10 years of history changes

2004-04-22 15:59
Johannesburg - Ten years into democracy, teachers are still battling the legacy of apartheid, whose history primers painted blacks as "primitive" and even "barbaric".

Before white rule ended in 1994, pupils were taught history along colour lines: white children were told that apartheid represented the ruling Afrikaners' right to self-determination, while for black students, history lessons ended with 1948, the year the white nationalists came to power.

Now, schools are introducing Curriculum 2005, which focuses on "outcomes-based education", a teaching method where pupils debate the merits of what they have learnt.

Before 1994, teachers "presented apartheid history as a set of political acts, completely out of any meaningful or analytical political context, leaving no room for debate," Claudia Bickford-Smith, a commissioning editor at Oxford University Press in Cape Town said.

"Afrikaners (during the 1800s) - were like Israel amongst the heathen nations and faced extinction if they did not maintain their identity," reads one history book, printed in 1970 and used by white final-year high school students.

"The Old Testament exercised a great influence on their spiritual attitude, especially on the distant frontiers where their existence was constantly threatened by wild and barbaric primitive races," it added.

Since 1994, educators have been at pains to correct that sort of distorted and racist view of history, Bickford-Smith said.

Elize van Eeden, a history professor at the University of Potchefstroom, southwest of Johannesburg, said: "Although not without its flaws, the new curriculum is the most representive take on South Africa's history we have ever had.

"To understand each other, we have to understand where we came from. History teaches us who we are."

A new history book, published by Oxford will soon be made available to students. In it, they will learn about the Sharpeville shootings of March 1960, when apartheid police gunned down 69 blacks protesting against pass laws south of Johannesburg.

Called "In Search of History", it will also talk about the 1976 student uprisings in the Johannesburg township of Soweto against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, and "Bantu education".

It even has a chapter for debate on the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was killed in detention in 1961 at the age of 35 in a Cold War conspiracy widely blamed on the US Central Intelligence Agency.

The changes and filling in the gaps about South Africa's apartheid past are "very much a new way of looking at history, a very mature way that is not vengeful at all," said Bickford-Smith.

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