The Colourful History of Sastri College

Tucked away in the suburb of Greyville sits Sastri College, one of the province’s most important educational and historical institutions. Originally established in 1929 as a secondary school for boys, as well as a teacher’s training centre, over the years the college has served a variety of different functions.

The laws of the apartheid government were numerous, often confusing and never straight forward, designed as they were in a fruitless effort to create order within an unnatural system of segregation. While the first official law governing the racial segregation of universities was only passed in 1959 (The Extension of University Education Act, Act 45 of 1959), a number of universities, including the University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal) were already limiting the admittance of non-white students. In theory, the university accepted students of all races but with the proviso that black and white students would not attend the same lectures.

Members of the SRC of UNNE, 1958-1959

Members of the UNNE Students Representative Council, 1958-1959

As early as 1936 the University of Natal (UN) established a segregated campus for non-whites at Sastri College. In this secondary role the college was referred to as the “University of Natal Non-European Section” or UNNE. The same lecture was repeated twice, first at Howard College, and then at Sastri to a collection of Indian, coloured and African students. Admittance to UNNE wasn’t only limited to South Africans, with students coming from neighboring countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland, in an attempt to get some form of higher education. The facilities at Sastri couldn’t be compared to those of UN, one alumnus referred to the college’s “apology of a library”. The number of university students admitted to Sastri was also paltry compared to the high number of white students attending UN. Even so, Sastri College produced a number of graduates who went on to make significant contributions in the fields of art, science, medicine and law. It should come as no surprise that given the set-up, the college became a hotbed for liberation politics, an outcome that the authorities surely did not anticipate.

With the passing of the Extension of University Education Act in 1959, which extended the principles of apartheid to higher education, Sastri’s function as a university was slowly phased out. The Act decreed that non-white students would only be allowed to study at ‘white’ universities with a permit from the relevant minister, with separate universities being established for coloureds, Indians and black South Africans.

And so the college resumed its activities as a boys high school and teacher’s training college, servicing Durban’s Indian population. But in 1979, politics again interfered with the operations of the school as the government announced its intention to convert Sastri College into an annex of the ML Sultan Technikon (now Durban University of Technology). Community leaders opposed the merge starting a “Save Sastri College” committee but, despite the objections, in 1982 Sastri College was closed as a secondary school, becoming part of ML Sultan Technical College, and offering courses in cookery, motor mechanics, carpentry, and hairdressing, amongst other technical subjects.

Sastri College today

Sastri College today

With the political changes in the early 1990s, the time finally came for Sastri to reopen its doors as a co-educational secondary school, accepting boys and girls of all races, from all walks of life. The school, which has been operational again since 1993, is included in the Durban Liberation Heritage Route as way of honouring its past.

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