Patrick van Rensburg - Annotated bibliography

Patrick Van Rensburg's book.
Patrick Van Rensburg's book.

The Serowe of the mid 1960s to mid 1970s was a very unique and wondrous place. It was a hive, in the manner of bees. The community’s life revolved around Swaneng Hill School, the brigades and the cooperative movement.

Here was a community of agrarian people able to earn a living while learning academic and technical skills. As young people growing up in this community, we all knew that at the end of our primary school leaving education, we would either go to Swaneng Hill or join the brigades.

This bibliography is not so much about one man’s work, but his philosophy of education and life in general. It is an annotated story about that man’s contribution to humanity; of how his ideas impacted the lives of poor ordinary folk. It is the condensed story of the works of Patrick van Rensburg, the rebel diplomat turned educationalist and newspaper scribe. The Serowe brigades taught people a variety of skills ranging from building (brick work, thatching and stone masonry), to farming (dairy, bees, horticulture and vegetables); textiles (silk-screen, dyeing, weaving, wool spinning and dress making), welding, mechanical and electrical works, printing and publishing - the whole shebang! The cooperatives were involved in retail (shops), thrift savings, livestock trading, and printing and publishing. First started in 1964, they were initially set up as an initiative that provided competition to the mainly white traders who monopolised business in the community. A secondary motive was that of encouraging the community to create savings. The folk school that was Swaneng would later inspire the establishment of Shashe River School (in Shashe). Madiba Educational Training Centre (in Mahalapye) and McConnell College (in Tutume). As for the brigades and the cooperatives, they found wholehearted support from the government of the day and were replicated country wide. These organisations still exist 58 years after the founder first set his foot in Botswana. Such was the legacy of van Rensburg.

I grew up knowing van Rensburg (‘MaRaesebeke’) as he was commonly referred to in the community) from a distance. Although we felt his presence, as an individual, he cut a figure of a brooding, forlorn and quite persona from a distance. I would later join him at his Foundation for Education with Production (FEP) in Gaborone in 1984 following a three year stint as a school teacher in Lotsane Senior in Palapye. He had advertised a job for the editorship of Mmegi wa Dikgang newspaper, which the FEP - a new organisation he had recently set up with the assistance of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Sweden - to campaign for his transformative agenda for education with production (EwP) on a regional and global scale. I initially deputised him for a few months, only to rejoin him in early 1986 to help him build a national brand. At Mmegi wa Dikgang we were on a first name basis. He was simply ‘Patrick’ or ’PvR’ to us.

As a genre, EwP propagated alternative modes of education: one that sought to link the hand and the mind; that connected learning with productive work in the community, using assets from the community.

If the earlier experiment in Swaneng was inspired by the Swedish folk school movement, EwP of the 80s and 90s borrowed from a wide range of educational and production systems in such far-flung places as China and Cuba (which he visited in the mid 80s); Brazil, Nicaragua and other parts of Latin and Northern America. Van Rensburg was influenced greatly by the educational praxis of China’s Mao Tse Tung and the teachings of the Brazilian radical education scholar, Paulo Freire of Pedagogy of the Oppressed fame. Regionally, EwP was embraced in several of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) nations, including its seed bed Botswana; but also in Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. FEP published a journal, The Journal of Education with Production, whose coordination and editing was initially shared between the organisation’s administrator-cum-accountant, John Comrade and the Founder. The journal attracted some very high-minded people here at home and from all over the world. Scholars like Frank Youngman, Donald Kgathi, Neil Parsons and Michael Sefali - were regular contributors to the publication. I would often watch in amazement how Patrick would juggle his job as director of FEP, editor of the EwP Journal and editor of Mmegi. In between he’d travel the world attending conferences and presenting papers on EwP, or writing proposals to raise funds for FEP. I have yet to meet someone with such a high work ethic and a commitment to one’s own beliefs.

Although FEP was based in Gaborone, in 1984 van Rensburg still saw Serowe as the centre of Botswana that it had been 20 years earlier. The nostalgia was evident in the book he wrote around this time, Looking Back from Serowe. He used Mmegi to revive the brigade movement in the village. The most successful was the printers, which was converted into a cooperative (still existing to this day), and which printed Mmegi wa Dikgang. In time Mmegi became a campaigning paper; a crooner for social and economic justice, often taking the position of the common man. Social and economic justice for all, van Rensburg’s mantra, is the central theme of this compilation.

A less heralded attribute of this great man was the role he played as a journalist, media activist and influencer. Outside EwP, he wrote prolifically on a range of subjects; including ‘another development’ (the alternative to what he called ‘mimetic’ development of post diamond discovery Botswana), land, politics, political economy, business, and so forth. PvR had such a great nose for news. Once he had hunch that Samora Machel was killed shortly after the Mozambiquan president had left Botswana on a state visit. In whispered tones he told us at the office on the morning of that fateful day, that he was listening to the BBC around 3am of October 19, 1986 and learnt that a plane suspected to be carrying the president had gone missing near the border between Mozambique and South Africa. “I think they killed him”, he mused. A few hours later we learnt of the tragic death of Machel. In 1989 he had organised a conference in Kasane sponsored by the Swedes which subsequently paved the way for the promulgation of the Windhoek Declaration on the Promotion of an Independent and Pluralistic Press by UNESCO. The Windhoek Declaration was used by the fragile regional media fraternity to form a watchdog: the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

Patrick came across as a deeply private person. But he was friends to change makers, the likes of King Moshoeshoe of Lesotho, the politician Michael Kitso Dingake and Gaositwe Chiepe, a one-time Minister of Education. These people took him seriously. For instance, the vocational school curriculum in Botswana was at one point influenced heavily by the EwP model. At secondary school ‘needle work’ (Home Economics), art and development studies, first introduced in Swaneng, were embraced by the Ministry of Education.

The compiler of this bibliography, Bobana Badisang and her team, have to be commended for this excellent piece of work. The bibliography reads like a travelogue - recounting and capturing in print, moments in PvR’s life. Its release is timely; coming in the wake of the seminal biography of the man, by Kevin Shillington (Patrick van Rensburg: Rebel, Visionary and Radical Educationalist, A Bibliography, Wits University Press, 2020). It is worth noting that the biographer benefited from the material captured in this book. This work is an important contribution to development literature in Botswana. It will be particularly useful for researchers. FEP should be commended for facilitating the production of this book.

*From the ‘Preface’ of the book by Methaetsile Leepile. The book is published by Lentswe la Lesedi/Light Books and funded by the Foundation of Education with Production, an NGO founded by Patrick van Rensburg in 1984 dedicated to sustaining his legacy and promoting the ideals of social justice, and progressive education, about which he was so passionate. The publisher is currently working on a digital version for global distribution in Amazon. Readers may contact Bobana Badisang on (267) 72799617; email address: [email protected] on the book’s availability.

Editor's Comment
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