/ 4 February 2016

Patriotism 101 begins at school

The state’s latest drive follows a flag in every school campaign
Curiosity and collaboration keep the creative juices flowing for Cathy O'Clery. (Graphic: John McCann)

First there was the aborted attempt at constructing an American-style pledge of allegiance to be recited by schoolchildren every day. Then efforts shifted to the singing of the anthem of the African Union – obscure even for AU officials themselves – in schools.

Now, over the next nine weeks, a project driven by the department of arts and culture will try a new approach to instil patriotism: a “national identity campaign” focusing on national symbols – because they can overcome divisions, including divisions of race and class, the government says.

“South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white,” says Deputy Arts and Culture Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi in one of the campaign messages. “Let us all unite as we promote and preserve our national identity through our national symbols.”

Material for the campaign consists of such messages, some set over stirring brass-band orchestral renditions of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, to be broadcast over SABC radio stations by way of SABC Education.

The campaign is organised under three themes:

  • Together moving towards a common national identity; 
  • Promoting our common national identity towards a social cohesive nation; and
  • We are a country that embraces diversity.

Though the campaign gives little hint at what the elusive common national identity may be, it features such information as how to handle the national flag to show it due respect.

The timing of the campaign, soon after the country was gripped by a race row that spilled out of social media, is incidental, but that does not mean the campaign is impotent in the face of such events, Mabudafhasi said.

“If you plant the seed of love of patriotism, you won’t be doing that [engaging in name-calling],” she told the SABC. “Challenges that are there can be resolved in a smooth way. We sit down and talk and say: ‘How can we do best?’ Because who are we spiting? We don’t want to spite our own country.”

The campaign is seen as an extension of the “a flag in every school” initiative, first launched in 2005.

Rousing cries fall flat

In February 2008, then-president Thabo Mbeki called for the creation of “an oath that will be recited by learners in their morning school assemblies”.

The suggestion caused a surge of protest about the concept as well as the proposed oath, and was ultimately abandoned before a full public participation process was completed.

The first draft of the pledge read:

We the youth of South Africa
Recognising the injustices of our past,
Honour those who suffered and sacrificed for justice and freedom.
We will respect and protect the dignity of each person,
And stand up for justice
We sincerely declare that we shall uphold the rights and values of our Constitution
And promise to act in accordance with the duties and responsibilities that flow from these rights.
! KE E: / XARRA // KE
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika

President Jacob Zuma, in his 2015 State of the Nation address, urged schools to practise the anthem of the African Union, Let Us All Unite and Celebrate Together, though his call was largely lost in the chaos of the Economic Freedom Fighters protesting in the chamber.

By the time of Africa Month in May, most of schools polled by the Mail & Guardian were not even aware of its existence.