Founded in 1869 outside of Durban as the first high school for southern African women, Inanda Seminary remained an independent, prestigious school through apartheid. Generations of path-breaking black professional women came of age in its classrooms: teachers and health workers, activists and intellectuals, artists and entrepreneurs. In A World of Their Own: A History of South African Women’s Education (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2013), Meghan Healy-Clancy argues that Inanda survived segregation and apartheid because even as white officials treated black men’s education beyond a basic level as politically threatening, they treated black women’s education as key to stabilizing society. Through the apartheid years, black political movements encouraged this perception: even when women were political leaders, they remained ‘mothers of the nation’. As officials continued to see women’s education as politically innocuous, however, rising numbers of young women were pursuing schooling as an opportunity to improve their lives and those of their families. In the process, they both challenged white rule and transformed relations between women and men. This excerpt from the book examines how this dynamic played out at Inanda Seminary after 1976.
In June 1976, Sikose Mji was training as a secretary at Inanda Seminary, in the course that had been launched with funding from American corporations avoiding divestment and with the support of KwaZulu leader Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi. But Mji was not interested in using her schooling to sustain the society that existed beyond Inanda, a society that capitalists and elites like Buthelezi structured. She came from a political family, who had sneaked her into ‘coloured’ schools and to Lesotho for a decade of schooling; her father was a doctor and had been a pioneering member of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, and her brother was a South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) leader. Mji chose Inanda to ‘become broad minded as well as to be more able to understand the people with whom we live in everyday life’. She soon declared her ambition to replicate her campus in the world beyond, in a searing poem in Inanda’s newspaper:
Living in a world of their own
you’d think they’re the happiest in the world
not knowing that they suffer
suffer during their holidays …
… Outside Inanda is the real world
a world that challenges the African girl
a world that challenges humanity
a world outside Inanda Seminary
So permanently you’re faced with reality
permanently you have to fight
and permanently you are faced with
a challenge of building another Inanda Seminary
but this time outside Inanda
for the world of Inanda is not your world
Inanda gave Mji the political space to articulate a critique of the social order to which her training was supposed to contribute. But making this critique was not enough: she abandoned her studies shortly after this poem appeared to join in the Soweto student protests, after which she joined the ANC and studied in Zambia. These protests, through which Mji sought to create a new world beyond Inanda’s bounds, emerged directly out of the rapid expansion of black schooling, through which apartheid ideologues had believed they could develop a divided society.
Life history interviews with Inanda alumnae suggest the broader possibilities that education continued to hold for African girls at the upper echelons. In the decade after Soweto, Inanda remained a beacon of protection and possibility for daughters of an embattled black bourgeoisie, as well as for girls who had grown up in abject conditions in rural and urban areas. The fourteen women I interviewed who attended Inanda between 1976 and 1986 came from around South Africa: while half were from KwaZulu, three came from townships near Johannesburg and Pretoria, and four came from the Eastern Cape. Their reflections on the meanings of schooling suggest the resilience of not only early Black Consciousness ideals, but also 1930s ‘New African’ ideals of education as a source of pride and self-efficacy after 1976 – amongst Inanda students, and in the communities whence they came.
Visions of boarding school as an ideal site for coming-of-age ran deep in some African families, particularly those with elite histories. Khanyisile Kweyama was born in a township outside of Pretoria to a graduate of the old Adams College, who sent two daughters to Inanda and one of his sons to Amanzimtoti. Although the latter was state-run, ‘it was his alma mater’, and maintained his sentimental allegiance. ‘For my parents, most importantly, Inanda Seminary was a girls’ school, and it had a reputation that it was an excellent school. The so-called white schools were not an option at the time I went to school.’ Her parents enrolled her youngest brother in a historically white school in Pretoria just after she graduated from Inanda. Her parents’ goals, Kweyama suggested, were to protect their children, to enable their mobility and to transcend apartheid’s limitations: ‘The rest of the country is burning, and our parents have protected us in this little enclave because they could afford to protect us there. Even though June ’76 was a turning point, it didn’t start with ’76. Our parents were probably thinking ahead,’ she said. Her father, a medical technician, hoped that Kweyama would become a doctor.
Ndo Nyembezi (1975–1980), the daughter of a lawyer and niece of a professor who sent their daughters to Inanda, also emphasised her elite schooling as a ‘family thing’. But as she put it, ‘Soweto changed everything’ about Inanda. When she first arrived, Inanda remained the ‘island’ that alumnae of the 1960s had described. ‘We weren’t part of the community, we weren’t part of the society, we lived in this high-faluting world of books and drama and debate, and the people we debated with and played with often weren’t black schools,’ Nyembezi recalled. ‘We were twilight kids. We’re neither fish nor fowl.’ As unrest first spread,
Despite students’ political engagements, parents were right to imagine that Inanda would protect their daughters from political violence and prepare them academically. In 1976, thirty-five students matriculated; the next year, seven of these matriculants enrolled at the University of Natal Medical School, five went to the University of Zululand and five attended Fort Hare. There were over 2 000 applicants to Inanda in 1977, many of whom were fleeing township schools.
Nonhlanhla Khumalo (1979–1982), who grew up in Soweto, ‘was thrown into boarding school because of the 1976 riots’. Her mother had taught at and her brothers had attended Orlando High School, one of the institutions at which the Soweto uprisings began. In 1977, her parents sent her to school with her grandmother in the Transvaal countryside to avoid the urban warfare surrounding her parents’ home, and to continue her schooling. Her parents, both teachers, believed fervently in education, and sent all of their children to boarding school in KwaZulu: Khumalo had a sister at Amanzimtoti and a brother at the state-created Dlangezwa. She reflected:I think, for me, Inanda was the best experience that any girl could ever expect. Especially at the time. Because, I mean, we grew up at a time when – I mean, I had just been through 1976. Now you have to imagine the scene. You are ten years old. People are being shot at like flies. I mean, people are just dying all around you. And there’s a funeral this Saturday, and you know, that as you are going to the funeral, there will be another funeral the following weekend. And your friends, your brother’s friends, someone is dying. I mean, it was just mayhem in Soweto, you know?She vividly remembers her first train ride from Johannesburg to Durban, a journey she made with other Inanda students:
What happened, right from the moment you arrived, was that people started saying ‘members’. ‘Come here, member. Come here, member.’ And it was the most phenomenal
thing … You’re feeling threatened, you’ve left home, but all of a sudden you’re being welcomed into this camaraderie that you know nothing about … I also fit, I also belonged.
Khumalo’s connections with Inanda’s multiracial staff kindled this feeling. She noted that when she first arrived,
I hated white people, like a passion. Because the only white people that I really saw closely were the soldiers carrying guns in the township. There weren’t any other white people that I knew closely. So I associated white people with evil, and death, and cruelty, and all those negative feelings.
Her American maths teacher, Karen Roy, was the first white person she trusted. But the most remarkable individual she encountered was Constance Koza, Inanda’s first black woman principal (1979–1986):
I’d come out of Soweto, okay. Out of – you know – an environment that said white people were better than you were. Then you come to Inanda and you get a multiracial staff, with a black principal. What a lady. What a lady. Wow. Firstly, she was extremely articulate. She was very confident, you know. And she was just – I think, to this day, I am struggling to find a lady who dresses better than MaKoza. Eish. Smart, hey?
A proud Inanda and Fort Hare alumna, Koza emblematised older ideals of ‘New African’ womanhood, pointing to the promises of missionary modernity as an antidote to the depravations of apartheid. Karen Roy recalled:
Of course, she was educated long before apartheid. So there was a worldliness about her experience and exposure that brought good things to Inanda. She invoked the history, particularly from that perspective, from its founding as a mission. I think that she knew that Inanda had been influential in her life and she wanted it to be influential for everyone who crossed those gates. That was clear.
Her thing was, your chest must stand upright. Your head must be held high. This is who you are. You are an Inanda girl. And this is how you walk. And when you talk, you lift your head up and look people in the eye. She was amazing, you know. And it was wonderful to see a black woman command that amount of respect.
Vuyo Ncwaiba (1984–1985) also underscored ‘how Mrs. Koza would make an issue of the way that you would stand, even in chapel. You cannot be leaning against the chairs, even if you’re dying. Little things like that, you know. You must stand tall, and be proud.’ Ncwaiba had come from East London, where students boycotted school in 1980 and 1983. ‘My dad felt, you know, this township thing is a waste of time. So we must find you a school, a good girls’ school where you’ll be locked in, and study, and focus, and, so that’s how I got to know about Inanda.’ She felt that
leaving Inanda you could almost feel you could conquer the world and do everything and anything that you wanted to do. You had the mentality that there were no limitations. You must just fly to whatever. I think also, looking at people that came before us, you would always find a member … You would go out there, and you would feel like, ‘You know what? I come from Inanda, and I’m going to make this happen’.
‘MaKoza. I think she opened up our minds to a whole lot of possibilities,’ Nomsa Makhoba (1981–1985), who came from a village in northern KwaZulu, concurred.
I think the one value or culture I took out of Inanda was the spirit of excellence. Just wanting to be the best that I could be. In fact I never look at myself as a woman. I look at myself in terms of abilities and limitations. So if I have an opportunity, I’ll go into with my opportunities to see what I can and cannot do. But I never say, ‘I am a woman, and therefore – because it’s a man’s world.’ I don’t look at myself that way.
Her classmate Pamela Dube (1980–1984), from Natal’s South Coast, suggested the meanings of such a sense of self-efficacy for young women from rural areas. Her childhood in KwaMakuta ‘had a big impact on my actually having really been so grateful that a school like Inanda exists. Because there were some, you know, expectations for a girl child to grow a certain way, and you already had people thinking, you know, you were going to be their future wife or something.’ At age ten, she wore a headscarf to town so that men would assume she was married and leave her alone. Then one day she met a distant cousin, who ‘looked like a young lady … she looked very special,’ Dube recalled. ‘And when she talked about the school where she goes called Inanda Seminary, and that it’s not far from Durban and all that, I thought, my goodness, everything she said about this place, I thought, this is where I want to go.’ Her mother, a nurse and the family’s main breadwinner, sacrificed to fulfil her goal. At Inanda, Dube felt privileged to be among girls with ‘similar aspirations about becoming something, about contributing to the world’.
Epitomising Koza’s insistence that her students see themselves as the equals of anyone was the 1982 matric ball. To escort her students, Koza invited none other than the senior boys of Hilton College, Kearsney College and Michaelhouse – Natal’s most prestigious, mostly white boys’ schools. ‘They all accepted and all arrived. The girls looked stunning, the young men
looked rather dashing in their school uniforms, trousers’ seams pressed to a knife edge. Their manners were faultless,’ recalled Inanda teacher and school secretary Carroll Jacobs (1972–1974; 1981–1984). ‘The irony was that at the height of apartheid in South Africa, Inanda Seminary gave a matric dance where 99% of the young men who partnered our girls were white!’ While some colleagues found Koza’s emphasis on discipline and flair for statements such as the matric ball dramatic, she was living testimony to the limits of apartheid.
But students chafed under Koza’s emphasis on sexual shame and discipline – also direct inheritances from ‘New African’ women’s experiences. The spectre of pregnancy still haunted elite young women’s educational ambitions, as their success remained structured by their respectability. Koza recited the sermon that John Dube had delivered to her generation of Inanda students when an Inanda student became pregnant, comparing Inanda girls to ‘a garden full of roses’ and sexually active girls as buds that failed to blossom. She recalled Dube’s stark words to me in our interview: ‘You will find them in your garden, hard, dry, hollow. They did not develop. Before they could even sprout, the inside was already finished, eaten by ants and worms.’ Nozizwe Maneli recalled her words as an effort to ‘protect us’, but as unduly harsh: ‘It was like, “You know what? You are terrible people. You look like innocent kids, but you are full of worms inside. You are like a flower that is all closed up, and it’s being eaten by worms. You are rotten. You must just go now and pray for your sins.” ’ About two students a year became pregnant in the first half of the 1980s, and each pregnancy was an occasion for school-wide anxiety. Pamela Dube recalled:
If there was someone who was suspected of being pregnant after the holidays, we would be subjected to the whole school – everybody – the whole school would be subjected to an examination. I didn’t have a boyfriend, I didn’t even engage in these things, but I guess I had seen enough to know at home – where I came from, the worst thing to do was to get pregnant. But the only place where I felt safe and I felt we had the opportunities to be guided in a different way, it was just as bad, and in fact worse. And that used to really frustrate me.
The stigma around pregnancy was so acute that ‘there were also a few instances where there were fetuses found in the drain’, Siphokazi Koyana (1981–1985) said. ‘There was a man who was a groundsman, who took care of drains, and I understand there were reports that he had found – not often – fetuses, and all would be called into chapel and criticized, “You’re all rotten apples inside”.’ Girls who were discovered to be pregnant or to have had abortions were summarily expelled. Nonetheless, students experimented with sex on campus and on vacations, and sometimes boasted about it. Sexual pleasure thus enabled escape from and resistance against the strictures of respectable girlhood – but pregnancy bore steep consequences.
Given these tensions, some found that ‘MaKoza was very arrogant and very fresh and very authoritative’, as Mamsie Ntshangase put it. She and other students had organised a strike
against her in 1980, after which they were expelled – leaving them feeling ‘very beaten’. While she and most of the students apologised and were readmitted, others went to state schools, where ‘it was quite a shock to their systems because there was just no schooling happening’. While Koza was ‘a darling once you really get to know her’, she kindled a ‘fractious relationship’ with more rebellious students. Koza’s sense of pride also left an ambiguous impression on people outside the campus. Mandisa (Mesatywa) Zungu (1978–1982) married a man from the neighbouring KwaMashu township who grew up thinking of Inanda girls as ‘these black girls speaking English in West Street, in the main streets of Durban’. When I asked her to elaborate on his ideas of Inanda girls, she erupted in laughter, and replied: ‘Colonized. I mean, colonized, you can’t tell anything to an Inanda girl, stubborn. When my husband says I’m being stubborn, it’s “MaKoza”. He doesn’t even know MaKoza. “A typical MaKoza girl.” Stubborn, you know, all those things. Very independent, hey. Clever.’
This sense that Inanda girls were ‘colonized’ – a little too elite, too close to white culture – haunted other interviewees’ recollections. Khanyisile Kweyama, who joined the ANC in exile in the mid-1980s, recalled, ‘While I was in exile, I did hear some things like, “You had it nice, you went into private school”.’ Lungi (Mkhize) Kwitshana (1976–1980), whose father was a clerical worker in a township in the Natal Midlands, recalled, ‘The minute people heard that you were attending Inanda you were perceived as being upper-class.’ Nonetheless, over the course of the 1980s their younger relatives generally rejected Inanda for historically white high schools, if they had sufficient money or talent to do so. Thuthula Balfour-Kaipa remembers some of her friends – like her, children of doctors in the Transkei – abandoning Inanda for a white Catholic school in Pietermaritzburg, in the early 1980s. She explained their move simply: ‘At that time, we only had cold water. That was a very important feature really, which must not be forgotten, because it determined who went there.’
As students left Inanda for white schools in the 1980s and 1990s, Inanda’s fate would reveal the broader contradictions accompanying educated black women’s growing achievements. While the black elite feminised, most women – like youth from Inanda’s surrounding community – were still left behind. On the one hand, educated women’s rejection of apartheid’s core visions helped make it unsustainable. On the other hand, some women’s empowerment within male-dominated political and professional realms coincided with many women’s deepening disempowerment, amidst economic crisis and political revolution.
A World of Their Own: A History of South African Women’s Education will be launched at WISER at Wits University on August 5 at 5pm. It is available at Exclusive Books.