History in the hands of the writer

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Copy of st EducRAGOUT1

NONTOBEKO MTSHALI

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“THE POPULATION of South Africa has never been homogeneous. The whites wish to retain their national identity in their own territory.

“At the same time, it must be acknowledged that the Bantu peoples also wish to assert their national identities. Events in Africa, particularly in the former Central African Federation, have shown that it is not possible to include both white and Bantu in one political system. It would be foolhardy to try to repeat the experiment in South Africa.”

These aren’t the radical rants of random fundamentalists.

This is what senior high school pupils were taught in their history lessons back in 1976. This is the gist of the reasons given for the formation of the Bantu (Urban Areas) Act of 1923.

Copy of st EducRAGOUT2

In a textbook titled History for Std (standard) 10, written by CJ Joubert, matric pupils were taught that the growing number of “Bantu” in the cities in 1925 “aroused a good deal of anxiety” and that the Chinese government “indoctrinated” Africans which led to China getting a foothold on the continent from the late 1940s.

The textbook, first published in 1975, covers topics ranging from Nazi Germany, WW II, the conflict in the Middle East, the formation of the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity, now known as the African Union, among other things.

On economics and living conditions in the cities from the mid-1940s, the book says following a commission of inquiry, which put the average income of “an urban Bantu family at R20 (per month) if the mother also worked”, living conditions for this group improved.

“Improved wages, housing, education and health services made a lot of the Bantu more congenial.”

Fast-forward to 2012.

On the issue of living conditions, the New Generation History textbook for Grade 10, first published last year, says that these policies that determined where people should live and work were put in place to “exploit and control black societies”.

The book, written by a panel of authors, including Carol-Anne Stephenson, Jabu Hlongwane and Krishnee Govender says the living and working conditions of black people lead to a breakdown of family structures and poverty.

“Because productive young African men were forced to leave to find work in the mines in order to pay taxes, the women, children and old men had to take over their jobs.

“The result of this was that less food was produced. This made people more dependent on the money sent home by migrant workers.

“The traditional way of life was threatened and the capitalists got the cheap labour they were looking for.”

The book also says because black workers, in mines particularly, were mainly restricted to cheap labour positions which were less costly for mine owners and because white workers were given supervisory work and enjoyed better living standards, resentment between the two groups led to “racist attitudes”.

“White workers knew that mine owners preferred to hire cheap black labour over white labour. This led to the whites fearing the cheap labour of the blacks. These whites called themselves ‘civilised’ because they were white and argued that they deserved civilised high wages.

“This created a racist attitude towards black workers. The white workers did nothing to help liberate the black workers from the forced labour system. This led to black workers having a racist attitude towards white workers.”

Mandi Maodzwa-Taruvinga, from the Wits School of Education’s curriculum division, said there is no such thing as “one, true, objective history”.

“Certain events in the history of South Africa cannot be disputed,” she said.

“However, how those events are interpreted is a function of group interests and biases and points to how those with political and economic power might prefer a particular version of history over another.”

“Gail Weldon, who wrote Memory, Identity and the Politics of Curriculum Construction in Transition Societies: Rwanda and South Africa, reminds us of how in transition societies, education policy becomes a crucial arena for asserting political visions for a new society and for signalling a clear break with the past.

“As long as history education is seen as a vehicle for the construction of ‘a new memory and identity’ further developments or changes to history content cannot be ruled out,” said Maodzwa-Taruvinga.


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