form the most important part of native schooling.” (Source: Christie, 1991: 42). Thus, while there were great developments in education during the 19th century and more children were in schools in than ever before, it was also a time where education was still being used to influence and oppress Africans.

References and Further Readings

Booyse, J. J., le Roux, C. S., Seroto, J., & Wolhuter, C. C. (2011). A History of Schooling. Van Schaik Publishers

Christie, P. (1991). The Right to Learn: The Struggle for Education in South Africa. Sached Trust/Ravan Press Publication

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