Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Marlon James

Jessica Hardy 

Education Systems in Apartheid South Africa

Marlon James’ Portrayal of Jamaica’s Legacy of Colonialism

Marlon James writes historical fiction that examines Jamaica’s cultural identity through multiple narratives.The Book of Night Women portrays life in Jamaica during the eighteenth century in which the main character, Lilith, journeys to find her true identity, first as a slave and then as the wife of a slaveholder.A Brief History of Seven Killings reflects on the long-term consequences of colonialism in its depiction of political ferment within the country in the 1970s and ‘80s. Both novels serve to illuminate the harsh realities of colonialism and its legacy in Jamaica. James critiques Jamaica’s lack of progression over time through vivid imagery of violence, character paralysis, and the contrast between the country’s romantic facade of beautiful scenery and jubilant people, and the poverty and desperation within Jamaica’s history of slavery, gang violence, and drug syndicates. By humanizing each character, including perpetrators of the patriarchy, racism, and violence within critical periods of Jamaica’s history, he calls the reader to recognize the responsibility of society in addressing the racism, inequality, and misunderstanding prevalent today within Jamaica and the U.S.

As the legacy of colonialism persists within Jamaica, lasting effects of colonialism and apartheid are also still present within South Africa’s education systems. Apartheid began after the victory of the National Party in 1948, who based their campaign on white supremacy and racial purity. The influence of the British and Afrikaner nationalists in South Africa prior to and during apartheid led to the creation of an education system that denied black children access to equal opportunities and resources as well as black history, culture, and identity. Soon after the 1948 election, the National Party imposed legislation to destruct the education of black children called the Bantu Education Act of 1953. Under the Bantu Education Act, learning facilities were racially segregated and educational authorities were instructed to treat black students as inferior to white students. Black children were thus deprived of necessary resources from early education through university systems. Although the election of Nelson Mandela marked the end of apartheid, de facto segregation and disparities remain present within South African schooling systems.

Major Works Consulted:

Abdi, Ali A. “Apartheid and Education in South Africa: Select Historical Analyses.” The Western Journal of Black Studies 27, no. 2 (2003).
Beck, Roger. The History of South Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.
James, Marlon. The Book of Night Women. New York: Penguin, 2009.
---. A Brief History of Seven Killings. New York: Random, 2014.
Photo Credit: Michel, Lincoln. “Marlon James Wins 2015 Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings 2015.” Electric Literature. -wins-2015-man-booker-prize-for-a-brief-history-o-seven-killings-2a4c6bae1554#.itojw9d3n.