Remembering Apartheid Critic and Educator Patrick van Rensburg
The Right Livelihood Award Foundation is saddened by the passing of its 1981 Laureate Patrick van Rensburg, an internationally-renowned educator who dedicated his life to social justice and development in southern Africa.
In 1957, Patrick van Rensburg resigned his post as South African Vice-Consul in the Belgian Congo, in protest against the apartheid policies of the South African government. He then became closely involved with the campaign to boycott South African goods, which preceded the anti-apartheid movement.
Upon his return to South Africa in 1962, his passport was confiscated and he was forced to flee the country to neighbouring Botswana. There he founded the Swaneng Hill School, and, following its success, two other schools in association with the Botswana government.
Van Rensburg’s education approach was radically different from usual practice at the time. The school was seen as a centre of development and thereby of better learning, teaching practical skills like agriculture, building, carpentry, metalwork, technical drawing, and typing. In an effort to bring schools within the reach of ordinary people, costs were also kept low.
His concept of education with production constituted an alternative model of education to the dominant elitist model and provided the potential for building a more just society. In 1980, van Rensburg established the Foundation for Education with Production to provide a vehicle for promoting his ideas throughout the southern Africa region and beyond.
In recognition of his efforts, van Rensburg was honoured with the Right Livelihood Award in 1981 “…for developing replicable educational models for the third world majority.”
In his acceptance speech, he called for “…an educational system that is linked fully into society and all its activities, recognising that education is not a separate category which takes place in schools, which is highly verbalised, very theoretical, very abstract in its measures.” He also stressed that the best way of learning is to involve people in the real activities which underlie all the concepts they are learning about.
Patrick van Rensburg was able to return to South Africa in 1990, where he started an educational project and a house-building cooperative in post-apartheid nation. His final book, entitled Making Education Work, came out in 2001.
Patrick van Rensburg passed away peacefully in Botswana on 23 May 2017.