The Need to Rewrite South African History. (Opinion)

Article excerpt

If reconciliation is to succeed, the rewriting of South African history must be considered a priority. A committee should be formed to rid the history books of 'objectionable material' as this will ensure reconciliation and set a healthy attitude for a new South Africa.

If it is true that history is nothing but the succession of the separate generations, each of which exploits the materials, capital funds and the productive forces handed down to it by all preceding generations, as Karl Max observed, then we must agree that people DO make their own history, but they DO NOT make it under self-selected conditions to circumstances but under already existing circumstances, given and transmitted from the past.

We must therefore further agree that social life and behaviour are thus to be found in earthly and not mystical facts. It is the productive forces and relations that are the motivating power in human history. These forces are not determined capriciously, or by the will of the individual, but are the products of previous stages of development.

In this sense, people do not make history as they please. They inherit from an ongoing process of development. Within this understanding and orientation, it therefore becomes necessary and imperative that the history of South Africa must be rewritten to reflect the true state of affairs of the development of the African people in this country, and not the distortions and falsifications found in present history textbooks used in our schools.

Authors of these history textbooks are primarily concerned with the achievements of white people in South Africa and their relations with one another. The group focus is seen in the structures of the works as well as the interpretation they give to events.

One might say that the society of South Africa has been rigidly stratified which has made the writing of the history of this country a mammoth task. However, a problem could have been overcome or avoided had those "responsible" authors not taken the experiences and activities of other inhabitants, namely the so-called Coloureds, Africans and Asians as problems for the whites.

The limitations of South Africa's current history books are a product of the social milieu in a plural society where communication between the different communities was restricted and the individual historian was conditioned by the assumptions and prejudices of his own community -- be it the community of religion or class or language or a hybrid of them.

In South Africa, the writing of history was used as a powerful instrument for the perpetuation and maintenance of inequalities. The misleading aspects include this one that says the African people of South Africa migrated from the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa, and that white people arrived by sea at the same time as the Africans were arriving from the Great Lakes. The implication is that the white people found an unoccupied land. Hence the claim that the land belongs to them too.

It must be clear that the African people never came. They are indigenous people of this country. This myth of simultaneous migrations was used on several occasions by the whites even at international forums to justify their domination and oppression of the indigenous African people.

Thus, on 24 October 1974, Pik Botha, the foreign minister of apartheid South Africa, declared to the United Nations Security Council: "About the middle of the 17th century, the white and black peoples of southern Africa converged on what was then most uninhabited part of the continent."

In a Standard 8 (Grade 10) history book published in 1974, for instance, we read: "Southern Africa is not originally the home of the southern Bantu who are immigrants as are whites. It is not known when the vanguard of the movement reached South Africa, but there is evidence that it was in or just before the 15th century" [sic].

The vast majority of books about South Africa by non-South Africans make history begin by Bartholomew Diaz's so-called discovery of the Cape of Good Hope in 1844 and only mention the Africans from the time of their meeting with whites in about 1778. …