Shortly after it was announced that History may become a compulsory subject in South African schools up to Grade 12, the country was abuzz with the news. The biggest objection is most likely about its presentation and people are concerned that preference will be given to one group’s history, and that it will lead to further disagreement in South Africa, rather than reconciliation and understanding.
The Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga did say that it should contribute to nation building and unity. But then there is also a contradiction in her words: “…it is going to be the history of Africa and the beauty of us, ourselves as Africans”. Immediately these words caught my attention. I have long believed that History should be a compulsory subject because with the right presentation it contributes to nation building and creating a South African identity. But in Motshekga’s words I see bias and the words “us” and “ourselves” that does not belong in the history context.
History should be presented objectively. For example: Look at the two films “Pearl Harbor” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”. Both films deal with the conflict between the US and Japan during World War II. People usually watch films like these from an American point of view, but if you watch “Letters from Iwo Jima” you will have more of an understanding for the Japanese perspective of the war. A historian must carefully approach all sides of history and focus on facts. Afterwards people must be able to learn valuable lessons from History and apply them.
Again, one wants to ensure that History is not used as propaganda and written from the point of view of the government of the day to favour one group over another. During Apartheid (and in other countries during the race ideology period) History was presented in such a way as to promote the superiority of one race group over another. If we want to promote democracy and nation building through History this must be avoided at all costs.
Everyone’s History is important and must be respected. Thus, personal opinions and prejudice must be avoided. History must always be based on factual retellings of events from both sides. It should contribute to ensuring that mistakes are not repeated. History should help build a country’s future rather than stagnating a country in what it was.
Written by Ilse Stickling – Subject Specialist: History at Impaq