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A big meeting at Athlone

One Thursday evening, early in April, 1986 about forty people met at Park Station in Johannesburg. They were on their way to Cape Town to the first big meeting of all literacy organizations in South Africa. The organizations were meeting to talk about their work – helping people to learn how to read and write.

Two days and two nights later, the train arrived in Cape Town. People from other literacy organizations were waiting for them. The people didn’t waste anytime. The meeting started on the Saturday in a hall in Athlone, Cape Town.

There were about 150 people at the meeting and they were all happy to meet each other. There was a lot of singing and a lot of hand shaking. In the front of the hall there was a big yellow and black banner that said: “Phambili Nolwazi, Voort met Kennis, Forward with Knowledge!”


The first speaker at the meeting was Mr Shephard Mdladlana. He is a school principal in New Crossroads in Cape Town. He is not a principal who likes Bantu Education.

He spoke about young people who boycott school because of Bantu Education. He said they must not be angry when their parents go to learning groups when they are boycotting classes. The learning groups are not Bantu Education – they are People’s Education. The young people must not stop their parents from going to the groups.


There were many learners at the meeting. Most of the learners were from the Adult Learning Project (ALP). They were all wearing red skippers that said “ALP” and ” Phambili Nolwazi.”

All of the learners work in factories in Cape Town. They did a Toyi- Toyi for the people at the meeting. Everybody could see that they were strong and united.

There were also learners from the Montagu and Ashton Gemeenskapdiens. These learners work long hours on the farms and in the factories,- but they still found time to bring two plays to the meeting.


One of the plays was a mime – a play without words. The women showed how they pick fruit on the farms. The work is hard and the sun is cruel. Then they showed how fast they must work in the canning factory. They must wash and peel and slice and cook – and then put the fruit in cans for people to buy.

There is no time for these women to rest at work. The supervisor only lets them go to the toilet one at a time. The women showed how they must stand and pack the fruit – with their legs crossed.


The other play was about the farm workers on the smaller farms in Montagu. These workers suffer a lot. It is hard for them to unite and fight for better wages and working conditions. Some of these workers get only R20 a week. The farmers also pay the workers with wine. Maybe they want to make their workers drunk so they won’t complain about the low wages!


Clara Stanford, a farm worker from Montague, spoke to the meeting. Her mother died when she was five years old. When she was a child she worked on the farm for 15 cents a day. She never went to school. She is now a mother and she is learning how to read and write in a learning group.

One of the learners from ALP told the meeting that she was still young, and that she was going to stay with ALP for the rest of her life.


Makhenke, the chairperson of the learners committee at ALP, told the meeting how the learners control their school. The learners elect a committee. The committee talks for all the learners in ALP. The committee helps to choose coordinators and they tell the co – ordinators what the learners want to learn. The committee also decides when and where the groups must meet.

All the literacy organizations listened carefully to Makhenke. They all agreed with him. Literacy organizations belong to the learners, and must be controlled by the learners.


From Monday to Wednesday the different literacy organizations showed each other how they teach. There are many different ways to teach – and each organization has their own way. But that is why the organizations were there. They were at the meeting to learn from each other.

On the last day of the meeting, the organizations sat down and decided many things. Some of the things they decided were:

  • to work closely with each other and to have a meeting of all literacy organizations once a year.

  • to work closely with organizations and trade unions that are figthing apartheid and for a better South Africa.

  • to work with student, parent and teachers’ organizations that are fighting for better education – “a peoples education.”

  • to help women in the learning groups fight for a better life.



Cape Province: Adult Learning Project 4 Astley Street Mowbray 7700 Tel: (021)65 3330

Montagu-Ashton Gemeenskap Lees- en Skryfprojek Sultana Singel Montagu 6720 Tel: (0234) 41175/42619

Eastern Cape Adult Learning Project 503 Alfin House 510 Main Street North End 6001 Tel: (041) 54-3141

English Literacy Project 314 Dunwell House 35 Jorissen Street Braamfontein 2017 Johannesburg Tel: (011) 339 2864

Using Spoken and Written English 118 9th Street Orange Grove 2192 Johannesburg Tel: (011) 640 3073

Learn and Teach P.O.Box 11074 2000 Johannesburg Tel:(011)834-4011


The Sached Trust P.O. Box 11350 2000 Johannesburg Tel: (011) 836 3331


The Sached Trust 140 Queen Street 4001 Durban Tel: (031) 31 6748/9

The Women’s Centre 16 Ecumenical Centre Trust 20 St Andrew’s Street 4001 Durban Tel: (031) 301 1624

Careers Information Centre Ecumenical Centre Trust 20 St Andrews Street 4001 Durban Tel: (031) 31 8177/8

Adult Education Centre University of Natal King George V Avenue 4001 Durban Tel: (031) 81 5911×408

Adult Basic Education Centre for Extra-mural Studies University of Cape Town P/Bag Rondebosch Tel: (012) 69 2805/2905

Midlands Council of Churches P.O. Box 34 Middleburg 5900 Tel: (0483) 21500


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