Project Cape Town

This teaching case focuses on educational vignettes in three South African high schools that were among the first to integrate prior to the election of Nelson Mandela. The case encourages people to think about educational life in places that are distant, both geographically and philosophically

Education and Integration in South Africa

Project Cape Town is a multimedia teaching case designed to encourage reflective practice in teachers. The case draws its material from three schools that were among the first to become integrated in South Africa. The events were filmed in November 1993 immediately before the approval of the constitution that governed elections which brought Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress into parliamentary control.

Music Class

Camps Bay High School is in an affluent section of Cape Town overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. This newly integrated school educates students from extremely diverse cultures.

In one music class, we find subtle tension between cultures. Black students sing tribal songs they learned informally as children. Each time they sing a particular song it sounds different. They begin spontaneously, changing inflection, volume, and tone, and finish when the moment seems right.

Their white music teacher, grounded in a tradition with formal, arranged music, encourages students to honor the musical tradition of their own culture. Yet, implicitly, she seems to value the European performance style.

Basic Issues of Language and Discipline

An Afrikaans language teacher at Camps Bay High School, who also speaks Xhosa and English, talks about relationships between cultural backgrounds and interpretation of behavior. In one example, she describes why some groups of black students speak loudly in class—a characteristic often misinterpreted by those unfamiliar with the students’ culture.

The teacher describes another scenario in which cultural background might affect disciplinary actions. A local white student arrives late at school and is punished. Black students often travel nearly two hours to get to school and are frequently late for school. The white students don’t understand why they should be disciplined for late arrival, when their black schoolmates are not punished.

Address to Student Assembly

A senior student speaks to her peers at morning convocation. She reflects on the realities of her experiences at Westerford High School.

These days, some black students find themselves in formerly all-white schools. Black, white, and so-called coloured students can be seen in the same buildings, but they are not often seen or heard talking, laughing, or working together outside class. In other words, the system has begun to desegregate, but it has only begun to integrate.

All students come to school with assumptions about one another. They attend classes together, wear the same school colors, and cheer for school teams. But students cannot know each other well until they interact with one another socially. School provides formal opportunities for students to interact in these “open” schools, but these opportunities are limited and formal. If young South Africans are to work for a common future, they need to know more about each other—they need to associate with each other often, naturally and informally. Yet, they often choose not to associate across racial lines.

Teaching Decisions

An English teacher at Pinelands High School organizes students in cooperative groups to facilitate a discussion of how people perceive one another. The teacher puts on hats and asks students to identify him by his appearance—”A farmer, a Boer, a cowboy… a king, an Englishman, a magician, a granny, a Mexican, a scarecrow, a milkmaid, a baby…”

To demonstrate the diversity in the class, he asks students to greet their group members in as many languages as possible. One group can do so in seven languages—an amazing feat even in a country that now has nine official languages.

The teacher moves the discussion to how people “interpret” one another. His examples demonstrate how we form stereotypes defined by observable characteristics—clothes, behaviors, skin color.


The English teacher puts on hats and asks students who they think he is. He makes the point that people are continually making judgments from a variety of information.

Transcript of lesson:

“OK, so the first is, who am I, and who could I be? Excuse me? A farmer… Good. A Boer… A cowboy… Thank you for that ranch! And finally … A milkmaid… A baby… I could change your perception of me very, very quickly. And as we go through life, we encounter people, and we interpret them.”