So actor and writer Donald Molosi wrote an essay on his Facebook page a couple months ago called Dear Upright African which he later performed at the TEDx talks at the end of March at Maitisong.
It’s about the inexplicably intransigent position of so many school syllabi in this country and around the continent where European history and European-ness in general is seen as the only history to teach. He talks about private English medium schools in Botswana where students in French class are taught about white French celebrities from the past while black French celebrities are forgotten. He is talking, in essence, about the decolonising of the curriculum. It’s not new and it’s not normally that controversial for right-minded people, if anything it’s seen as long overdue. But for one teacher at Maru-a-Pula (MAP) (where Donald Molosi apparently attended) it made her head explode, and it exploded all over social media causing much outrage.
Julia Saplontai attacked Molosi on Facebook. She said “his brain was very small”, that he was a “mean, low class, ungrateful piece of crap”, described his essay as a “trash article” and that she would not accept his “denigrating remarks about the school”. Apparently the administration at MAP told her she must keep quiet now and she decided to listen because she “grew up to be a person who respects hierarchy and who would never disrespect her superiors”. Saplontai has apparently been the head of modern languages at MAP for a long time and says that she built the French Department over 31 years.
At one point in her unrestrained rant, she mentions freedom of speech stating that the Constitution of Botswana enshrines it in our law. Yes, Ms Saplontai, I (and I’m sure Donald would agree with me) am a firm proponent of the right, the unalienable right in a working democracy, to the freedom to speak. You spoke. But what did you actually say?
Instead of engaging with the essay, as a reasonable person would, you attacked the writer personally. There lies your flaw. Few can support you in that. You acted the name-calling, playground bully and such people should be dismissed for the noisemakers that they are. The fact that you are a teacher, a role model for students, is unfortunate. The fact that you are the head of
In Dear Upright African Donald Molosi is asking for the history of Botswana to be taught, the true history, not some silly David Livingstone lies. Where is King Sechele? Why do we not teach about his power and amazing leadership through nearly insurmountable odds? Recently I visited the ruins at Mosu, ruins which are part of the great 14th century Karanga Empire that built Great Zimbabwe? Where are the history books about this? Why are they not in our schools? This is what Molosi is asking. It was a not-so-subtle tool of colonialism, still obviously active in our schools, to erase the history of the subjugated people. “No greatness can be found there,” they said, and so the inferior position was forced on black and brown people of this continent and still it continues. It’s false, wrong and it needs to be corrected. This is what Molosi said in his essay.
So are we to assume, since Saplontai was so furious about this, that she thinks he’s wrong to say that? That she thinks continuing the legacy of colonialism using our curriculum as a tool to enforce it is good? Does she not see what the effects of this are? Does she not think after 50-years of independence it’s time to decolonise our syllabi, our textbooks, and our minds? Is it not time to truly learn and teach the history of this country, more than the three kings going to UK with a begging bowl?
I have recently completed my third historical novel and one thing I’ve learned over and over again during my research (which I have become quite addicted to) is that amazing history is lying, waiting to be uncovered and brought into the bright light. When will we decide it’s time to tell the truth about that proud, heroic history and to teach it to our children?