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Charlayne Hunter-Gault: Looking Back And Looking Forward

Aired February 21, 2001 - 5:00 p.m. ET


JONATHAN MANN, INSIGHT (voice-over): Two countries, two colors. One woman living nearly two different lives. CNN correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault on her youth in the U.S. civil rights struggle and her surroundings in today's South Africa.

(on camera): Hello, and welcome.

An unusually personal story today - a pair of them, in fact. Both centered on our Johannesburg bureau chief Charlayne Hunter-Gault. She marked an anniversary recently, the 40th year since she was one of the first two black students to enroll at the all-white University of Georgia.

Her own past fresh in her mind, she set out to meet students who are breaking the color barrier in South Africa today. On our program - our colleague Charlayne Hunter-Gault, looking back and looking forward.


CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, CNN JOHANNESBURG BUREAU CHIEF: I remember it was a very crisp, cold January day when my mother in one car, Vernon Jordan and I set out for Athens. We drove down and just drove up to the campus, and there were crowds of white students at that time waiting to see us walk through those arches. And while many of them were hostile and they were yelling "nigger" and "nigger, go home," and "two, four, six, eight, we don't want to integrate," there were a lot of them that were just there, you know, to see what was going on, just out of curiosity.

So on the one hand, I felt and heard some of the nastiness. But on the other hand, I didn't feel that it was oppressive or overwhelming. I remember thinking, you know, we've come this far and we're almost done, and it's almost about to be the real thing. We're about to be enrolled, when all of a sudden we -- we heard a cheer go up, and we heard that the state had been granted a stay of the integration order.

The lawyers went to Atlanta to argue that the -- that there was no reason for this stay of the order to have been handed down. So they argued and won a continuance of the registration within a period of a few hours.

Throughout the night on Monday night, and they start also on Tuesday, they were beating on the steel -- on the floor, their floor, so that the noise would disturb me downstairs. But I sort of got used to that, when suddenly I heard a brick crash through the window. And I just sort of turned around, almost in slow motion, and went in to look because instinctively I think I knew what it was, but also I couldn't believe it. And sure enough, a brick had been thrown through the window, and it had splattered glass all over my clothes that I hadn't unpacked all in a suitcase.

And I just remember thinking at that point so this is how it is in the middle of a riot. They use tear gas eventually to disperse the crowds outside. It took a long time, though, for that to happen, long time for the police to finally arrive, almost as if it had been planned.

The dean came and got me, walked me out and all the girls in the dorm had come down to watch me leave. As I walked past this crowd, one of them threw a quarter in front of me on the floor and said, "Here, Charlayne, come and change my sheets." That was because they had been told that the tear gas had golden into their sheets, and in order to keep it out of their eyes, they were going to have to change all the bedding. That was just, I guess, meant to be one final blow.

But instead, you know, of making me angry, it stiffened my resolve. I didn't know how we were going to come back, I didn't know what the route would be, but I knew we would be back.

Over that weekend, our lawyers went to court, got us readmitted, and we came back on Monday. And from that point on, although there were many unpleasantries, for the most part, things settled down because I think it was beginning to dawn on the people who were fomenting this trouble - not students, I don't think, in the main -- that the law was going to have to be obeyed and that we were there to stay.

Opening up the university opened up the entire state. The walls of segregation just came tumbling down. And of course, we were a part of a larger movement. I hope that people passing through that building will learn patience and will learn perseverance and, as the old spiritual, says will walk and never get weary.


MANN: A break now. When INSIGHT returns - Charlayne Hunter-Gault on assignment at a South African university.


MANN: Welcome back.

Among the biggest challenges facing post-apartheid South Africa is education. For decades, blacks had access only to so-called Bantu education, which prepared them mainly for menial jobs. Five years ago, public schools were opened to all races, and a third of all schools are now integrated.

Changes are under way in the realm of higher education as well. Our Charlayne Hunter-Gault now with a personal look at the slow transformation of a prestigious institution.


CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If ever there was an institution that resembled the University of Georgia and its historic racial legacy, it was this one, Rau Afrikaans University, founded almost 35 years ago solely to educate Afrikaans-speaking white students, no doubt to take their place alongside the Afrikaaner ruling class of the country's racially segregated society.

Known as apartheid, it relegated blacks to segregated, separate and woefully unequal places, including in higher education.

(voice-over): Now, seven years after apartheid ended with a black- led government taking over, two of the finalists in this Rau tradition, the Rag Queen Festival, are black, as are many of the participants. They and close to 8,000 other black students are here, 42 percent of the total, along with Indians - one a finalist in the festival and so-called coloreds. Most the beneficiaries of law passed three years ago compelling higher education institutions to provide measures for the redress of past inequities forbidding such institutions to unfairly discriminate in any way - unapologetic affirmative action aimed at what is known here not as desegregation, but transformation.

Given my own experience of being a first, I sought out a student who had been among the first admitted to Rau. I was led to Brenda Radebe. Admitted in 1991, even before apartheid ended, but only to attend night classes. It wasn't a mob she had to face, it was language - Afrikaans.

BRENDA RADEBE, LECTURER: So all the lectures would be in Afrikaans, and we're totally lost, no acknowledgment as well to say, you know, if you like, you can contribute in English or whatever.

HUNTER-GAULT: With the help of some sympathetic Afrikaaner students, Radebe got through it and went on to earn her master's degree in clinical psychology. In 1997, she returned to Rau, this time hired as a lecturer.

RADEBE: The process, like she says, of looking at options.

HUNTER-GAULT: One consequence of transformation, students can elect to take their classes in Afrikaans or in English. Black and English-speaking students tend to choose classes taught by English speakers. Afrikaaner students by and large stick to the classes taught in Afrikaans.

UNIDENTIFIED LECTURER: Scientists usually work within a theological framework.

HUNTER-GAULT: Since the higher education act calling for transformation came into being, Rau has recruited some of South Africa's best black academics, like Sevid Mashego, a zoology professor and former head of one of the country's historically disadvantaged, or all black, African universities. This is a class for honors students. For most, their first black professor.

GORDON O'BRIEN, HONORS STUDENT: It's new to us, I must say. It is. We're all developing. We're changing. It's a difference. But no, I haven't come across anyone specifically that has had any problems with any black professors, not at all.

HUNTER-GAULT: Despite their acceptance, the few black professors here worry about another legacy of apartheid.

CONNIE MOLOI, SENIOR LECTURER: When you look at the kinds of degrees that they are doing, they are not the key degrees. For instance, you don't find any black students in degrees such as engineering, in the sciences. You find the greatest percentage doing arts, visual arts, and in our case, most of them are in education.

HUNTER-GAULT: Blacks are continuing to follow traditional career fields established during apartheid when they were limited by law as to what fields they could pursue. Moreover, most black students enter university after attending schools still suffering from the inequities of apartheid.

SEVID MASHEGO, PROFESSOR: I'm also a product of, you know, of a black township. I grew up in Soweto. The schools are definitely not equipped at all. When I was studying mathematics and physical science and so on at a school where there were no laboratories whatsoever. Everything had to be done theoretically by studying the books.

HUNTER-GAULT: Rau has established a special high school near its campus to help disadvantaged students overcome that legacy. The school's headmaster says its success, a 100 percent pass rate and the government's emphasis on affirmative action at every level of society, has led to private sector scholarships, a kind of downpayment on well- trained future black employees.

When I saw this ritual during freshman orientation week at Rau, my mind went back to less innocent freshman week rituals at the University of Georgia, especially among the Greek letter organizations, one of which used to proudly display the confederate flag, a symbol of the Old South and slavery.

Symbols of the old confederacy could still be seen flying around the campus this year amid much controversy. I talked with some black students here at Rau who complained about its rituals, not so demeaning as foreign and uncomfortable. No problem for Phatudi Mogashwa, who accepts not only Afrikaans, but the Afrikaaner nickname the upperclassmen gave him, Ketting Uk (ph), chain eye.

Remembering that the black student protests against being taught in Afrikaans in 1976 was a defining moment in the black liberation struggle, I asked Mogashwa, whose native language is northern Sutu, what had changed.

PHATUDI MOGASHWA, STUDENT: Well, basically, like it's a rumination and it's actually quite cool because they, I sometimes teach in my language, you know? They catch the envy and it's awesome because it's changed dramatically because, you know, it's amazing, actually. I feel at home with them here.

CAREL CRONJE, STUDENT: We don't see color anymore. We like all students.

HUNTER-GAULT: But some students complained about the appearance of subtle forms of discrimination, especially in the assigning of spaces to black students in the residences, echoes of the discrimination I faced at the University of Georgia when I was placed in a two-room suite on a floor with no other students.

SHARON NKOMO, FORMER RAU STUDENT: I think it's much easier for white people to get in than for black people to do so because no matter when you go, when you go talk to them, usually, normally you have to go there all the time to remind them, to ask them if there's any openings and all that. You find that, you know, your name isn't moving. They keep on telling you you're number 23. You stay there, you know? You're not moving.

HUNTER-GAULT: The university says there's no such intent but acknowledges it may have failed to communicate that. Black students say communication could be improved if they could talk to people in authority who look like them.

DELANI MABASO, STUDENT: If you have a complaint and you feel that white people are doing this to you, the last person you'd want - the last thing you'd want to do is to go to a white person and tell them, no, you're doing this to me.

HUNTER-GAULT: It may be a comfort factor, but students on this campus do tend to gravitate toward their own ethnic groups. Despite the problems, the recently retired head of the university says he's proud of what Rau has been able to achieve.

J.C. VAN DER WALT, FORMER RAU RECTOR: I must really say to you that it's been a miracle. I've never experienced in the 35 years that I've been here and especially in the last 10 years any resistance to the concept that we had to transform to become a fully South African university.

HUNTER-GAULT: In many ways, Rau's transformation, though not complete, has been less eventful than at some other institutions in the country. And while there has been the odd racial incident here and there and the continuing calls for blackening or Africanizing institutions of higher learning, there's been nothing like the massive resistance experienced in Georgia and other states in the deep South.

(on camera): A few weeks ago, I looked at the statistics on the admission of black students to the University of Georgia 40 years after I walked through its doors. Only six percent of the 34,000 students are black, and the university is being sued by whites to end the use of race as a factor in admissions. Even though South Africa's children of apartheid won their freedom some 33 years after the children of American segregation, and even though South Africa has a long way to go towards full transformation, it has come a long way and much faster.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, CNN, Johannesburg.


MANN: Another break, and than a conversation with Charlayne who helped change U.S. education and a man trying to change South Africa's in a different way. Stay with us.


MANN: Welcome back.

How different are the two worlds Charlayne found as a college student and a correspondent? We spoke to her and to South Africa's education minister, Kadel Asmal, about how their respective nations have adapted to race.


HUNTER-GAULT: Well, they look similar in many ways because apartheid was very much like Jim Crow or segregation in the deep South of America. And then the administration, the whole system here changed, as it did in the south of America. Basically, the seeds of it were sown with the '54 decision. But actually, the real desegregation started after I entered the University of Georgia.

But the similarities almost end there because the big difference is that this is a country where the majority people are the black Africans, and in America, it still is the case that the majority are the - at least in most parts of the South - are white.

MANN: Mr. Minister, do you draw comparisons in your own mind, do you think of comparisons when you are doing the work of transforming your country?

KADEL ASMAL, S. AFRICAN MINISTER OF EDUCATION: Yes, always. Because we have to learn from international experiences, and the Mason- Dixon Line was a geographical description in the United States. Here, it was a line which in black and white South Africa. And after 1994, which reorganized and reconstructed society, one of the difference between the United States - one of the difference between United States and South Africa is our constitution.

Because of our history of apartheid where all the privileges of white were decided by race, the constitution protects what we call corrective action - affirmative action, you call it. So it's just proof it can be like the (inaudible) case in California, where the Supreme Court reinterpreted the whole idea of quotas.

So what we have here is the transformation of the higher education system. Secondly, the majority - the African National Congress has black and whites in the parliament. We decide the moral and legal and ethical codes. That's the difference between the United States that no administration here can change the fundamental rules of transformation.

And transformation is very important, so I don't want to compare it with the United States. But we are transforming all our institution structures all the time.

MANN: You talked about learning, Mr. Minister. It's appropriate, you're the education minister after all. But let me ask you more about that. Does the United States have anything to learn from South Africa, or South Africa anything to learn from the U.S.?

ASMAL: Of course we learn from the United States. I mean, the United States is a principal culture and social and economic factor in the world, and you can't but learn from the United States. The difference is that here, affirmative action was for transformation of a society. Affirmative action in the United States was to deal with certain social problems. And so we learned from the United States that, first of all, there must be a determination to have greater representativity.

In South Africa in 1990, there were hardly any blacks in the universities. Now 71 percent of the students are blacks. And particularly in the all-Afrikaans student universities. In some cases, the blacks form 45 percent to 50 percent of the students. So it's a determination by the government to see that everybody has a place in the sun.

I mean, that's a difference between United States and South Africa. It doesn't give way to judicial examination, the vagaries (ph) of changes in government in the states or in the central government. What we can learn from the United States is that there must be a fixity (ph) of determination. You've got to get things right quickly if you don't want to alienate the results and the people.

(inaudible), for example, my national plan for higher education in two weeks' time. So this problem is very appropriate. And it will learn from the rest of the world, but it's going to learn that you can't use concepts like liberty and autonomy to allow for discriminative practices, to discrete forms of discrimination. In South Africa, we have to deal with that very quickly.

So it's possible in the United States, if after 30, 40 years, only 6 percent of the students are black in Georgia, that's the United States' measure of things. We can't afford that in South Africa. They ask (ph) for the accelerated program of transformation.

MANN: Charlayne, if we can switch from policy to a more personal vision of this. You met some of the black students who are moving into a very white world of higher education. Did you see something of yourself in them?

HUNTER-GAULT: Oh, I think I did many times over as I talked with the students on the campus at Rau. For example, when the students complained about what their perception of segregation in the dormitories, I thought about the isolation that I faced when I entered the University of Georgia in 1961. I was placed on the first floor, where there no other students. I was alone on that floor and deliberately so, while the students above me pounded on the ceiling all night long to keep me awake to let me know that they didn't want me there.

And I also felt some kinship with them when they complained about not having people who look like themselves to go and talk to about their problems. Because some of their problems are real. Some of them are perceived. But for them, the perception is the reality until someone tells them differently.

So they want more black professors and people that they feel they can go and talk to to help them through this very sometimes difficult transition.

MANN: Mr. Minister, I want to ask you about that. But in the larger sense, it's not just a question of a few students or one school. South Africa has a very diverse educational system that has tried to re- create itself. How far has that work advanced? How fair is the system? How equal the access for children and students of different backgrounds?

ASMAL: It's very uneven frankly. Because the legacy is so awesome and awful, we've only had seven years - you've had 150 years. We've only seven years. But the difference is here the public, the majority of the public want the change of transformation, slowly but in a decided way.

I couldn't go to the university here of my choice 40 years ago. I refused to go an Indian university. I want to go university. Now people have freedom of choice. But there are still distortions. Rau has (inaudible) colleges. Rau has distance learning. So the majority of students in Rau are not black, but (inaudible) some white. And that happens in most of the former Afrikaans-speaking universities.

So there is very discrete forms of adjustment. I don't know about the United States. We don't have confederate flags here. But we don't have any particular recognition of the democratic symbols of South Africa in the former white universities. And so there is no understanding of the value system that keeps it together. And that kind of personal thing we have to grapple with.

MANN: Kadel Asmal, South Africa's minister of education, and CNN correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault, thank you both for being with us.


Then and now - here and there. That's INSIGHT for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann. Stay tuned. There's more news ahead.




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