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South African Journal of Education

Print version ISSN 0256-0100

Abstract

ENGELBRECHT, Alta. The impact of role reversal in representational practices in history textbooks after Apartheid. S. Afr. j. educ. [online]. 2008, vol.28, n.4, pp. 519-541. ISSN 0256-0100.

History became a mere sub-section in the broad category of social sciences in the (then) new Curriculum 2005, significantly diluting it as a school subject. Yet the rewriting of South African history textbooks after the seminal democratic elections in South Africa during 1994 became a tool to counter the Apartheid stereotypes, previously loaded with strong cultural and political content. The focus during the past 10-12 years in South African historiography, on the reversal of the colonial portrayal of Africans, has resulted in the de-mystification of Eurocentrism in textbooks. New myths and new silences were re-instated and ensured that again only one voice is dominant - the voice of black South Africans. Multi-perspectivity, one of the non-negotiable pillars of post-modern historiography, is being disregarded in a country attempting to write a sound report of its past. In this article I address the extent to which white and black role reversal is reflected in representational practices in current South African historiography perspectives. A research group of six academics examined the illustrative material of nine series Grades 4-6 primary school history textbooks to identify the extent of racial representation. Both quantitative and qualitative analyses were conducted. Of all the illustrations in the textbooks, 15% depicted whites, 50% blacks, and 35% blacks and whites together. The qualitative findings suggest that so-called 'white history' is marginalized in the exemplars. White role models are downplayed and portrayed only as peripheral figures, making their race indistinct. The "butterscotch-effect" (the light colouring of faces) contributes to the fact that there are no racially marked identities. Learners will therefore have difficulty in identifying with the characters and narrators, especially since attempts to portray multi-perspectivity were found in only two textbooks. The data suggest that Afrikaner nationalist views are being replaced by African nationalist views and that history is again serving an ideological objective by striving to establish a single, simplistic perspective on the past.

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