Whose history are we teaching Essay

whose history are we teaching


After the discovery of Africa as the “dark continent” by the European travellers, they described Africa as a place with no history because history according to them, started with writing (Mazower, 2009). Africans history was passed through many generations orally. So the discovery of Africa meant a new way of telling history and most of that history was to celebrate the expansion of Europe with its victories on civilization. The native people whom they encountered with did not form part of that history. Therefore the writing of south African history has been presented differently starting from the colonial historiography, the Afrikaner nationalist, the liberal and now the revisionist which is starting to question the pattern of the way south African has been presented and it has lead us to the term decolonization. According to (Adam, 1990) Decolonisation is the change that colonised countries go through when they become politically independent from their former colonisers. However, decolonisation is not merely a matter of political independence. Structures of government and other institutions, the way in which a country is economically organised, as well as the way in which former colonial subjects were encouraged to think, are often still determined by the former colonial powers in post-colonial countries, as a result of the economic and cultural power the former colonisers wield. To claim that the colonial project stops having an impact on the newly decolonised country and its citizens, is to misunderstand how deeply the colonial project affected these countries and their citizens. In order to overcome the legacy of colonialism, it is necessary to also decolonise the intellectual landscape of the country in question, and, ultimately decolonise the mind of the formerly colonised.

In order to understand what might be involved in the decolonisation of the mind, Franz Fanon’s work proves useful. Fanon writes that “the juxtaposition of the black and white ‘races’ has resulted in a massive psycho-existential complex” (F, 2008). His book, Black skin, white masks “is meant to liberate the black man from the arsenal of complexes that germinated in the colonial situation” (F, 2008). In other words, Fanon believes that it is necessary for the black person to overcome the psychological effects of colonialism. Fanon makes it clear that he only means his analysis to be specific to his particular time and place, and also that he does not intend for the analysis to be applicable to every black man in these conditions. So the mind becomes very important because the school curriculum becomes very important in shaping or boxing the way students think and that could only help oppress or free the mind. That is the power of the education system on the school going children.

Coming to History as a subject though in schools, it is quite an important subject for identity construction. According to scholars such as (J, 1992), and this is mainly because the politics of identity consist in anchoring the present in a viable past and the past is thus constructed according to the conditions and desires of those who produce history textbooks in present. The main aim of colonial writing in history is to justify conquest and to maintain a sort of thinking patterns on student instilling that the foreign race in Africa should be viewed as superior because they civilised the inhabitants and introduced them to advanced system and to be more exact the education that they are using also being introduced by them. Decolonisation is to eradicate those kinds of manifestations which had been taking place for a very long time even in the post-colonial period. It is only in 2015 that actually students from higher learning stand up for this issue to be addressed in the aim of ending the domination of western epistemological traditions, histories and figures. In particular the end of the white, male. Western, capitalist, heterosexual European worldviews on education system.

Although South African history thought in schools have been changing but the sudden interest of decolonising and eradicating Eurocentric history is recent. “There’s definitely a need to decolonise and we started to address that need as early as 1999 when we started decolonising the very first curriculum we had, Curriculum 2005.” (Govender, 2017). He quoted the example of the history curriculum, saying that it had been changed. “That’s part of the decolonisation, correcting the presentation of knowledge and the exclusion of knowledge and information. If you look at history textbooks prior to the 1990s, you would not see the struggle for freedom, the liberation struggle”. South African struggle is partly touched on grade 12(s) syllabus with the topic the road to democracy, which only a few are recognised as heroes, if the syllabus on south African content is extended, children will also get to know more of their leaders because it is not only black people who fought against the atrocities of apartheid names like Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Winnie Madikizela and others. That is the history we need to eradicate or decrease racial and gender stereotypes where by black and white people contribution counts and also women history becomes visible.

A task team was appointed by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to look into what constitutes history and what aspects of it should be included in the new syllabus. The team has finalised its interim progress report and was in the process of handing it to Motshekga. Said Govender: “We have done so much to decolonise history but we don’t feel our job is done. Our history is divided into South African history with an equal emphasis on European history and international history. As part of the decolonisation process, some of the critical questions we could be raising would be whether we should move away from focusing on European history and move towards Asia” (Govender, 2017).

Plans to decolonise the curriculum, which have been earmarked for implementation between 2020 and 2030, include, the introduction of Kiswahili as an optional language for study after school hours, the introduction of indigenous knowledge systems and practices, and extending the policy of teaching pupils in their mother tongue from grades 1 to 3 to grades 4 to 6; and making history compulsory at schools. Looking at the current education system whereby they are forced to learn in foreign language almost in all the subjects in schools is not fair (Govender, 2017).

The history curriculum in the Anglophone Caribbean, at the secondary-school level, which originated in the contemporary political movements to self-determination and independence. The demand for curricular change was not confined to history but extended to 'value-laden' subjects such as literature and geography. However, the focus on the history curriculum reflects the central concern of those who lobbied for change. It has long been understood that the construction of historical narratives, based on local experiences, is an important aspect of nation building. There were three main aspects to the decolonisation of the history curriculum: first, the change in the content of the curriculum from British to Caribbean history; second, the shift in the focus of the curriculum content from the colonisers to Caribbean peoples; third, the West Indians of the examination structure which determined the content and philosophy of the secondary school curriculum (Johnson, 2002). This example proves that it is not only South Africa embarking on the decolonizing path, also former colonized countries are mending the divisions done by colonial rule. This shows that history is not the only method that needs to be decolonized but also the Eurocentric literature which mostly focuses on Shakespearean literature ignoring African literature.

Research has proved that children work better when being thought in their mother tongue languages. This does not only enhance learning but to also keep the native cultural languages relevant even for the next coming generation. The thing of focusing our children in English is looking down on our African culture because children cannot read and write their indigenous language. That does not only affect culture but if a child does not know his or her language how would she then understands where she comes from. Adding more South African related topics won’t make much difference if we are still oppressed by the foreign language itself. Even Zola Wababa, director of the University of Fort Hare-based Isi-Xhosa national lexicography unit, said any move to decolonise the curriculum had to include the promotion of indigenous African languages as mediums of instruction.

Giving rise to the establishment of this Ministerial Task Team (MTT) was the perceived lack of knowledge of the country’s history amongst learners, and the role of history in instilling love of country. At a roundtable discussion held in December 2015 between stakeholders, including educators and representatives of trade unions and teacher unions, the Minister spoke about the political pressure she was under to deal with the teaching of the discipline of History (Govender, 2017). The worry seemed to be that our young people do not appreciate our country’s history and that of the African continent. There was a feeling that history is essential to motivate the consciousness of the nation and in this regard it is more than just “another subject” (Govender, 2017). The Minister further made comments about the content of the history curriculum and the way history is being taught in our schools (Govender, 2017).

Even if the MTT sees the need for decolonising, but some people do not, for example the historian teacher; Maryke Balley who criticises the issue of decolonising the curriculum by justifying that most topics covered in the curriculum from grade 5 to 9 are mostly local and southern African history (Balley, 2017). If the department is concerned with the youth not knowing their history or not appreciating, then maybe the problem is imperative, maybe we should look history as also the same as subjects like mathematics, because if learners fail to pass the teaching techniques are questioned, so why is it not the case with history? She ask these rhetoric question arguing that adding a list of south African heroes will not make the children appreciative or know their history if there are underlying problems that the government is not investigation because maybe the quality of teachers delivering history are not producing because of the way they deliver their lessons (Balley, 2017).

Even the critique maybe making a good point by questioning how teachers teach history, and maybe it is the reason why the youth is clueless about history, but also we cannot turn a blind eye on the type of history teachers have been trained to learn. Pre 1990, George McCall Theal was popular on making South African textbooks. In most of those books he theocratized the blacks as the most violent people. For example the portrayal of King Shaka Zulu in the history books portrayed him as a bloodthirsty leader who killed for no reason. They portrayed him to a point that a person reading about him instantly fears the man and grow feelings of hate. Most of the divide borders were maintained through history books. This is why (Ndlovu, 2013) views history as one of the most influential subjects in maintaining or disrupting nationality amongst people.

In south Africa or most of the once colonised countries, the unthinking of colonial knowledge becomes a very problematic issue because the resistance of colonial historiography has tended to fall back to the ideologies being criticized of being colonial narratives because historian try to re articulate the same evidences that were acquired by the nationalists or colonial historians of that period. So to pave a way, according to (Ndlovu, 2013) suggests that there must be reconstruction of the portrayal of pre-colonial gender structures of African states as sexist, conservative and male driven societies. Because these are the factors that continue to hinder nation building because it creates a cycle of black abusive man oppressing woman in the name of tradition. The portrayal of precolonial societies as patriarchy creates the systematic wedges between man and women in every generations. And that is the wrong perspective of describing precolonial societies as oppressive of women because for example (Amadiume, 2002) in Nigeria, Igbo society women have actually been respected and highly praised for example unlike the Christian religion that has a man God, Igbo had a goddess meaning that God had not only been recognised as male only.

Many African countries offer history as an optional subject, so the move to decolonize leaves us with one question, whose history would be compulsory? We cannot turn blind that history can be used as a political wing, many opinions rise from different political organisations whether this is the strategy of the African National Congress of ensuring that its legacy lives forever because they are the most prominent leaders in the struggle against apartheid. Even the minister of education currently is under a form of party that he or she answers to. They all have 5 year terms, so what happens once the minister moves out of position and the new one is appointed or maybe from another political party, does the content now changes. These are the concerns people are worried with because education of South Africa is very much controlled about who is in power. Other ideologies are neutralised, we have seen that with colonial administration in South Africa.

Nonetheless decolonization is still vital and is needed but the question is what a decolonized South Africa history should be like. (Ndlovu, 2013), gives us the answer that a decolonised south African history will ideally consists of ecologies of different historical narratives that do not assume any pretence to universality. This kind of narrative will enable the people who are meant to be South Africans to determine and select those memories that make them feel good about who they without subjected to a false notion of objectivity. This kind of history especially for FET band will be very vital in fighting against racism, stereotypes that have been mostly highlighted in history books on maintaining separation and disunity amongst South Africans. This will prepare them to go and work with other racial groups it maybe in work spheres or tertiary institutions that they work together and lighten the bold divisions of black and white or man and women. In conclusion the essay has critically discussed the importance of why we need to decolonize the history FET phase in South Africa using different authors and opinions from people.

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Amadiume, I. (2002). AFRICAN MATRIARCHS AND MAMMY WATER. Bodies, choices, globalizing neocolonial enchantments, 41-46.

Balley, M. (2017, april 20). Debunking myths about South African history curriculum. Daily Mverick.


Govender, P. (2017). Baby steps to decolonize schools. johannesburg: mail & gurdian.

J, F. (1992). The past in the future history and the politics of identity. American anthropologists, 837- 859.

Johnson, H. (2002). Decolonizing the history curriculum. the journal of imperial and commonwealth history.

Mazower, M. (2009). dark continent. europes twentieth century.

Ndlovu, M. (2013). mobilising history for nation building in South Africa. yesterday& today, 1-9.

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