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“History is written by the victors.”- Winston Churchill.
History schoolbooks in South Africa were completely different before 1994.
It is very interesting to see the new take on events from the ‘other side’. Also, as part of the citizenry of this country during the regime change in the early Nineties, we were privileged to see history in the making.
Now the events of those days are described and illustrated in modern history books. It’s interesting now to watch the different slants each era adopted.
Job reservation for whites, Mandela – none of these came up in our classroom discussions back in the Sixties. And now, Shaka Zulu is no longer the bloodthirsty, demonised despot he was described in the old history books, but a canny warrior and gifted leader, worthy of the place he occupies in our history.
And then, I think of the responsibilities of the illustrators back then. Terrifying us young white schoolchildren with bloodthirsty pictures of Zulu warriors. These were often shown brandishing spears and dangling little white babies by their legs. The next action, we knew, was to smash their heads against the wheels of the ox-wagons. These were always drawn up in a laager against the invading hordes.
No similar atrocities from the side of the settlers were ever mentioned. What is written in history books is often outright propaganda of course. But how far does one go in being complicit in it?
Sometimes one has a choice – do a job and get paid, don’t do a job, and don’t get paid. I did feel sad when a publisher dropped a Herman Charles Bosman story (already illustrated) from an English book and substituted an African myth instead. I felt that in a multicultural country, reading each other’s cultures and stories leads to greater understanding. This can result not only in tolerance but appreciation. What troubled me is that the discarded story was the only voice from that part of our culture.