Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Rural Education and Rural Realities: The Politics and Possibilities of Rural Research in Southern Africa

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Rural Education and Rural Realities: The Politics and Possibilities of Rural Research in Southern Africa

Article excerpt

"We consider land as our strength. We have life because of our fields" (Emerging Voices Report, 2005:26)

Rurality studies and research emerged from established disciplines such as agricultural sciences (Maat, 2001), agricultural education (Phipps, Osborne, Dyer & Ball, 2007) and human geography (Cloke, Crang & Goodwin, 2004). With regards to the latter, human geography and urbanisation studies (Reader, 2004) developed almost bifocally with the realisation that the sustainability of conurbations and cities needed to be premised on an understanding of sustainable rural livelihoods, beyond the mass agricultural production associated with intensive industrialised agricultural planning, clearing, and planting. Agricultural sciences do not conventionally focus on rural life as a social activity in which the fabric of human relations and community enable (and sometimes disable) sustainable economic agricultural development. In more recent times, food and nutrition security have also shifted in focus from the phenomenon of the urban poor to a realisation that, without richly textured and empowered rural communities, the connection between small- and large-scale agricultural production and food security becomes more attenuated and dispersed. In all of this, education, as a means for developing environmental awareness, addressing societal challenges, and enabling individual and communal aspirations to social mobility and transformation, remains a critical and yet underexplored dimension of rural life, whether based on agricultural or other social activity. As with most issues, there is a history to this.

In South Africa successive mass migrations, for example, the Mfecane (circa 1779-1840), and colonial wars (not least of which was the First South African War 1880-1881 and the Second South African War 1899-1902) resulted in what might be termed the progressive destabilisation of rural livelihoods in South Africa. Features of this destabilisation included the collapse of subsistence farming, the dispossession of indigenous black groups of their land, the economic marginalisation and near-genocide of white and black settler groups (achieving notoriety in the concentration camps established by the colonial British, and not excluding the many wars of colonial 'pacification' practised by both Dutch and British settler populations on colonised peoples, let alone those internecine wars practised by various black groups on each other) (Thompson, 2001).

Briefly, by 1932 the consolidation of colonial control in South Africa had had the effect of causing mass starvation and the near collapse of rural life, for both the black and white population. Framed within our colonial history, it is thus not surprising that the first considered perspective on rural livelihoods, the Carnegie Commission of 1932, considered the problem of dispossessed peoples as a 'white' and, in particular, a 'white Afrikaner' problem in relation to the challenges associated with unplanned urbanisation. That the majority of the population was similarly dispossessed, even less enfranchised, and almost invisible in colonial accounts of this period, was hardly noted. The shift of black people into townships was a necessary part of sustaining the mining economies of the Witwatersrand. And, if rural community life continued to exist, then the labour required for sugar and cash crops in the former colonies of Natal and the (Eastern) Cape necessitated the development of what came to be termed 'Bantustans'. History appears to have occluded the rural poor. Rural education, as part of any consideration, remained accessible to the few who could access missionary stations. It is only after 2000 that the second considered perspective on rurality and rural livelihoods is to be found in the form of the Emerging Voices Report (2005). In this report, when compared to the Carnegie Report (1932), the shifts are multiple. Rather than focus on one ethnic group, the report focuses on rural communities and schools, and the role of community and education in the development of rural livelihoods that are sustainable. …

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