A new student group formed to aid Black South African schools met for the first time last night.
About 20 members of Aid to South African Students (ASAS) heard a description of those schools' inadequacies from Saths Cooper, president of the South African Zanani Movement (SAZM). Cooper said his group represents about three-quarters of Black South African students studying in the United States.
Non-white South Africans face serious obstacles to education in non-technical fields, Cooper told the group.
Kennedy School student Moka Ngolo Mpati, president of the new group, said he hoped it would become a national organization raising funds for Black South African schools. But for now, he said, its leaders want to concentrate on raising money for materials to send to South Africa.
ASAS members plan to raise money and buy school materials, such as computers, science textbooks and paper, then ship them to schools that either the Harvard Graduate School of Education or SAZM has targeted as needy, Mpati said. Group leaders also said they hoped to send U.S. teachers to South Africa to work in Black schools and to help train Black South African teachers.
Cooper said the complete segregation of the South African school system makes education far more difficult for Blacks and "coloured" residents. Education has become not a tool for learning, but another way for the Soweto government to oppress South Africa's indigenous people, he said. But he said this same segregation has worked towards its own destruction.
"Education is the soft underbelly of apartheid and means different things to different people," Cooper said. "For the government it means more domination, more enslavement to make Black men and women to think they are only good as manual laborers. But this has created resentment." That, in turn, has radicalized the few Blacks allowed to enroll in college, Cooper said.
Kurt Cambell, a lecturer on public policy at the Kennedy School, noted that South Africa spends 14 times as much money per white grammar school student as on each Black student.
Campbell added that ASAS' plan to send materials to the schools would be more effective than sending money.
"Sending money to South Africa is difficult unless the group is directed by the government itself," Campbell said. "My own view is that Harvard should extend larger and more scholarships to South African students."
"The only end here is to work for the improvement of the South African Education system," Mpati said. "We also want to rely on South African students in the U.S. to point out what schools need help. We...have a non-political aim."
Mpati said ASAS would remain apolitical to better attract large numbers of students.
He also said many corporations will donate money to an organization they know is not working for political ends. He said he would meet later this week with representatives from one corporation to discuss funding.
ASAS does not plan to become an official Harvard organization, Mpati said, because it hopes to become a national group working to improve the education of South African students.
"We are for students at many U.S. universities, not just one," Mpati said.