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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

05 Apr 1994: Harman, Francois

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FH     You are just interested now in what is my view as Principal, my real point of view. What I think is very important because I can't speak for other people and I'm speaking on behalf of myself and my view is that up to now according to the ...

POM     Your first name, Mr Harman, is?

FH     My name is Francois Harman. As Principal at the school when I came there things were really, let's say, disordered. There was no order in the school.

POM     That was after the new high school had been built or before?

FH     No, the high school was built already, I was a lecturer. Maybe I must give you a short background of myself. I started my career as a lecturer after finishing my studies at the Potchefstroom University. Then I was a teacher at the Koster High School at Potchefstroom, gymnasium high school, for two years and ten months. Then I got a post as head of department of African languages at the College of Education for Further Training. While I was there I was a lecturer and head of the department for ten years, up to 1989. While I was there I was involved at UNISA as a lecturer, part-time lecturer, and at the Pretoria University. Then I decided to come to buy a farm and to do farming and writing, that sort of thing. After coming to Zeerust I was teaching at the school for one month, getting a job at a college in Bophuthatswana. I was lecturing there for a little bit, more or less two years. Then I came back to this school as Principal since 1992, July.

     OK, the school since I was there in 1990 at the school and then in 1992 when I go back to the school things happened. The whole area becomes part of the whole political disruption and so on. So the first act was to get everything in good order and try to strive for the best possible education. As a Principal of the school that's your aim. I think we managed in that because we improved about 14% higher, improved the matric results and after that let's say the atmosphere of the school was really quite well. I don't think it was maybe from the first interviews I have with the teachers was that they lived with fear. They said please sir, we live in fear for the kids. Black teachers, yes, black teachers, all the teachers. The live in fear. So they pleaded with me, please just try to do something that we can be safe.

     The only way to do that is just to bring order back and discipline in the school and I stopped then to hit the students. There was no corporal punishment any more in the school. No teacher was allowed to give any corporal punishment except in the office and in the office I'd just do corporal punishment just in exceptional cases because each and every case was a sort of a law case. They want to have a judgement, you can't just show your cane. Then you get to do a lot of education to give the students reason to think about what they are doing, to teach them norms and basic principles.

POM     After you came in were there disruptions, stayaways?

FH     I'm telling you from that point everything went really well since I started there in mid July, so in 1993 I changed the school to be acting like a first world school, avocation, and just as the white schools running in the And things went very wonderful and then Chris Hani's death was, let's say, that crossroad last year. And thereafter the ANC, I was phoned by the police one night because I said they mustn't go in and cause any drama before at least they contact me. And then it happened that Sunday night and they phoned me that they've got messages from the township that they are coming to the white township and they are going to make disruption and drama and so on. And I said, "No, I will go first to talk or see if I can work out a solution." They refused to let me go alone so after a discussion ...

POM     'They' being?

FH     Go alone into the township while everything was going on and the toyi-toying and so on. Then I said at the end I will go in with the Commander of the police here, in private uniform. I said OK. And when we got there I was talking to them, I see there's no real problem because they were just toyi-toying but then some of them started asking questions, "Who is that chap with you?" Then one said, "This is a policeman." It's just like putting petrol into a fire and then they started throwing stones and one tried to get the pistol of the policeman and that sort of act. The policeman just shot in the air but it was drama and then the ANC tried to make an issue out of me and say I'm the Principal bringing the police and disruption into the location. So they used this for a whole week, two weeks, to disrupt the whole school.

POM     So would children not come to school?

FH     Yes but it's drama and it even closed the school after it was very dangerous to get to the school for people. It's stone throwing and that sort of thing. I experienced a situation when I was it happened I just moved between them, they just break the road.

POM     Now were children being intimidated by - ?

FH     Intimidated by the ...

POM     By their peers?

FH     No, not by their parents.

POM     No, by their peers.

FH     No, I hear you, I've got you quite clear. Intimidated by the ANC. The ANC used this and had the small groups and they influenced them and they influenced their peers, the rest of their peers. So it's a whole organised situation that you must think about, but we have had discussions with the Peace Committee and United Nations and all those people and we tried to solve the problem because they want to make an issue out of it so that it can get announcements and support overall. So in the end everything was solved. They tried to chase me away. I said, "Man, I haven't done anything wrong, I will not be chased away by anybody. I'm here for education, I'm here for the safety of the students and that's that." At the end we get to a conclusion, they demanded to take over a few things like the management committee, they want to get in the powers of the school.

     OK, certain things are just impossible because it's just OK that there's law, there's government, there's a system of education. You just can't throw something away and just put somebody in. But at the end we say, OK, we agree on one demand where they will look to the school uniforms, the school funds and that sort of, let's say, basic issues. We agreed on that after a week. I just informed my teachers, OK, you handle no case further because they would come and handle these cases, you are here for education, you just offer the best possible education. That's that then. Any other further issues you are not involved in that.

     After a week I've got to that feeling that I'm still a responsible Principal, I just can't leave everything go on. I phoned and then we get the management of the staff together, the HODs, the Deputy Principal and the Principal, the whole team, and then we said we can't go ahead because education must go on. Then we call the ANC. They never come. They just phone, "Are there any demands?" No demands, we just want to talk to you to try to solve the situation. You asked for certain responsibility, you haven't done anything about it. Come and do your job. The day after there was a committee from a sub-organisation from the ANC, this COSAS and there was an organisation of students taking care of COSAS and I called those students to the office, we talked to them and said what are we going to do now? This is what we have done. That was the agreement that you are going to handle this issue. Nothing happened. We can't go ahead so is that what you want? They say, "No." And what are your suggestions? At the end they say we must get in contact with them, but nothing happened. I said, "But you are not democratically chosen." And then they ask us to let them go to the classes. I call the teachers to the staff room and I say, "OK, there is no influence on the side of the teachers. You can go, choose your organisation democratically and then we can see if we can talk to those bodies." In spite of that there was an attempt to present their committee which was chosen democratically but that wasn't acceptable for them because they were not all members of the ANC.

     Then they go to the classes, when they got there the students just started running out because of fear and it's drama and they put bad things to them and they dishonoured them in such a way that nothing happened.

POM     So in your view the ANC wouldn't have much support among the pupils who were going to school, or among the people in general?

FH     I'll come to that point. I'll just give you this background so that you have an overview. Then the students didn't get anywhere, nobody was chosen that day. They came to my office just before the closing of the school that day. I called my management and then they said, "We are resigning from this body, we hate it, we don't want to be involved any more in this", and they pleaded with us to go back to the previous way that we handled everything so that the teachers are managing the school in the way that it must be managed. We first tried to put pressure on them, saying, "No, we can't do that because after a week you'll just go to the ANC and say this and that happened, now we took the powers over and this and this is the problem again." But after discussion they pleaded, "Please, take over everything again, run the school the way you know to run the school."

POM     It was the ANC who was saying this?

FH     The COSAS, the Youth League of the ANC. We agreed on that and I said, "OK, but you must still know I need your support because it's not the way that we are going to run the school in a good manner now but you are going to give us trouble, so it just means you are still involved in the best going of the school." And because I had good relations with all the pupils, ANC, PAC, all the other ordinary ones who are not involved in that sort of politics, and they said OK and we started recovering everything. To get back to a normal system again takes time where everything was tried to disrupt it and every day there's that sort of influence.

     After a month or two it changed, it changed a lot and we just put our feet down and said OK that's that, you agreed on this, we get on. Up to the end of the year everything recovers normally. Beginning of this year there was action from that sort of group every now and then. When I started at the school every second week they wanted to chase a teacher away, every second week they want to chase a teacher away. In our discussions during the time of Chris Hani, after that time, I put one demand to the ANC, I said, "I have also one demand", because they had just demands. "What is your demand?" I said, "I want one thing. One, if you are going to try to chase one teacher away from this school, anyone, any more, all the teachers will go and we close the school." It was just a form of letting them think and I must say since then nothing happened like that. Before that every second week kids were in your class, in your office, this teacher is not good. It's not the colour, whether he's black or white, everyone if they are not satisfied with something, somebody.

POM     During this whole period did many teachers resign?

FH     No teachers resigned. I just motivated the staff. No teacher resigned and the co-operation between the staff was very wonderful. I took them away onto my farm and we had a braai and we motivated the staff to stand together to see that I'm not going to leave them alone. I think we managed a lot in that no teacher resigned, all of them stand together and I think they tried a lot and worked very wonderfully to give the best possible education under those circumstances.

POM     And this is a school that's 100% black? In Zeerust itself it's 100% white. Is there any effort being made to integrate the schools, to have some black children go to the white school or white children go to the black school?

FH     For a visit or something like that?

POM     No not for a visit.

FH     To go to the white school? No, that is something which must be done by the management of the school. Somebody must go and apply, can they go to the white school?

POM     Some child must apply?

FH     Yes, black children can, anyone can go to the white school and apply if they can go to the white school. Because I'm not at the white school, I can't answer these questions. What I know is that the management discusses those issues and they decide on those issues.

POM     The management of the white school?

FH     At the white school. At the black school there were no coloured students. Many coloured students came to our school since I've been there and many students came from Johannesburg, Soweto, Krugersdorp, they come back to the farms, to this school. So the numbers of the school grow from 930 when I came there up to 1200 now. There is a growth of more than 300 students in these two years. What else is important is if a white person comes to that school he's very welcome, there is no problem with it. There are many coloured students. The only problem, they must be able to speak Setswana, that's an African language, because it's a compulsory subject to that school.

POM     Is that compulsory to the white school too?

FH     At the white school no. I am lecturing on a part-time basis, I'm giving Setswana at the white school.

PAT     Is instruction in Setswana in any subject?

FH     At the high school? No instruction. In the subject Setswana everything is in Setswana. In all the other subjects the instruction is through the medium of English except when they are giving Afrikaans because they have the three languages, English, Afrikaans and Setswana. So Setswana is through the medium of Setswana, Afrikaans is through the medium of Afrikaans and then English and all the other subjects are through the medium of English, so instruction is in English. So instruction is through English.

POM     And that doesn't apply to what languages are spoken?

FH     Most blacks here speak Setswana.

PO     But in the white high school how many?

FH     In the white high school this community is Afrikaans speaking so when I'm teaching ...

POM     So they do Afrikaans and English then?

FH     In the white school?

POM     Yes.

FH     In the white school the medium is Afrikaans.

POM     They do everything through Afrikaans?

FH     Everything's through Afrikaans despite English but because the whole community is an Afrikaans community; but the black community, Tswana community, because of their history instruction is through English.

POM     Do you end up in a peculiar situation where many blacks are more fluent in English than are white children?

FH     Yes I think it's possible because the medium of instruction you know what we have experienced last year is the failure rate of Standard Sixes because many of our Standard Six students come from farm schools and when they get here they sit in a class but they are not sure about their English and because of the lack of good English knowledge they are failing. So first the situation we try to see what can we resolve about this and it's just important to try to improve their English ability so that they can get the other subjects through that instruction. But Eights, Nines and Tens come on very well.

PAT     Do they?

FH     Yes. Our school, I think our pass rate was really good, not so bad, in comparison with other black schools a lot better.

POM     If you look back on the last four years since Mandela was released and the ANC unbanned and the apartheid laws stripped away, the negotiations and the existence of the Transitional Executive Council, the movement towards elections, has this affected your life and your community's life in any real way?

FH     It doesn't affect my life in a negative way really. I think it's a way of your attitude and your approach. It's given me more and more opportunities and tried to build bridges between groups of people because you have your situation here where we are very conservative, the whites fear on the one side that what is going to happen with my property, with what I have, am I safe here, and their view of the blacks on the other hand because they have a view that the blacks are stupid, they don't know anything, they can't work and they are bad people. It's just that feeling. Then because of that feeling they handle the blacks that way and the blacks act that way because I think if you are a person involved at a university you know if you want a person to be stupid he will be stupid. I think that's something which played a very important role in the view here and the influence of white conservatism is very strong in this region. I think you know that, maybe you can give me more about that.

     Since I came here, I came here in December 1989 so I came from an atmosphere of university, college, tertiary education where I was involved in this sort of situation. Most of my students at UNISA were black students so it was nothing strange to me. I know their abilities and I grew up here on a farm with blacks so I know the black language as my mother tongue. There is no problem about that and I think you have a broadened view about the whole story.

     When I came here in 1990 it was not strange to me that people just don't, your friends who were in school, they just don't want to talk to you.

POM     Your friends?

FH     People who were with you at school, not friends, say, but we were at the same time at the same school here, they just look the other way when they see me because of nothing, just because of I don't know, but people talk, "That guy is maybe an ANC, he's a communist", but they don't know what is communism, they don't know what it's all about. I was never in my life ANC and I don't believe I will be.

POM     So in a way you're ostracised?

FH     When I came here I was involved in a meeting at the school and I just gave a solution to things which I think and just the way that I talk they said, "No, hell, the guy talks so he's dangerous to the community", and then it started. I haven't done anything else. Then it started, you get negativism about you so I just ignore that, I get on with my job.

POM     Has that persisted, do people still - ?

FH     No. This is what the situation was four years ago but the same people have changed totally. Many of them came back and talked as if nothing happening, nothing was negative. I haven't taken any action, I just go on. It's just to give you a view of how strong the feelings were four years ago. Even one of my friends, we were in the same class and we were studying together once and chatted, it was about four years ago, and he said (it was after that Ventersdorp story) and he said," 'We will shoot you." I said, "Don't forget I also have a gun, I can shoot back." And he stopped there, just that feeling. Even a day like yesterday I've been at him and I said, "Now what do you think about this coming election and so on?" He said, "I'm going to vote for the National Party." So it's just showing you that many things have changed.

POM     So many people have changed.

FH     Many people have changed. They have come to realise what it's really all about.

POM     It's inevitable.

FH     Yes, but according to the people who are exposed to other people, people who think, the people who are living in the one tunnel vision here around just talking to the big strong guys with the guns and so on, they have no vision at all and they can't change because they just influence one another every now and then at their gatherings where they're getting together and so on. So it's impossible for such people I believe just to change because things are getting on now and those are the people who will take action and shoot and put bombs and that sort of thing.

POM     And the Town Council voted that Zeerust should be part of the volkstaat. Is this a gesture?

FH     The people.

POM     Just a gesture. Do you think it would mean anything different in terms of the administration of the town?

FH     It's impossible. It's a dream, an unreal dream because those people think they can just make a volkstaat here. It's because of fear, because of a lack of knowledge that those people haven't got. That's why they want to have a place where they can feel safe. It's just because it is getting to your health and he's having a knife and he wants to kill you. You must be somewhere where you can close yourself and say the door is closed, nobody can pass this place. It's just that feeling I believe. If they get the knowledge, and I think in the next few months when they get to the action of how blacks really are, how blacks really feel, and if people can get closer to one another it can change the whole view of people. If you live in isolation it's impossible to change.

POM     But you see the subtle changes taking place that people are slowly ...

FH     Things change. And now you can imagine that if already a person said two, three, four years ago, "I'm going to shoot you and kill you", he's already now saying, "I'm going to vote for the NP because there's no other solution." Then you've got to see many other people that say, "OK, you can come and work with my blacks on the farm and try to canvas them to vote for the NP but not me." So you can imagine and after a while you say OK, it's not so bad, I can think about it. So if they start getting exposed to the real facts, what is really going on, and it's just the way that they live in fear, the blacks also live in fear, but they have a lot more to lose. Maybe that's the big difference.

POM     What do you mean by that when you say maybe they've got a lot more to lose?

FH     More to lose? They have farms, they have houses, they have property.

POM     Sorry, whites have more to lose?

FH     Yes.

POM     I see, I thought you said blacks. So what do you think will happen on April 27th when I come back to you in two months and ask you the same question? What do you think will happen just in this community?

FH     May I give you a short background first before I get into the answer because the people in this community are very conservative. I have a feeling there's no election going to be because they are going to start this big war now. I don't think anything like that is going to take place. There are enough realistic people here and who have the knowledge, the ability and the influence to bring a change even to those people to see that they haven't got any doubts to do that. That's on the one hand. On the other hand also what the ANC are going to do, that hidden agenda that we don't know about the ANC's still in camps trying to come and fight if everything is not getting the way that they want it to be, to come and fight it. Those are the two issues on the scale which can influence the situation but I think it's in a good way maybe we must put it at I believe that according to the strength of Mr de Klerk and he as the leader, because I think he's very strong, and he has very good qualities to solve the problem in a good way and get over to people and with law and order because if you are going to try to kill somebody and you're going to be caught you are in trouble and you are going to pay the punishment for that. So it also causes now fear, so it's a risk to take. They can stop this whole story if they can act more strictly against such people, like those who have killed the blacks on the road close to Carltonville. Maybe you know about that? And they are in jail now. They caught all of them and they can get the death sentence all of them. It's not just to take the law in your own hands so it's something to think about. If you look to the laws of this coming election you have no chance being against anything because those people have compiled laws and things which are going to work so it's just impossible.

     So what I think is that the election can be and maybe it's going to have here and there dramas until the election, a bombing this office and bombing that building and at the ANC here and the NP guy there and a person who they don't like maybe or something like that but at the end I think that is going to be part and parcel of the whole issue until the election. After the election, I don't think any more that the ANC is going to have a sweep over the whole election, it's even possible for the NP to win the election. I personally don't think it's going to be too good if that happens just because the expectations of the ANC and what they have given and nobody can live up to those expectations that the ANC has put to the people, so just to cut them back down to size it's going to be better for them just to get it by one mark or something like that.

POM     The trick might be to lose the first election.

FH     The trick may be to lose the first election but it's very important not to lose it very far and I think that even looking at the views of people, and they're changing now at this stage, I believe that the NP is getting stronger and people will start not living that fear any more because you can even go into this township, you even can go and canvas. The State President said this week that there's no no-go areas for him so he will go and the ANC fear that because they just want to close their areas down so that they can't hear the right story and the right story is going to reach the people. So that is out.

POM     Just one or two more questions. Compared to the salaries paid to white teachers ...

FH     The black teachers are the same.

POM     They're the same?

FH     Yes.

POM     In terms of?

FH     Qualifications and experience. It's totally equal, no difference.

POM     So would the same education in terms of per capita expenditure per pupil - ?

FH     At this stage maybe in the black schools we still have the situation where you have more students per teacher compared to the white schools but looking to the black schools, the syllabuses, the education is the same. The difference is background because you grow up in a certain area. That is a big problem. Another difference is there's not that responsibility, you will not see any white students walking around during school hours but the black students will even go home, get to school, if they don't want to a certain class they just leave. There is not that feeling of responsibility to be there and work for best education. So that whole issue is totally on the shoulders of the teachers to go on and keep on motivating them to get to the classes.

POM     So a black child could, half way through a class, get up and walk out?

FH     Yes, we are not really allowing it but it happens sometimes.

PAT     What happens when you put the students from the white schools and the students from the black schools together, a sports function, a social function?

FH     At this stage if you take too many people what we have already done at our school since I was there we identify a certain group of leaders and we took them to a certain area on the island situation where they get together with whites and then it was a wonderful exercise. Nothing strange happened. We were identifying leaders last year and they were chosen by bodies from outside where they went with people from a white English school, black schools, different places to get together and get education.

PAT     But you don't send groups to the white high school and the white high school doesn't send groups here?

FH     You see the problem at this stage is the white school here, I don't think the problem is with the Principal and the staff but it can be, but you have a conservative area here. The management of the school is conservative and no black will go to that school, finished.

PAT     They don't even come in on a social function or a sports function?

FH     No.

POM     So in a way you've got, I won't say a problem, but two dimensions to the problem. One is that no black child or his or her parents has made an application to go to the white school.

FH     I don't know about any such case.

POM     And then the second part is that the management of the ...

FH     The management decides over those kids, not the teachers or the Principal. It's not the case which I as a Principal can decide if they want to bring a white child to the school or somebody is saying to -

PAT     So a debate on the elections, the management people would say ...?

FH     It can be or something like that, the management can say. And then the biggest problem here is just because it's different cultures and there are strict lines and then the language problem is also a problem. I have very talented students at my school who can in certain ways cope at the white school. It's possible. I don't think that's really the problem because you have very talented blacks, there's no problem with their common sense.

POM     So as you look forward to the future, in the short run you're fairly optimistic?

FH     In the short term I think after the elections, depending who is going to win, how far and so on, all those things can have an influence, I think education. Because then you have a power in the country where they can't say it's just a small group governing the whole country. It's going to be a case of law and order now and the government can take action despite so things will calm down. They will go for better education. It's also going to depend on the income of the country and the money. I'm really worried about the ANC because I don't think they have the ability to run the money because they are used to use the money for their own benefit in most of the cases and not for the people. They haven't got that feeling, I believe, for the people as they want to make I don't know if you have the same view? Because when I talk to blacks in this township they have this story of the ANC IRA, it's one of the Ikageleng Residents' Associations, they get together and say what are the problems today at the school? What are the problems in the community? And most of the problems they are creating and now it gives the impression that they are solving the problems, knowing about the problems, but they are not working out any solution about the problems. A good example, they tell the people not to pay their rent but to go to the City Hall and see that all those leaders have paid. Then at a certain time those people's houses must now be sold because they haven't paid and they just get to the stage, no now they must go and do something to restore the whole problem. You can see the people start getting to know who causes the trouble. And they came to me, people who were ANC, they are not building, they are breaking down. I think if we are honest in trying to educate, to build the country and we think in that way, that direction, I think that's why maybe the NP is going to win the election, or has an ability to do it because more and more people are going to think this way.

PAT     How many white teachers do you have? I don't mean teachers in total.

FH     In total on my staff is 36 teachers.

PAT     And how many are white?

FH     Whites is twelve, a third. Two Indians from India.

PAT     And do the Indian students in the school - ?

FH     No, no Indian students.

PAT     Where do they go to school?

FH     There is an Indian school here on the western side of the town, in the other direction of the town. It's just a primary school. After Standard Five they go to Mmabatho or some place like that. So there are two Indians and the relations between the staff I think is not so bad. I have members relating to AWB, CP, NP, ANC, everyone is there on my staff and they are working together with no problem.

PAT     Do white teachers get more for working in the township than they would if they were at the white school here?

FH     No, nothing like that.

POM     So all in all you're saying that from April 27th many people in this community might have some unpleasant surprises coming to them?

FH     It's possible.

POM     To which they will have to adjust.

FH     Pretty much attend to the situation, have a positive attitude to restore and rebuild and recover and acknowledge our situation. I think that's clear.

POM     OK, thank you very, very much. We'll see you again when we come back after the elections.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.