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A case study of the desegregation experience of a white state high school in South Africa McAlister, Wendy Royal


The purpose of this study is to analyze the ways in which educators, socialized within an entrenched racist system, integrate children from different racial groups in their school. The study offers an in-depth look at a formerly white girls' high school in a low socio-economic area of Durban, South Africa. The research was undertaken in August, 1993, 18 months after the admission of pupils of all races and nine months prior to the national free elections. To date there has been little systematic documentation of the desegregation of white state schools in South Africa. It is, therefore, the researcher's intention that it contribute to the accumulation of basic data from which to carry out further in-depth studies. It is a further objective that the results of this study might inform educators and policy-makers in their nascent attempts to effectively integrate South African schools. While Canadian schools have been multiracial for many years, the analysis of a South African school just embarking on integration may provide valuable insights on new and old theories of multicultural practices. A qualitative approach was chosen, using a case study based on the ethnographic tradition. This was deemed the most appropriate way of peeling back the multiple layers of socialization that govern black and white interactions in South Africa. It was also considered to be the most effective way of capturing the full richness of the data from a situation that was new and turbulent. The primary tools for data collection were direct observations and interviews. The nuances in the data reveal many paradoxes, contradictions and unpredictable outcomes. The role of class as a mechanism of exclusion emerges as a predominant theme in the study. It highlights the way in which both race and class interact i n South Africa in an intense struggle over power and privilege. The study also offers insights into the reasons an oppressed group seeks access to a world language and First World lifestyle sometimes at the expense of their own own culture and ethnicity. Another theme that emerges is the necessity in South Africa of building a national identity while still recognizing diversity. The research concludes with some suggestions for facilitating effective desegregation, bearing in mind that the complexities and uniqueness of the South African terrain necessitate a dynamic, flexible and holistic approach.

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