Forging an SA identity

WITH the memories (and scars) of apartheid still so strong, most of us flinch at notions of loyalty and nationhood. Loyalty to what? Should all South Africans share a common vision of this nation? A blind allegiance to a nation can be dangerous, not to mention insulting to our intelligence and ability to make independent decisions about our identity and future.

But a sense of patriotism need not detract from one’s own identity. The Department of Education’s Values, Education and Democracy report suggests ways in which schools can develop a sense of citizenship and sharing of common values. Releasing the report, Minister of Education Kader Asmal said: ”(W)e must draw on those infinite qualities common to our diverse language, cultural and religious traditions that will enable us to craft a new identity that defines us as a nation. We need to claim our diversity as a source of strength through which we can adopt a common set of values that bind us together as South Africans.”

The document contains thought-provoking ideas. But it is thorny terrain which must be explored with sensitivity and an openness to ongoing debate. With so many years of racist nationalism behind us it’s no wonder the media reacts with suspicion when the report recommends the flying of the national flag and singing of the national anthem. Our bitter past does not conjure easy answers to questions of what it means to be South African.

As a schoolgirl I was spared the ”veldskool” experience, compulsory for white children in the 1970s and 1980s. Most had to endure these creepy camps which were little more than propoganda exercises against the ”reds under the beds” or the so-called swart gevaar. It was hoped that children would trundle home, miraculously transformed into vehement supporters of Afrikaner nationalism. Such crude ”thought control” practices belong hopefully to the past, but what of the present and future?

After the miracle of peaceful transition to democracy, South Africans basked under the illusion of the ”rainbow nation”. Now, that mirage has faded somewhat. The realities of the ugly legacies of apartheid, of the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, of the moral decay of a society whose citizens erected barricades as children instead of doing their homework, of gun-toting civilians, of corruption in the corridors of power, are very much with us today.

It is clear that values and morals have by and large been left off the political, not to mention educational, agenda in favour of more ”urgent” matters. But the ongoing problems of crime, racial tensions and an apathy to learning and teaching make it clear that some soul searching about a common value system is more urgent than ever.

— The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, June, 2000.


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