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The Government’s Extraordinary Disinterest in National History

Over the years there has been regular comment about the inability of the education authorities to see that the history of this country is taught in schools with Donald Molosi being perhaps the latest to vent such views.

The usual observation is that the syllabus is a hang over from the colonial past.

 This view is rather odd because a single British author, Ashton I believe, maintained that this country had no history. It follows that there could be no hangover into the post Independence years.

The two views are contradictory. My own take is that even at the time, the author of that ‘no history’ comment was poorly informed if only because Ellenberger had previously compiled a very impressive list of the more important of the archaeological sites.

But we need to step back about this and recognise that the Protectorate administrators would not have regarded the need to research more modern history as any sort of a priority.

They had other matters on their minds. And in any case, who apart, from Schapera, was available to do that research?

If that still seems unconvincing consider how Gordon Haliburton responded in the 1972 issue of the Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) magazine, The Teacher, to Ron Pahl’s critique of his new History text book, From Stone Axe to Space Age.

Haliburton maintained that he had been unable to write more than two short paragraphs in this book about this country’s more recent history because virtually no information about it had been available to him.

 He hoped that this void would soon be filled. But from that grim start it may be asked what was done to try and change matters.

The answer perhaps surprisingly, is a great deal. Firstly let me, immodestly, mention, my own involvement with this particular issue. 

In 1964/5 I taught part time history and civics at Molefi JC School in Mochudi where I discovered that it was using an outrageously bad history text book which had been published in South Africa in 1932 and been used by schools ever since!

I wrote a critique of this book, which I circulated as widely as was then possible. I then took advantage of the publication of the BTU’s new magazine, to again critique the book with the title,

The Beast Is Still With Us. Possibly  my comments may have had some bearing on the attempt of the UBLS historians, Haliburton and Blake, to produce their new Textbook. 

But matters did not stop there. In 1965 I organised, I am still proud to say, the country’s first ever exhibition of books.

This was held at the

old Botswana Training College in Gaborone in conjunction with the BTU’s annual school music competition.

Then, within a short time, I, with Temba Vanqa and Leonard Ngcogco launched the History Society of Botswana and organised a national essay competition with a first prize donated by Professor John Blake, Vice Chancellor of UBLS.

But events rapidly overtook the new Society because with the establishment of the much better backed Botswana Society by Pierre Landell – Mills, it was agreed that the smaller should be merged into the larger.  

 Thereafter there appeared a stream of new material on the country’s history and archaeology published by academics and non-academics both in books, and articles in the new Botswana Notes and Records. 

 Then came the district museums pushing the local history button whose development, tourism or no, was stifled by the government’s paralysing disinterest. 

In contrast, the National Museum went sideways and prioritized Man and His Environment. In sum, an enormous amount has been done to make up for the years that were earlier lost.

But there has been minimal response to this effort by the Government. In the 50 years since Independence there may have been perhaps 15 to 20 Ministers of Education, but none of them has been able to bring about change.

Is this because of their disinterest or because of their inability to energise an inert bureaucracy?

Some clue can be perhaps gained from own experience when attempting to inform the relevant person in the Ministry of Education about my two books on Heritage and on Historical Anthology.

He was point blank disinterested and said that when the Ministry wanted books it advertised inviting tenders.

A further clue of sorts might be gained from the zero response of the Permanent Secretary and then Minister to a strong recommendation regarding the use of my two books in schools.  

Perhaps yet another clue can be gained from the Sunday Standard’s coverage of Econsult’s recent report, which mentioned that a raft of reforms had been approved by the Cabinet four years ago, but had never been implemented. 

 Perhaps a further clue can be had from the outcome of the recent Law Society appeal with two citizen judges maintaining that the historical background was irrelevant and the two expatriate judges agreeing that this background was fundamental to the issue. 

But be warned. I am by no means finished with this topic.

Etcetera II



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