University of Stellenbosch
|This paper examines the suppression of historical consciousness in schools in the new South Africa as manifested in the curriculum making process. The writer reflects on her own experience and locates that experience within the context of political negotiation, reconciliation and globalisation. The paper concludes with outlining possible challenges for history education in the new millennium in South Africa for the attainment of the proverbial African Renaissance.|
|South Africans grapple with their past|
With the onset of reform in South Africa in the early 1990s, it became apparent that in order to lay firm foundations for a non-racial democracy, South Africa had to first of all deal with its past. For this reason, in the year following the elections, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established with the explicit purpose to focus on gross human rights violations (albeit a tiny period of that past) -- using March 1960 as the benchmark. Through starting its hearings in April 1996 and facilitating at least 20 000 statements from victims, the TRC had hoped to assist in the complex process of getting South Africans to deal with "history within themselves": giving voice to the voiceless and tongues to the displaced -- providing a space for ordinary people to shape the rewriting of South Africa's most painful past. The spiritual, historical, educational and political significance of this process cannot be overemphasised.
The TRC hearings made an interesting populist contribution to South African historiography: oral testimony of both victim and perpetrator, post-modern conceptions of the "truth" -- the "truth" for reconciliation; rewriting South Africa's history not only for nation building, but also for the world as an audience. South Africans have attempted to confront the apartheid ghost through this process; they have tried to (and they still attempt to) deal with the grief, guilt, humiliation and pain of its very own Holocaust.
More importantly, South Africans have started the process of debating and grappling with the "relevance" of the past to our present and future. This was most apparent at the Biennial Conference of the South African Historical Society held in Cape Town (11-14 July 1999), titled Secrecy, Lies and History. An observer from the media noted that local historians at the conference appeared more in search of a redefinition of their own relationship with the country's recent apartheid past which continues to haunt the present and the process of constructing history; this reflects the difficulties academics face in traversing the old and new South Africa -- and themselves 'teetering at the top of a slippery slope' (Phylicia Oppelt, Sunday Analysis, Sunday Times, 18 July 1999).
But the challenges academics, historians and educators face are much more complex than the proverbial "slippery slope".
At the heart of these issues is the question of the relevance of historical consciousness and its place in society and in this, South Africa is surely not alone.
|Aspects of dealing with the past|
The first aspect of these challenges relates to power and transformation. There have been various interpretations of what exactly is meant by "historical consciousness": as being the relationship between interpretation of the past, understanding of the present and perspectives for the future -- a basic human condition. Giroux (1997) refers to Foucault's (1977) notion of counter-memory as similar to historical consciousness; as the practice which transforms history from a judgement on the past in the name of the present truth to a "counter-memory" that combats our present modes of truth and justice, helping us to understand and change the present by placing it in a new relation to the past. This represents a critical reading of how the present reads the past and allows people to speak from their particular histories and voices (1997:152-153). Giroux therefore explains counter-memory as a pedagogical and political practice, which attempts to alter oppressive relations of power and guide to transform such relations (1997:155).
There are also many debates about historical consciousness. Collins (1991) speaks about "knowledge consciousness" and "self knowledge" rather than "historical consciousness"; "self-affirmation" and "self-definition" (1991: 106) and their concomitant link to empowerment. Like Apple (1997), Collins contends that knowledge relates to power.
The second aspect relates to globalisation and nation-building. South Africans are grappling with finding a place in the global world of markets for productivity and "outcomes" while simultaneously facing the task of nation building and healing. This often leads to denial of conflict and its concomitant promotion of what one can perhaps term tunnel-vision consensus. Though not necessarily conspiratorial, the preoccupation with the important political tasks of nation building and reconciliation inevitably leads to the suppression of a critical consciousness and, more specifically, the suppression of historical consciousness. And perhaps in more powerful ways than in the revolutionary apartheid era when the nurturing of historical consciousness for transformation in schools was the most natural reaction to racist repression.
The third aspect relates to the place of history in schools . Historical consciousness has become a key concept in the debate about history teaching and learning in many European countries. School history has been the subject of scrutiny and reform in many parts of the world. The international debate centres on the place and relevance of the subject (Giroux 1997; Novick 1988; Tosh 1984, 1991; Rabb 1982; Rogers 1979; 1987, Angvik and von Borries 1997, van der Leeuw-Roord 1998). The debate on the uses of history is also a familiar one, particularly with regard to issues of education for productivity versus education for critical thinking and purpose (Tosh 1984, 1991; Giroux 1997) and alleged declining youth interest in the Humanities Giroux 1997). The New South Wales Education Ministry, has for example, published the Green Paper at the end of 1988 which promoted science and technology at the expense of history and proposing that history be part of a broader multi-disciplinary "Australian Studies".
School history has also been under the spotlight in Africa with the UNESCO conference on history textbooks in African schools in Nairobi in 1989. At the conference it seemed that only Zimbabwe and Mozambique had tried to introduce the oppositional anti-colonial tradition in school curricula. This seemed not the case for the rest that had curricula very similar to the time of independence in the 1960s.
Several debates and initiatives (from the state, oppositional education movements and broad stake-holder forums) regarding a new history for schools in South Africa took place in the period 1988  to 1993. The local South African debate is reflective of the international debate (Chisholm 1981, Kallaway et al 1990, Kros 1987, Rees 1990/91, History Education Group 1993).
It is against the background of calls for both effective short-term and long-term solutions to the crisis in school education (particularly as it pertained to the dated and racist apartheid syllabi) that the then Minister of Education, Sibusiso Bengu, called through press releases in August 1994 for "essential alterations" to school syllabuses with very specific reference to the distorted apartheid History content. The process set in motion to meet the minister's brief was not an easy one. Plagued by the apartheid legacy, the birth of a democratic South Africa was indeed a protracted battle between the old and the new. Effective long-term curriculum planning had to be sacrificed in favour of political expediency.
In July 1996 historians and history educators expressed their concerns for the future of history in South African education at the Future of the Past Conference held in Cape Town. One of the main questions asked at the conference and conveyed to the Education Authorities pertained to the critical study of history in schools as the most essential and significant vehicle for citizenship education for the new South Africa. It could be understood that the Education Department was perhaps (at the time) grappling with the contentious aspect of history, as a subject that can be used by both conservatives and progressives for propaganda purposes. Having taken cognisance of the complexities of the issues involved, the delegation of The Future of the Past Conference raised the concern of the possible risk of "throwing the baby out with the bath water": Is the critical study of history in schools not the most essential and significant vehicle for citizenship education for the new South Africa? Is this not the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in a mature educational form? Is this not the place where our children will begin to engage with the agony and the pain?
It was evident at the meeting that there was much tension around the issues the delegation was raising. We were told that reform is about the whole curriculum not just history and we were sort of reprimanded for not getting the new language of Outcomes Education right. For example, to talk about history in the new schools context was dated. The new language was now the global language of "programmes of learning" for "outcomes" -- a new language of alienation that could perhaps because of the process of marginalisation of the study of the past, be interpreted as "putting the process of collective amnesia into place". The new democracy was evidently dealing with the challenge of creating a new South Africa that could function in and find a place in the larger technocratic world.
The fourth aspect relates to the process of validating knowledge . The process of curriculum making was in itself characterised by tensions around questions of relevance and the purpose of knowledge. Hence the battle in the curriculum making workshops to claim a place for important components of the oppositional and people's history traditions. Participants were requested not to talk in "old language" such as history; the department required the consultancy services of "forward looking" people. There were deadlines, white males with laptops, disks, alienating language and authoritarian voices that demanded "products" by the hour. The new government (in the form of its educational leadership) had to prove to both the world and the nation that it was competent and delivering the "goods" in preparing South Africa for its participation in the global world of production and markets. As succinctly put by a fellow colleague, "There are points at which the new curriculum appears to be stretched taut between economic imperatives determined by the unseen hand of globalisation, and the ANC's traditional commitment to improving the quality of life and access to basic amenities for all of South Africa's people. The new curriculum is characterised by trade offs" (Cynthia Kros, July 1999).
History had to fight for a place in a space that was more defined by peace studies and environment education rather than the historiographical tradition of the People's Education movement that entailed historical questions such as those of land ownership and conflict. Certain participants felt safer with vague formulations regarding the study of society (past and present). A case in point, is the major debate that erupted around the inclusion of "apartheid" as a range statement -- fights over choice of depth of content, fights over what is essential to understanding the South African society.
The power to distort lay in the semantics of formulation and control of technology. Another debate centered around choice; about whether, for example, educators should be able to choose not to teach apartheid. Hundreds of years of history could so easily be wiped out by a small word such as "or" in favour of "and".
Literacy is primarily about communication in the power-knowledge relationship in the modern world; literacy defines who controls the means to reproduce knowledge (Taylor, 1993: 139). Bell hooks (1994:90 - 91) speaks about the unique mixture of experiential and analytical ways of knowing which cannot be acquired through books or even distanced observation, the "passion of experience" and the "passion of remembrance" as she terms it -- a particular knowledge that comes from suffering. It is therefore understandable why tension and anxiety surrounded the control of technology, about who controlled the disks and computers, about who edited the words, about who had the technical know-how in preparing documents for the minister's approval.
Apple and Christian-Smith (1991: 2) assert that the relationship between education and power is made manifest in the struggles by women, people of color, and others to have their history and knowledge included in the curriculum. Conflicts over texts are often proxies for wider questions of power relations; in the process of enfranchising one group's cultural capital, another is disenfranchised (1991: 4).
The fifth aspect relates to the development of critical consciousness and the building of a democracy . Giroux expresses his skepticism with the "loss of interest in history among American students and the public at large" (1997: 4). Along with fellow critics, he terms this as a "deplorable social phenomenon"; as "a crisis in historical consciousness" and as a crisis in the ability of the American people to remember those "lessons" of the past that illuminate the developmental preconditions of individual liberty and social freedom (1997:5).
Furthermore, Giroux points out that "the irrelevance of history" argument contains conservative implications such as that it is not history that has become irrelevant, but rather that historical consciousness is being suppressed. Implicit in this analysis is the assumption that history provides a vehicle for the development of "a collective critical consciousness" (1997:5); without history, there can be no critical engagement with issues. It is through developing historical consciousness that those who study history are enabled to highlight the contradictions in a given society (1997:5). The emphasis on science and technology in a curriculum represents therefore a shift toward positivism (1997: 7) -- in other words, toward a reactionary conservatism, which fosters an undialectical and one-dimensional view of the world (1997:13). Accordingly, those economic, political and social structures that shape our daily lives are left unquestioned (1997:13). Tosh (1991:1) argues for "the uses of history" for (amongst others) the development of a sense of identity and future prospects. He states that the "raw material" for historical consciousness is almost unlimited (1991:2). He therefore argues that the work of historians is important; it forms the basis for critical discussion of current issues (1991:6). Tosh emphasises the purpose of history as training the mind, enlarging the sympathies and providing "a much-needed historical perspective on some of the most pressing problems of our time" (1991:29).
The realisation that those who were campaigning for history were perhaps once more heading for a cul de sac dawned when at the time of the second meeting with the national ministry in June 1998, teachers were threatening mass action over industrial issues and the press speculated about the minister's retirement. It was apparent that History was obviously not high on the agenda as in the populist, revolutionary eighties -- it just could not be. There were larger forces that the new government had to deal with.
Given the manifestation of collective amnesia in its various forms in government and education, it might help to consider the challenges for South Africa in the road ahead towards the "South African-inspired" African Renaissance intellectual movement and education in Africa beyond the millennium.
|Can the TRC be expected to have "tended to the past"?|
The answer is not. South African academic and historian, Colin Bundy, speaks about the TRC as a process through which the new South African regime established its new order by defining that new order through judgement on the old order (i.e. the constitutive act of the new order). It is indeed widely recognised that the TRC was shaped by the mandate of political compromise as a political act of "nation building".
There is also a loud call for the TRC report to be made available in a way that it can be used in schools, beyond a "narrow historiography". However, historians are grappling with the variety of limitations of the report as it "does not confront the past and its wider complexities".
For example, whilst the TRC can help to shape historical understanding, it can also narrow and distort historical understanding.One example that illustrates the narrowness of its "investigative mandate" is its limitation to historical understanding of apartheid as a consequence of racism rather than any other process, such as capitalism and its historical roots in slave society, colonialism and industrialisation. Bundy refers to this limitation as an "uncoupling" of important processes of the history of South Africa. The truth is therefore reflected through narrow lenses. The populist assumption in South Africa is that the TRC dealt with our past. The TRC had significant and inherent limits. The challenge that we face in rewriting history goes far beyond and deeper than the TRC brief; far beyond the recent, painful past.
|Why is the past important for the African Renaissance?|
A renewed look at Africa, an African identity and the role of both Africa and Africans in the world has emerged just over a year ago with the launch of the first African Renaissance Conference held in Johannesburg.
Key challenges addressed by the conference were:
Firstly, how dislocated are we from our reality and consciousness as Africans? In this regard Mamdani refers to the alienation of the South African intelligentsia from Africa, as foreign and "somewhere else", reflecting notions which are products of the period of the Dark Ages, slavery and colonialism. It is therefore, he asserts, this new sense of self, born of a different sense of history and one's place in it, that we call the African Renaissance (Mamdani,1999). 
Secondly, where is the memory of our history located today? This remains a burning and most relevant issue. Notions of heritage and culture (though important for identity and public history purposes) fail to adequately address the past as an inclusive critical African consciousness.
Thirdly, in what ways do these (culture, history and consciousness) elevate the African to equality in a rapidly globalising environment? Whilst redefining ourselves and locating our memory, our history and ourselves, we find ourselves at a crossroads at the end of the millennium. Ntuli (1999) describes this tension as the continuation of the past, reinscribing itself in the present, while struggling to reconcile the two moments and two worlds -- of being both Western and African. As Diop (1999) points out that Africa is already under threat of marginalisation within the global market and the "recolonisation" by "the new masters of the changing world".
The vision that emerged from this conference represents an evolution from Pan Africanism (Africa for Africans) to an inclusive Africanism informed by a creative world-view that balances Pan Africanism with globalisation (Africans for Africa and for the global community); a fine balance between an "inward-looking" and "outward-looking" Africa-focussed intelligentsia.
Protagonists of the African Renaissance argue for a creative global vision emanating from within Africa. An Africa-focussed intelligentsia (Mamdani, 1999) have an important role to play in the process of creating this vision. Africans have to define themselves and their agenda according to their own realities and have to be agents of their own destiny and have to have the distortions of the history of their country corrected (Makgoba, 1999). Those that lead the African Renaissance process must therefore be a historically conscious and Africa-focussed leadership within the continent (Makgoba, 1999). The definition of who is African today is based on the three elements of history, culture and consciousness of being African in the world in an ever increasing nonracialising and creolising global context (Makgoba, 1999).
State President Thabo Mbeki (1998) asserts that the intelligentsia have a role to play in ending (amongst others) ignorance which should be inspired by the fact that Africa were in some instances thousands of years ahead in civilisation. Historical understanding is, therefore, a key component in the process of breaking the shackles of enslavement of the African mind and soul, contributing to the recovery of African pride and confidence (Mbeki, 1998) -- the cornerstone of the African Renaissance.
African Education should wrestle with questions such as the recovery of languages, cultures and histories while inventing our future in the technological era and our link with the rest of the world, enhancing human development (Mugo, 1999). African orature has a great deal to teach the world in its proverbial ubuntu language of unity, collaboration, co-operation and interdependence (Mugo, 1999). Odora-Hoppers et al (1999) point out that knowledge should help us to regain what we have lost by generating counter-hegemonic discourses.
In short, historical understanding is the key to finding ourselves as Africans and asserting with confidence our place in the new world order.
|Does the challenge of globalisation necessitate marginalisation of historical consciousness in favour of a technocratic consciousness?|
We have (paradoxically) entered the world -- both the African and global world. What are our challenges therefore as historians and history educators in the post-Truth and Reconciliation, post-Mandela, post-rainbow South Africa? This challenge is most astutely reflected in an opinion expressed by a journalist who attended the recent conference of the South African Historical Society: "Thus, for a while, history as a subject seems set to atrophy as we live in an age of instant global communications, with a constant capacity for almost instant amnesia; so very soon, we are already forgetting so very much" (Bryan Rostron, "South African history's becoming history", in The Mail and Guardian, 6-12 August 1999).
Muller (1997) contends that globalisation means, in short, that an increasingly extensive field of knowledge and information is deployed in an increasingly intensive, specialised sector of practice. Curriculum transformation in the new global order is not simply about the insertion of some local or global content, but involves a rethink of citizenship and the identity of the learner; a careful understanding of the way that knowledge is produced, organised and distributed. The issue is therefore more appropriately foremost about how we deploy and disseminate knowledge about the history of Africa and Africans in our own country and the rest of the world for the purposes of rewriting ourselves into world history -- intervening for and contributing to the recovery of African pride and confidence.
Historical understanding remains undoubtedly important and relevant for Africans in asserting themselves in the new global order. Its relevance to understanding the complexities of our continent and its place and role in the world (now in its post-modern form) and understanding the very symptoms of post-modernist amnesia, is in itself timeless.
In the meantime, the youth bear the torches as the leadership grapples with the birthpains of our newly found democracy in a fast changing global order. And for a moment it is echoed in the seemingly paradoxical voices of the Afrikaner African youth who recently met with President Mbeki and spoke of their apparent dissociation from South Africa's painful, recent past, "Yesterday is a foreign country; tomorrow belongs to us." The vision profoundly expressed in this seemingly paradoxical slogan, reflects the call for "learning about what really happened" as evident from interviews with youth who recently paid a visit to the Holocaust Centre in Cape Town.
Our future is buried in the web of this paradox -- our perceived present as informed by our past and our past being omnipresent; the paradox of the essential two worlds of Africa.
 This paper is a reworked version of my paper titled "Suppressing historical consciousness in schools: The hidden hand in history" which was presented at the South African Historical Society Conference 11- 14 July, 1999 in Cape Town.
 The role of history as a vehicle for nation building has been hotly contested at the Future of the Past Conference in Cape Town, July 1996. South African historian, Colin Bundy, asserts that the study of history should not be for a particular political purpose. This viewpoint was reiterated during a discussion led by Bundy on the TRC as "history" at the Truth and Reconciliation Conference held in Cape Town in August 1999.
 Prominent national and international scholars participated in this conference.
 Henrik Skovgaard Nielsen in "Historical Consciousness -- the concept and Possible consequences for history teaching" (unpublished paper)
 See footnote 2.
 Of particular significance is the Youth and History Survey conducted in Europe in the 1990s which entailed a study of 32 000 teenagers in about 27 countries who were asked to reflect on the question of what history means to young people.
 See Cuthbertson, Greg and Grundlingh, A in "Distortions of Discourse: Some Problematical Issues in the Restructuring of History Education in South African Schools" in International Yearbook of History Education, The Woburn Press, Great Britain (1995)
 The people's history movement of the 1980s highlighted the crisis in history teaching. One of the results was the establishment of the predominantly white, male Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) investigation into history teaching in schools, which reported in 1992.
 The oppositional NEPI argued for a curriculum inclusive in its design and implementation so that it can incorporate a range of experiences. The broad stake-holder NETF proposed a short-term syllabus revision option as a short-term intervention.
 The call was for this to be done in such a way that it did not necessitate the introduction of new textbooks in the short term.
 The Humanities, especially History, has been the target of retrenchments at universities and schools. Since 1997 enrolments in history departments across the country had dropped by as much as 50% to 60%.
 See footnote 2.
 The delegation of which I was a member of met with representatives of National Education in Pretoria in December 1996.
 This assertion is based on my personal experience as a member of the National Reference Group for the Human and Social Sciences Learning Area.
 For example, consultants from Canada were contracted to provide the education leadership with a crash course on the formulation of programmes for outcomes. Ideas and approaches for curriculum design were also borrowed from models in Scotland and New Zealand.
 See Cynthia Kros, "Telling lies and then hoping to forget all about History", paper presented at the SAHS Conference, July 1999
 An example to illustrate this point: "The learner must be able to write an essay by making use of written sources or oral sources" instead of "and oral sources". Oral tradition and oral sources were not on the agenda and had to be battled for.
 This time as representatives of the delegation of the South African History Society who met with then Education Minister Professor Bengu in parliament in Cape Town on 1 June 1997.
 Referring here to President Thabo Mbeki's campaign for an African Renaissance.
 Colin Bundy, TRC Conference, August 1999, Cape Town.
 Referring here specifically to the limiting period of 1960 to 1994 and the contentious issue of beneficiaries of apartheid (i.e. the Mamdani critique).
 Alex Boraine, TRC Commissioner, TRC conference, August 1999, Cape Town.
 Colin Bundy, TRC Conference, August 1999, Cape Town.
 Colin Bundy citing Mahmood Mamdani at the TRC conference, August 1999, Cape Town. A further point noted by one of the commissioners who participated in the conference refers to the political circumstances under which the report had been prepared (factors of time, political tension, and various forces that operated which cannot be disclosed to the public). The destruction of thousands of tons of documents and evidence by private companies is said to have "emasculated" an important period in the history of South Africa. This is said to have been one of the deals that were struck between the ANC and the previous government.
 Colin Bundy (TRC Conference, August 1999) - also citing Mamdani.
 The conference held 28-29 September 1998, dealt with key questions which inform the philosophy of the emergent African Renaissance: Who are the Africans? Where do they come from? What is their history? Where are they going? What constitutes the African Renaissance -- globally and nationally? Makgoba (1999) makes the point that Africa is not alone in its search for an identity and a redefinition of its place in the world. Similar struggles are taking place in Britain and elsewhere, for example. He points out that (similarly) modern Australians have accepted that their identity and future are located in the Pacific and not in Europe.
 See introductory chapter of W Mokgoba, (ed) African Renaissance, 1999.
 See Mahmood Mamdani, "Teaching Africa at the post-apartheid University of Cape Town", Seminar presented at the Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town, 22 April 1998.
 See Mahmood Mamdani, "There can be no African Renaissance without an Africa-focused intelligentsia" in Makgoba (ed) 1999.
 See introductory chapter of W Mokgoba, (ed) African Renaissance, 1999.
 See Pikita P. Ntuli, "The Missing link between culture and education: Are we still chasing Gods that are not our own?" in Makgoba (ed.) 1999.
 See Dialo Diop, "Africa: Mankind's past and future" in Makgoba (ed.) 1999.
 Mamdani (1999) defines the African Renaissance discourse as having evolved through ongoing debate from Pan Africanism
 Africans as including Afrikaner Africans, European Africans, Arab Africans, Indian Africans etc.
 Africa-focussed intelligentsia (Mamdani,1999)
 Then Deputy President.
 The African Renaissance Statement by the Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, SABC, Callagher Estate, 13 August 1998.
 Speech of President, Thabo Mbeki, at the African Renaissance Conference, Johannesburg, 28 September 1998 (The conference was held 28-29 September and was attended by 470 delegates which included intellectuals, academics, practitioners and politicians.)
 See Micere Githae Mugo, "African Culture in Education for Sustainable Development" in Makgoba (ed.) 1999.
 See Catherine A. Odora Hoppers et al "Making This Our Last Passive Moment" in Makgoba (ed.) 1999.
 As understood within both a national and international context.
 SAHS conference in Cape Town (11-14 July 1999).
 See Johan Muller in N.Cloete et al (eds.) 1997.
 See introductory chapter of Makgoba (1999).
 See the article by Priscilla Singh, "We have to learn what really happened" in the Cape Times, 10 November 1999. The article is based on interviews with learners from three different high schools representing children from different cultures and backgrounds who visited the Holocaust Centre in Cape Town which opened about three months ago.
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June Bam holds a Master's Degree in History Education from the University of Cape Town. She is currently doing a Ph.D on the attitudes of youth to history in the Sociology Department, University of Stellenbosch. Her research interests include the construction of knowledge in Africa, history education and youth; historical consciousness in a post-modernist world. She has taught courses in her research field at the University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape. She is series editor of the South African school history series My New World. Gariep, 1999; and co-author of A new History for a new South Africa. Kagiso, 1996.
|Paper presented at the African Studies Association of Australasia & the Pacific 22nd Annual & International Conference (Perth, 1999)|
New African Perspectives: Africa, Australasia, & the Wider World at the end of the twentieth century