This comes as the department plans to dim the role of “The Bard” in the language curriculum in an effort to “decolonise” the school curriculum and place more emphasis on African and South African writers.
A literature expert, Dr Betty Govinden, who specialises in the works of Shakespeare described the move as a “tragedy”.
She said The Bard’s works were already decolonised around the world in many ways through reinterpretations of the work and have been re-appropriated by people in many ways.
“Shakespeare teaches a critical way of reading texts and also how to read the world critically.
“There is nothing in Shakespeare that is static, and his works are relevant for any age in time,” she said.
The move to scrap Shakespeare emerged when Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said decolonising education would feature heavily in the department’s process of reviewing the curriculum when responding to questions sent by the DA last week.
In the response the minister said: “There is a need to move towards the greater inclusion of African and South African writings for novels/drama and poetry and this will be part of the long-term curriculum review process.
“Therefore, the consideration of the works of Shakespeare is an aspect of the overall literature review process targeted for 2020 and thus concrete work on this shall only begin in 2018.”
Elijah Mhlanga, Motshekga’s spokesperson, said the department had already started planning. He said this did not mean Shakespeare would be completely removed from school books.
Motshekga’s response comes amid growing calls for the decolonisation of the education system. The calls reached fever pitch during the #FeesMustFall movement that swept through the country in the past two years.
One of the organisations that supports the plan is non-governmental organisation Equal Education.
Sfiso Mollo, the junior national organiser of Equal Education, said: “It is the right move.”
Mollo said the problem with Shakespeare’s writings was that they didn’t reflect the daily realities of the African child.
With African authors, texts reflected the politics and history of colonisation that affected people in the country and how they overcame challenges in those contexts, Mollo said.
“This is not like in Shakespeare, which is written with a European audience in mind,” he said.
The difficulty in understanding the language of The Bard was another aspect that needed to be considered.
DA education spokesperson Gavin Davis said: “We support a rich, diverse English literature curriculum relevant to the South African context.
“This could include a wide array of great authors such as William Shakespeare, Harper Lee, Maya Angelou, George Orwell, Chinua Achebe, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Mongane Wally Serote, Zakes Mda, JM Coetzee and K Sello Duiker.
“We support empowering learners to engage critically with the world around them,” Davis said.
“We don’t support removing authors for ideological reasons or because they don’t fit in with a political party’s idea of who is acceptable and who isn’t.”
Davis said the curriculum should be a South African one which reflects the country’s rich diversity and experience and should be in line with the constitution of the land.
He said the department had not made clear what the new “decolonised” curriculum would entail.
Once this has happened they would then be able to respond to it, he said.