The Effect of Apartheid on Black Children Based on the Example Given in Sindiwe Magona’s Mother to Mother. A Lesson Plan

Teaching Literature of the 20th Century

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2017

29 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

Literary Analysis
1 Introduction
2 Story Analysis
2.1 Key Concepts and Historical Background
2.2 The Historical Facts and the Novel
2.3 Characterization and Central Motifs
2.4 Composition
3 Conclusion

Didactic Analysis
4 Relevance According to the Curriculum
5 The Group of Learners
6 Intention of the lesson
7 Analysis of Methods

Works Cited


Literary Analysis

1 Introduction

Under the apartheid regime, black South African literature was barely existent. The “[…] imprisonment, banning orders and censorship that characterized the next three decades [after 1956] led many black writers into exile” with their literary work being mostly unavailable to black South African readers (Warnes 339). This void was filled by works emerging under the strong influence of the Black Consciousness movement (341, Ndebele 147) expressing their feelings in mainly plays and poetry. The literature published “[…] often aggressively explored ideas of blackness” (ibid.) addressing nuisances, injustices and sufferings in a subtle way illustrating the “pervasive denigration” (ibid.) experienced on a daily basis.

South African literature of the 20th century cannot be fully grasped by the category of post-colonial literature as “The advent of self-rule in 1910 […], moments […] iconically postcolonial, in South Africa meant the entrenchment of white power […]” (Warnes 329). The overcoming of colonialism in South Africa did not lead to freedom and equal treatment; on the contrary, it further intensified maltreatment, segregation and persecution of ethnic groups ranking low in the hierarchy of ethnicities in South Africa. Even literature published after the end of apartheid in 1994 cannot fully be captured as being post-colonial, as the system’s marks are still visible on people, their lives and thus, literature. Consequently, another literary category has to be constructed: post-apartheid literature. This genre deviates from post-colonial literature as it not only reviews the maltreatment and tries to come to terms with it but also points out consequences still affecting South African Society today. When authors began to return from their exiles, they started the process of rehabilitation, rediscovering their “Africanness” (348) showing “signs of the release of creative freedoms” (349) with a large number of novels were published, such as Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying, Zoe Wicomb’s David’s Story, and Sindiwe Magona’s Mother to Mother. These novels illustrate the various facets and challenges of South Africa in the transitional post-apartheid phase providing post-apartheid literature with “the key defining quality of South African post-coloniality [: …] its texturedness.” (329).

Sindiwe Magona’s Mother to Mother, published in 1993, adds to that by transferring facts into fiction incorporating an actual historical event, the murder of white American Amy Biehl in a black township, into a fictional story putting all the struggles and consequences of the apartheid system at display without maintaining well-established clichés and accusations: “the narrative emphasizes the white victim’s innocence” instead of raising the question of white people’s guilt and, “in a blurring of the boundary lines between the perpetrator and victim, also depicts the perpetrator as a victim of his racial identity and his growing up under apartheid […]” (Altnöder 76).

The literary analysis of this paper will focus on the above mentioned aspect of the consequences and effects of apartheid on South African youths after apartheid had come to an end. Therefore, the topics of race, racism and apartheid will be covered as the conceptual backbone to the analysis alongside with the aspects of motherhood, and Fanon’s Fact of Blackness theory. Additionally, a short overview on the historical context will be provided in order to understand the described struggles and developments. Furthermore, the main characters will be analyzed as well as central motifs accompanied by a closer look at the novel’s composition and stylistic devices. The second part of this paper covers the didactic analysis. As the fictitious lesson in a German classroom at Gymnasium (Oberstufe) will deal with topics in the context of cross-cultural encounters, the focus will be set on apartheid and its consequences, aligning with the focus of the literary analysis.

2 Story Analysis

2.1 Key Concepts and Historical Background

Understanding South African apartheid requires knowledge of the basic concepts of race and racism. According to Ashcroft, the term race tries to classify humans into physically, biologically and genetically distinct groups according to their physical features (Ashcroft & al., 199). Prerequisite to this is the assumption that these definite signs are naturally given, fixed as they are inherited through the blood, and qualify to group mankind. Race further assumes the race-related features to influence behavior, attitude, and personalities, ideas and intelligence and serves base for conclusions and explanations for foreign and alien traits. Furthermore, it is used to divide humanity into unchanging types. Colonizers made use of the concept to legitimize their alleged supremacy; they created a binary relation between their own race and that of the dominated people.

The concept of race provided a basis to establish an ideology on it: racism. The sheer existence of a racial concept does not cause racism as such. It is rather a product of the hierarchy imperialists brought in and its perversion to an extent that reduced racial bodily features to stereotypes. Physical features were linked directly to psychological and intellectual characteristics providing measurement according to mainly Western standards.

In South Africa, the ideology of racism was institutionalized in 1948 with the ratification of the apartheid laws. The term goes back the Afrikaans word for ‘separation’ (Ashcroft & al. 14), “[…] apartheid initiatives [were] designed to limit the identity of black South Africans in premodern, ethnically bound and rural terms” (Warnes 338). Hence, these laws interfered with every aspect of social life with several acts being connected to the Apartheid laws, such as the Population Registration Act, categorizing people by racial aspects. Further acts sought to set up racial segregation in public areas, prohibiting inter-racial marriage, and the establishment of so-called homelands, causing massive restrictions for the black population (Chokshi & al.). White supremacy was further cemented as the relatively small homeland areas did not hold the majority of economic potential (Ashcroft & al. 14). Combined with a interdependence of Whites and Blacks with regard to demand for cheap labor and economic power, Blacks had to live nearby those places offering jobs. But as the Group Area Act, predetermined Black housing racially segregated townships developed (ibid.). It was the same Act that lead to forceful relocations and destruction of urban areas, Blacks had lived in for decades and as is described in Magona novel (Magona 64f.).

The educational system has always served as another important pillar in the Apartheid system (Alexander & Helbig 9) disadvantaging especially African children. By the time the National Party came into power in 1948, only a minority of Black children attended schools, which usually were missionary schools of varying religious groups (10). Next to schools depending on public funding being bound to adapt their curriculi to Western-Christian values and norms children were not allowed to use their mother tongue Xhosa (11). This lead to an education causing black children to regard their roots and traditions as inferior and requiring them to adopt Western standards (ibid.). Children were taught what colonists regarded as valuable, yet still Western, culture. While the educational approach of the missionary schools was vastly accepted, the National Party of the Boers strongly opposed education for native Africans, insisting that equal education for both Whites and Blacks would cause a significant blurring of the racial boundaries. Thus, the newly elected government introduced the so-called Boer Christian-National education (12) targeting at strong segregation of Boers and Blacks. With the school reforms being in place, Black children were taught in their mother tongue to keep their cultural identity, which oftentimes meant regression into unknown tribal communities (13). With the setback to traditional contents in Xhosa, Blacks were denied the chance to equally participate in the economy and were educated to low-paid blue collar jobs (14). Additionally, Blacks were seen as limited to physical labor only, leading to a design of the educational system that allowed only few black students to graduate in a K12 system.

In the light of the above-mentioned legal acts, the government ratified the Bantu Education Act in 1953, declaring no compulsory education for Black children along with school fees to be paid by their parents, as schooling should not cause a burden to white tax payers (16). Naturally, this led to further vast inequities which were answered by uprisings of the Black youth against Bantu Education, first peacefully with boycotts but after the violent oppression of the Soweto uprising in 1976/77 (22), youths increasingly used violence and force to fight against the system.

The Apartheid Regime ended in 1994, after decades of violent uprisings, international interventions and finally, a change in government with Nelson Mandela being the president-elect. Apartheid’s effects, however, are still tangible today (Chokshi & al.).

With the description of the social circumstances within the novel, another theoretical concept seems to be put to life. With Fanon’s Fact of Blackness illustrating the effect of repeatedly being put fixed to the bottom of every hierarchy for alleged primitiveness lead to accept the subjective images and attitudes by black people as objectively given fact (Ashcroft & al. 91f.).

Lastly, the perception of motherhood in African culture has to be looked at. In traditional Africa, becoming a wife was closely intertwined with becoming a mother, as marriage was thought for procreation (Ngcobo 534) and “African motherhood is about children” (533). The household chores were perceived as being part of the social status of a married mother (ibid.). But as traditional life has undergone some crucial alterations, it became quite common in Africa, that men live away from their families to work and consequently women “often have to combine the roles of motherhood and fatherhood in bringing up the children” (536). This leads to relationships between mothers and especially sons which can often be described as complicated, loaded with anger and frustration as well as disappointment on both sides (ibid.). Furthermore, African mothers are said to “drive their sons hard and far” in hopes for a brighter future for their children (537). Both aspects can be witnessed within Magona’s novel with Mandisa’s portray of her typical day and her feelings towards her son (Magona 22, 10).

2.2 The Historical Facts and the Novel

On the eve of the first democratic elections in South Africa, a young American Female Student engaged in helping the preparations for those elections. Amy Biehl was on a scholarship “studying the role of women" (Herman) during South Africa’s political transition phase.

When taking some of her colleagues back to a township right outside Cape Town, her car was attacked by a group of young male Blacks who threw stones at it (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, hereinafter TRC). When being wounded and forced to get out of the car, her attackers followed Amy Biehl and “continued throwing stones at her” (ibid.). “She was surrounded by between 7 and 10 people and while she was being stoned, one of her attackers stabbed her. She died as a result of the injuries they inflicted on her.“ (ibid.).

Amy Biehl died on August, 25th 1993 and is considered to be the last victim of apartheid (Altnöder 77). Her murderers were acquitted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ruling her assassination as a political act. During the hearing, the slogan “One settler, one bullet” (TRC) symbolized the political attitude which allegedly had led to the fatal attack. As the defendants convincingly explained, Amy Biehl served as an object of political hate against white suppression the commission stated that “it must be accepted that their crime was related to a political objective” (ibid.). Amy Biehl’s parents supported this decision.

Magona describes in her novel Mother to Mother the system of apartheid and vividly illustrates how this extensive domination ultimately led to the murder of an American student. Magona links the environment created by apartheid and its concomitants to a system of discrimination affecting the lives of all South Africans. For the lesson planned as described, excerpts were taken (see appendix 4) in order to analyze the situation of children under the apartheid regime and the effect of psychosocial factors induced by the system and its extensive impacts. The protagonist’s view on her children, the phlegm towards children’s behavior, the passiveness within adults and the detached acceptance of child-inflicted violence and even murder strikes the reader.

Magona instantly throws the reader into the situation depicting every parents’ worst nightmare: a child was killed by another. More strikingly is the protagonist's reaction to the incident as not surprising: “Let me say out plain, I was not surprised that my son killed your daughter” (Magona 1), creating an image of an unusual relationship between mother and son. It seems as if the character of Mandisa blames her son for everything that went wrong ever since – unknowingly – getting pregnant: “Not after that first unbelieving shock, his implanting himself inside me; unreasonably and totally destroying the me I was…the me I would have become.” (1). Consequently, the reader is engaged to contrast his own feelings towards children to the impression Magona gives of Mandisa’s feeling towards her son.

These aspects are to be analyzed within the lesson guided by the question for the impact of the Apartheid system on children.

2.3 Characterization and Central Motifs

Magona’s protagonist, Mandisa, is used to set forth the incidents that preceded the murder in a letter addressed to the victim’s mother. In the protagonist’s attempt to explain the incident, Magona uses a letter addressed to the victim’s mother to frame the narrative and continuously unearth the influences of apartheid on Mandisa and Mxolisi, her son and alleged murderer. While the victim remains unnamed, the character of Mandisa reaches out to the victim’s mother and tries to explain her son’s deeds in the light of their lives’ circumstances, focusing on her economic dilemma leading to the extrinsicly enforced neglect of her fiduciary duty. The omnipresent effects of segregation and poverty serve base for Magona to convey the increasing disenfranchisement the novel’s characters are suffering from, drawing on the historical content of apartheid. In her protagonist Mandisa, Magona creates a typical vita of township people. Being forced to drop out of school due to an unwanted pregnancy, Mandisa is forced to work. The circumstances of this pregnancy lead to additional ramifications within the novel, as Magona characterizes the mother-son relationship as ambivalent. Within the first paragraph Magona already creates a picture of a young male adolescent as root of all evil up to no good and a dark future ahead of him.


Excerpt out of 29 pages


The Effect of Apartheid on Black Children Based on the Example Given in Sindiwe Magona’s Mother to Mother. A Lesson Plan
Teaching Literature of the 20th Century
University of Koblenz-Landau  (Anglistik)
Teaching Literature – Intercultural Encounters and Communicative Competence
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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1301 KB
Teaching Literature, Sindiwe Magona, Mother to Mother, Apartheid, South Africa, Intercultural Competence, Didactics
Quote paper
Sarah Wunderlich (Author), 2017, The Effect of Apartheid on Black Children Based on the Example Given in Sindiwe Magona’s Mother to Mother. A Lesson Plan, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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