South African Education Suffers the “Ghana Syndrome” – By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
For most of the twentieth century, the fundamentally blistering problems with public education in South Africa were aptly blamed on the deliberately racist policies of the now-erstwhile Apartheid regime of the Boer-Afrikaners (See “Nobel Writer Scorns S. Africa Education as ‘A Wreck’” 7/31/12).

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Eighteen years into democratic African majority rule in “Mandelaland,” it is becoming increasingly clear that African politicians, all over the continent, in fact, are far more interested in lining their pockets with pelf – or undeserved public dole – than tirelessly and sacrificially working towards the rapid intellectual and cultural emancipation of their people.

Indeed, so abjectly dehumanizing has the situation become that some former ardent critics of the erstwhile Apartheid regime are beginning to wonder whether, in fact, the deposed racist regime would not have fared remarkably better under the present circumstances. Under the Afrikaner regime, the problem with indigenous African public education was largely one of quality and relevance, particularly in the galling wake of “Bantustanization.”

Now, though, with the African National Congress (ANC) government having been in charge of affairs for nearly two decades now, the problem has come to revolve around the virtual non-delivery of such curricular fundamentals as textbooks and other stationery supplies. Just recently, it shockingly came to light that for more than half of the current academic year, over 5,000 schools, largely located in the countryside, had gone without textbooks. And contrary to what one may be reasonably led to suspect, this has not been due to a group of white supremacists steadily, consistently and fairly successfully attacking supply lines – or routes – but primarily because government appointees charged with facilitating the smooth-running of the public educational system woefully lack the professional discipline and the requisite sense of civic responsibility to carry out the same.

Consequently, it comes as absolutely no surprise, at all, that civil society groups have mounted pressure on President Jacob Zuma to have him fire Education Minister Angie Motshekga. This ramshackle state of affairs also aptly prompted the country’s best-known Nobel Literature Prize laureate, Ms. Nadine Gordimer, who is now 88 years old, to characterize the situation as both a “shambles” and a “total wreck.”

This heart-rending observation comes shortly after another Nobel (Peace) Prize laureate and former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, bitterly lamented that were 94-year-old former President Nelson R. Mandela aware of the indescribably poor state of the country’s public educational system, “he would be reduced to tears.”

It is not clear, though, whether, indeed, merely dismissing Ms. Motshekga, the country’s education minister, per se, would in any way appreciably meliorate the problem. Needless to say, the problem appears to more systemic than personal, although it is also quite likely that the sector minister’s own administrative ineptitude may have significantly compounded the same.

The situation in not-so-far-away Ghana is not very different. In the latter instance, the spotlight on public education seems to have been inordinately focused on the patently regressive politics of scoring cheap electoral points. Until his tragic, albeit not altogether unexpected, passing on July 24, 2012, for example, Ghana’s President John Evans Atta-Mills’ government of the so-called National Democratic Congress (NDC) had focused on the cosmetic aspect of supplying a one-size-fits-all school uniforms and cheap exercise books, with the more fundamentally significant aspects of textbook supplies and curricular development virtually left in the lurch.

In sum, while it may appear on the surface of it to be progressive, nevertheless, the disturbingly cosmetic Ghanaian case in point ended up with the same dispiriting results of churning out semi-literate graduates, in the best-case scenario, and complete illiterates – in both the official language of instruction as well as indigenous language development, for the most part.

Also, in the Ghanaian context, what made matters even more insufferable was the fact of the country’s late president having been a veteran and senior professor at Ghana’s flagship academy, the University of Ghana.

Ghana’s ruling National Democratic Congress has also whittled away at the quality of the country’s high school system by reducing its curricular duration from four to three years, with the rather lame policy pretext of cost cutting. The old system that made this postcolonial leader’s quality of education the envy of the entire African continent was five years, plus an elite two-year pre-university – or advanced level – system inherited from Britain.

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is Director of The Sintim-Aboagye Center for Politics and Culture and author of “Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana” (, 2005). E-mail:

The opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or have the endorsement of the Editorial Board f and