‘Make history a compulsory subject’

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Copy of Copy of st Che Guevara FILE 3


A man sits at the feet of a statue of Colombias independence hero Simon Bolivar, on which there is a mask and a flag depicting South American revolutionary hero Che Guevara. People wear T-shirts with Guevaras picture, yet few know much about his life. There are concerns that South Africans dont know their own history either.

Johannesburg - It is the underdog of school subjects, seen as less important than maths and science in nation and economy building, but now one politician wants to change this.

For a long time, it seemed that only singer Bob Marley saw the importance of history as a discipline in understanding identity.

“If you know your history, then you would know where you coming from,” he sung to the rhythm of a reggae guitar.

But Marley has an ally in Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who feels history is so important it should be a compulsory subject at school.

Her reasoning is simple.

“What defines us as a people is our history,” she said.

She reiterated her call recently at the book launch of the Nelson Mandela Opus.

At the launch in Houghton, Johannesburg, she spoke of another great African, Hannibal.

“By the time he (Hannibal) died, nobody remembered who he was. Nobody remembered he was an African because he left nothing behind to indicate that he had been there,” she said. Sisulu fears another African icon, Nelson Mandela, might be forgotten by future generations of South Africans if his memory is not kept alive through the study of history.

Sisulu is so serious about changing the school curriculum in South Africa that she aims to raise the idea of making history a compulsory subject in schools at ANC election manifesto meetings.

It might appear strange that Sisulu, a former minister of defence, wants to get involved in education. However, she is passionate about history.

“I did teach history and I am a historian,” she said, explaining that this was what she did before entering politics.

“If you compare ourselves to developed countries, you will find that each knows their history,” Sisulu said.

Someone else who feels just as strong about history and fears the loss of our national memory is the chief executive of Liliesleaf Trust, Nick Wolpe.

He explained that we should treat our rich and diverse history like Cuba. “Cuba and history are one,” he said.

Wolpe said he saw the death of history in the country where he grew up – England – where history was relegated to second-class status with the arrival of Thatcherism. Emphasis was placed on maths, science and chemistry, and what was necessary for stimulating economic growth and recovery.

“We are following with the same ideas,” he said.

Wolpe said he worried that South Africans did not know their history. “Twenty years in and we are battling apathy, we are so caught up in the here and now.”

He said he had heard of how there had been reports in Cambodia of the younger generation not knowing about the genocide that claimed 2 million Cambodian lives, just more than 30 years ago.

“You see how popular it is for people to wear T-shirts with Che Guevara’s face on it, how many of them know his story?” asked Wolpe.

“We could have a situation in the future where people have Nelson Mandela’s face on their T-shirts, and they don’t know his story.” - The Star

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