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Education as Change

versión On-line ISSN 1947-9417
versión impresa ISSN 1682-3206

Educ. as change vol.24 no.1 Pretoria  2020 

We have argued that there needs to be more nuance in such a system and that institutions need to be wary about the extent to which a focus on payments reduces publications to their exchange-value. The use-value of publications as contributions to knowledge becomes of secondary importance or could even be seen as a constraint on output. We have argued that the effects of the structure of incentives are particularly problematic given the complementarity between this structure and a culture of instrumentalist conceptions of research and the commodification of knowledge. Having incentives that focus on one-sided indicators, that is publication rather than knowledge dissemination, "will ultimately lower the performance of the science sector in total" (Schmoch and Schubert 2009, 165), so the consequences of these processes go far beyond individual institutions. As Macleod (2010) states:

The incentive system is a blunt instrument that serves the purposes of increasing university income rather than supporting scholarship and knowledge production in South Africa. It is essentially a managerialist solution, in which bean counting trumps over concerns for scholarship.

This study's findings echo many of the concerns in the literature (for example, Muller 2017; Tomaselli 2018; Vaughan 2008) and add the empirical data of academics' perspectives on the unintended consequences of this phenomenon. We have argued that this requires a system-level change rather than blaming individual academics who make poor choices in their desire to achieve promotion and direct incentives, or chastising universities for developing policies and practices of direct reward that mimic that of the DHET. We need to revisit the metrics used to drive knowledge production and dissemination. At present, the funding formula rewards the supply of publications without any consideration of the demand for knowledge and thereby rewards "the pursuit of mediocrity" (Vaughan 2008, 91). Looking back at our social realist underpinnings urges us to question the perverse effects of structures, such as direct incentives, that are put in place without careful thought as to the desired culture. Vaughan (2008, 96) asks a key question:

What sort of behaviour do we wish to encourage in South Africa? Should we be rewarding universities whose academics produce the greatest number of publications, without regard to quality, or should our emphasis be on a system that inspires our academics to aim for a level of scholarship which can withstand the scrutiny of an international audience?

We would hope for the latter. If we want universities to be spaces of critical knowledge production and dissemination, and if we want academics who are committed to the pursuance of that knowledge, then we need to be very careful about the structures we put in place to drive this.



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1 Research output per unit capita is a measurement indicator for the number of research outputs produced in a South African university. It is calculated by measuring the total number of all research outputs (publications and postgraduate graduations) by a university and then dividing that total by the total number of permanent academic staff at the university (DHET 2011).
2 NRF grant number 876460 and 94969

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Legitimation of Poverty in School Economics Textbooks in South Africa



Jugathambal RamdhaniI; Suriamurthee MaistryII

IUniversity of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
IIUniversity of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa




In South Africa, the school textbook remains a powerful source of content knowledge to both teachers and learners. Such knowledge is often engaged uncritically by textbook users. As such, the worldviews and value systems in the knowledge selected for consumption remain embedded and are likely to do powerful ideological work. In this article, we present an account of the ideological orientations of knowledge in a corpus of school economics textbooks. We engage the tenets of critical discourse analysis to examine the representations of the construct "poverty" as a taught topic in the Further Education and Training Economics curriculum. Using Thompson's legitimation as a strategy and form-function analysis as specific analytical tools, we unearth the subtext of curriculum content in a selection of Grade 12 Economics textbooks. The study reveals how power and domination are normalised through a strategy of economic legitimation, thereby offering a "legitimate" rationale for the existence of poverty in the world. The article concludes with implications for curriculum and a humanising pedagogy, and a call for embracing critical knowledge on poverty in the South African curriculum.

Keywords: poverty; critical discourse analysis; ideology; legitimation; textbooks




The South African school curriculum is based on the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), a policy framework that prescribes key content and skills that all South African learners should acquire before exiting the schooling system. A key challenge though is the bifurcated nature of the schooling system, with two distinct sectors: one, a small but well-functioning middle-class sector comprising well-resourced, functional schools with qualified personnel, and the other, a large dysfunctional schooling sector that services poor and working-class children (Spaull 2013). In both contexts, the school textbook (derived from the CAPS framework) continues to be an indispensable source of content knowledge. This article examines the worldviews on the content topic "poverty" that are transmitted to South African high school learners (both affluent and indigent) through the subject of Economics. In other words, it considers what legitimisations of "poverty" as studied conceptual knowledge manifest overtly, what subtexts they convey, and how critical discourse analysis (CDA) might unearth ideological persuasions not readily discernible to the untrained eye. As a point of entry into this article, a brief discussion of the state of global and South African poverty is offered with a view to contextualising this investigative focus.

The state of poverty in the world is such that half the global population is still mired in severe poverty and has access to less than 2% of the world's wealth. Because of this extreme inequality, one third of our world's population dies prematurely due to severe poverty (Pogge 2010). When an economy experiences prosperity, people who have material wealth generally do not concern themselves with those who are less prosperous. The theory of warm-glow philanthropy appears to explain the dominant motivation for why the rich disburse funds to the poor (Andreoni 2006). In such times, people also find it easy to accept the neoliberal belief that an economy adopting a market-driven approach and a social welfare system, together with a strict work ethic, can make an individual more prosperous (Lucio, Jefferson, and Peck 2016). While Erler (2012) asserts that the discourse on the plight of poor people draws on narratives that emphasise structural and contextual elements more than psychological and moral ones, neoliberal discourses foreground the individual as primarily responsible for her plight (Harvey 2007).

A prominent manner in which poverty is constructed and argued for is through the use of an economic discourse (see Avalos 1992; Bedard 1989; Bundy 2016; Minujin and Nandy 2012). This may refer to how economic systems create barriers for the poor to access institutions in society that offer, among others, employment, schooling, shelter, healthcare and security. Barriers to "gain economic power to achieve change" (Bradshaw 2007, 11) prevent economic advancement that could otherwise occur through "redevelopment, business attraction or enterprise zones" (Bradshaw 2007, 8) and entrepreneurship. It might also include "structural failings" (Bradshaw 2007, 12) of economic systems as well as constraints that prevent individuals from "making choices and investments" (Bradshaw 2007, 12) to maximise their well-being. Arguments against social welfare to assist the poor, systems that limit opportunities and resources to gain income and economic security, and capitalism or free enterprise that encourages unemployment and low wages through segregation of the poor also form part of economic discourses that posit a particular understanding of poverty (Bradshaw 2007, 12). The legitimisation of poverty using economic discourses is evident in the reliance on factors such as individual responsibility, structural limitations, discriminations within the economic system, and social welfare and globalisation. These economic discourses might stem from a neoliberal rationale that encourages individuals to become active players in the market, satisfying their own needs and accepting responsibility for their own economic problems (Lucio, Jefferson, and Peck, 2016).

Arguments that move beyond the individual point to structural limitations as preventing the poor from gaining access to the world of work and economic emancipation (Albrecht and Albrecht 2000). The economic system is designed to make it difficult for the poor to achieve economic independence (Bradshaw 2007). Economic-related reasons for poverty are attributed to the limitations caused by discrimination on the grounds of "race" and gender, and the segregation that resulted from economic changes after World War II (Albrecht and Albrecht 2000). The cyclical nature of poverty also suggests that patterns of inequality tend to repeat themselves over time (Pacheco and Pultzer 2008). Despite these repeated patterns, Pogge reminds us that the international response has not been successful in disrupting this persistent repetition (Pogge 2010). He is critical of institutional reports on poverty, suggesting that the report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which declares that over one billion people are chronically undernourished, is not treated with the gravity it deserves, especially when the World Bank asserts that its progress in eradicating poverty is "impressive" (Pogge 2010, 4). The world will not make real progress against poverty unless powerful advocates commit themselves to eradicating it (Pogge and Sengupta 2014).

In South Africa, poverty levels increased from 2011 to 2015 (Lehohla 2017). Since 2011, poverty levels have risen from 53.2% to 55.5% in 2015, which amounts to a staggering 30.4 million people who are deemed poor. While documented statistics on poverty are available in various forms and several theories and explanations are proffered, there is little research on how poverty is constructed in school textbooks used to teach economics to South African learners. It is concerning that Streib, Ayala, and Wixted (2017) have found that poverty and social class inequality are portrayed in the media as "legitimate" and as "appropriate and fair" (2016, 1). They assert that the media portrays poverty and class inequality, particularly in children's movies, as "benign" (16). Poverty is framed as non-threatening. Such portrayals are problematic because they mask the realities people are exposed to in their lives (Streib, Ayala, and Wixted 2017). The extant field of poverty theory is expansive. For a critical discussion of contemporary theories, see Ramdhani (2018), and David Brady's (2019) very recent synthesis of the key causes of poverty in which he classifies theories of poverty into three main categories, namely, behavioural, structural and political.


Research Problem

While statistical data on poverty are available, the extent to which poverty is understood and how it is interpreted, as well as the specific definitions presented for public consumption, are still uncertain in the South African context. Poverty as a content topic features in the subject Economics in the Further Education and Training Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS). CAPS offers a skeletal description of key topics and sub-topics to be taught. The textbook serves as an important source of disciplinary knowledge on topics such as poverty. In this article, we report on a study that examined portrayals of poverty in contemporary school economics textbooks in South Africa.

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) recognises the textbook as an effective resource for ensuring uniformity in content coverage. In the Action Plan to 2014: Towards the Realisation of Schooling 2025, the DBE (2011) emphasised the importance of ensuring that every learner has access to textbooks and that teachers are required to use textbooks in the teaching process. However, this emphasis on the textbook policy pays minimum attention to the ideological messages embedded in textbooks' content. Although textbooks play an important role in schools, they are not impartial resources (Apple and Christian-Smith 1991; Williams 1989). The concept of a "selective tradition" is used to describe how compilers of textbooks decide to include certain meanings and to omit others (Williams 1989). The content selected is then passed off as "the tradition [or] the significant past", thereby retaining the dominance of a specific set of power relations both in the economy and in the political institutions of society (Apple and Christian-Smith 1991, 3). Studies on ideological underpinnings in economics textbooks have been rare. Early research focused on the readability of economics textbooks (Gallagher and Thompson 1981; McConnell 1982). A study of introductory economics textbooks over a 10-year period (1974-1984) by Feiner and Morgan (1987) revealed the under-representation of women and minorities in the textbooks, a phenomenon also confirmed by Robson (2001). Some later research on economics textbooks focused on how specific topics such as economic dumping (Rieber 2010) and entrepreneurship (Phipps, Strom, and Baumol 2012) were framed as content to be studied.

In the only study that dealt specifically with depictions of poverty, Clawson indicates that the portrayal of poverty in economics textbooks was dominated by depictions of poverty among black people (Clawson 2002). The gap that this article wishes to address relates to the rationales for the existence of poverty that are presented in South African school textbooks, teaching artefacts that are derived from prescriptions in the South African school curriculum.

As a political institution of society, the South African Ministry of Education views education as a means to eradicate poverty, as can be seen in the rhetoric used to state the goals of the National Development Plan (DBE 2016). The ministry contends that the eradication of poverty is inhibited by economic constraints (DBE 2016). The education sector notes severe poverty among children and declares a commitment to addressing this poverty within schools. Severe poverty, however, persists, especially in the African community. A dualistic schooling system still exists within the education sector (Spaull 2013). One caters for the wealthy that is functional, while the other is for the poor and, in many instances, is dysfunctional (Spaull 2013, 14). That schoolchildren (including millions who are poor) are the recipients of state-sanctioned knowledge (via textbooks) on poverty presents a complex and compelling problematic, namely, discerning specifically what ideological legitimisations of poverty are packaged for consumption by South African learners.

In essence, the research problem that this article attempts to address arises from the multiplicity of possible explanations of poverty that prevail, the fact that this topic/concept is taught to a large section of South African learners who are in fact victims of poverty, and that there is limited knowledge of what strains of poverty theory permeate the programmatic curriculum (school textbooks) for South African learners. While we note that concepts such as economic development or inequality could well have been the research focus, these appear as broader, overarching, meta topic areas in the school economics curriculum, whereas "poverty" is foregrounded as a key economic phenomenon signalled for mandatory in-depth study.


A Brief Methodological Note

This study drew on the tenets of critical discourse analysis (CDA), which, according to McGregor (2003), has its roots in Habermas's (1973) Critical Theory. It allows us to understand the issues that plague societies dominated by mainstream ideology and power relationships. Conventional ideology and power relationships are preserved and maintained by the words and language in texts (McGregor 2003). For the purposes of this article, we adopted the perspective of ideology as described by Thompson (1990, 58), who explains that meaning underpinned by "symbolic forms serves to establish and sustain relations of domination". This article recognises that symbolic forms encompass a wide array of "actions and utterances, images and texts, which are produced by subjects and recognized by them and others as meaningful constructs" (59). The linguistic utterances and expressions written, in this regard, in the textbooks mask the representations of power, hegemony and the social construction of poverty. We extracted the meaning behind these utterances using "form-function analysis", "language in context analysis" and "situated meaning analysis" (Gee 2005, 54-55). The intention of CDA is to reveal the socio-political assumptions embedded in the language found in text and oral speech (for a detailed account of CDA tools of analysis of language, see McGregor 2003).

CDA is a theoretical tool used to "make sense of the ways in which people make meaning in educational contexts" and to "answer questions about the relationships between language and society" (Rogers et al. 2005, 373). Because "language is a social practice", and because not all habits, customs, or traditions in society are treated equally, it is imperative that we investigate how language is used to construct certain realities (Rogers et al. 2005, 367). The tools adopted in language can be located "everywhere" and are always "political" (Gee 2005, 1). The word "political" refers to "how social goods are thought about, argued over and distributed in society" (Gee 2005, 2). Our world "is constantly and actively being constructed and reconstructed" (Gee 2011, 29). The term "politics" is used to explain the distribution of social goods to certain people, groups and institutions at the expense of others (Gee 2011, 31). It is important to note that CDA is not without its critics. It is often criticised for being too exploratory, interpretive and politically motivated and lacking the rigour that quantitative protocols for empirical research offer (Flick 2009).

In this article the mode of analysis employed attempts to ascertain the legitimation strategies (Ferguson et al. 2009; Thompson 1990) used by textbook writers to legitimate poverty in the selected textbooks. Legitimation is the act of making something lawful and authorial, and illustrates how certain worldviews become considered "right and proper" (Tyler 2006, 376). Three techniques are typically used to legitimate preferred positions. The first, rationalisation, is where power relations are justified because reasonable explanation/s can be provided (Ferguson et al. 2009, 897; Thompson 1990, 62). The second strategy is that of "universalisation" (Ferguson et al. 2009, 897; Thompson 1990, 62). Here, the interests of a few are projected as the interests of all. The concept of legitimacy is built on the conviction of a "common interest" that goes beyond private and partial benefits (Easton 1965, 312-19; Gilley 2006, 502). The third strategy is that is of "narrativisation", in which past "traditions and stories" are offered as treasures to be cherished. These three strategies work in concert to legitimise certain value positions.

The table below shows the textbooks sampled for this study. These Grade 11 Economics textbooks were in use at the time the study was conducted and were sanctioned by the DBE.



With regard to ethical issues related to this study, due University of KwaZulu-Natal ethical clearance protocol was followed. As the textbooks are in the public domain, there was no necessity for gatekeeper permission that might apply to other empirical studies.

In the section that follows, we present one aspect of the findings of the larger study, namely that of economic legitimation as it relates to the manifestation of poverty as a concept. This brief methodology section describes the methodological approach from a meta-level. It must be noted that a systematic sorting and coding of data from the corpus of five textbooks was undertaken. For explicit details of the research protocol followed for the entire study, see Ramdhani (2018). For the purpose of this article, sample data that are germane to the argument we make have been selected and presented.

In the section that follows, legitimation strategies used by the selected economics textbooks are presented.


Economic Legitimation of Poverty through the Strategy of Rationalisation

In the five economics textbooks, the theme of rationalisation emerges through various themes and sub-themes. These include the following: discrimination in the economic and social systems, structural limitations, individuals bring on their own problems (deficit of need for achievement, genetically poor intelligence, laziness and irresponsibility), the effects of globalisation, access and proximity to resources, capitalism and low wages, prices of goods and a lack of infrastructure.

Discrimination in Economic and Social Systems to Rationalise Economic Legitimation of Poverty

The findings reveal that the economic system provided the foundation for discrimination (see sample data of independent and dependent clauses below). This is evident in Book A, Book B, Book C, Book D, and Book E. Below are extracts from the texts with form-function analysis:

Despite all efforts, income distribution is still not equitable [independent].

A mixed economy still faces problems of unemployment, inflation and business cycles.

Workers are still exploited in the private sector [independent]. This contributes to income inequality, increased poverty and human rights abuses.

Because the government controls the legislative process, there is a risk that it could provide excessive social and welfare services with excessive taxation of the private sector [independent]. These taxes, together with increased public sector enterprises, may reduce the private sector contribution and lead to decreased economic growth and job creation. (Book A, 58-59)

In South Africa discrimination [independent] played a great part in creating poverty [dependent] among certain groups. During apartheid [independent] the government discriminated [dependent] on the basis of race, ethnic group and gender. Few opportunities were given to some groups to obtain well-paid jobs, adequate housing, a good education or health care [independent]. (Book B, 189)

The free market [independent] is possibly the best way of solving the problem of unequal distribution [dependent] whereby new businesses create new jobs for previously disadvantaged people. However, markets take time to equalize wealth and income even after democracy has had a chance to improve matters by reducing discrimination [independent]. In such instances, the government [independent] is often called upon to the tackle the problem [dependent] head on. In South Africa economic redress is applied to improve the standard of living of all people. This is done by improving everyone's access to economic resources through equal opportunity [independent]. (Book C, 164)

To address the issue of unequal distribution of wealth and income, and poor productivity rates [dependent], we need more [independent] than just anti-discriminatory regulations. Participation and access by marginalized groups need to be increased at all levels of the economy in South Africa [independent] to redress the imbalances in the ownership and control of South Africa's resources [dependent]. (Book D, 24)

Disadvantages of a market economy.

The distribution of income is unfair, the rich become richer and the poor may be poorer. (Book E, 48)

The economic practice of discrimination is an apparent rational explanation for poverty. The theme is prevalent in the texts and can be seen through the use of words in independent and dependent clauses such as "discrimination" (Book B, 188; Book C, 164; Book D, 24; Book E, 48) and "not equitable" (Book A, 58-59). Discrimination is present in the disparity in income in the mixed economic system. The disparity is presented through the clauses, the context, and the justification for poverty. The following phrases taken from independent and dependent clauses show disparity in the distribution of income and make explicit references to poverty in South Africa: "disadvantages of mixed economies" (Book A, 58-59), "In South Africa discrimination" (Book B, 188), "The free market is possibly the best way of solving" (Book C, 164), "more than just anti-discriminatory regulations" (Book D, 24) and "distribution of income is unfair" (Book E, 48). The importance of privatisation is affirmed through the insinuation that the free market surpasses the current mixed economies of private and public (Books A, B, D and E) and all other economic systems as well.

The dependent clauses in Book A (58-59) above state the following: "Despite all efforts, income distribution is still not equitable", "still faces problems of unemployment, inflation and business cycles", and "excessive social and welfare services". The independent clauses assert the authority of the system and the regulations of the system. These assertions are linguistic illustrations of legitimate reasons for the existence of increased poverty.

The argument presented is that the mixed economy apparently encourages disparity in the distribution of income, which should be accepted as normal. What is noteworthy is the contradiction introduced with the use of the word "despite". The word "despite" (Book A, 58-59) apparently shifts attention away from the "efforts" that have been made to distribute income equitably, but it is not clear from the text what efforts have been made and which group is served by these efforts. In contrast, the word "still" (Book A, 58-59) emphasises the persistence of the problems of gaining employment in the market under a mixed system. The repetition of the word "still" (Book A, 58-59) appears to reinforce the system that legitimates private business mistreatment of the workers, and explains the increase in poverty. Book A (58-59) seems to validate this rationale by explaining that the mixed economic system contributes to poor "efficiency" and does not "reduce poverty speedily". Invariably, this subscribes to the thinking that there is unfairness and discrimination inherent in the mixed economic system.

Poverty is rationalised by presenting the disadvantages of a mixed economic system and it is apparent that a free market is favoured in Book C (164). This text states that the situation of poor people is possibly due to discrimination arising from not having access to "equal opportunities" to wealth and income. The words "the free market is possibly the best way" (Book C, 164) influence the reader's acceptance of the discrimination inherent in the choice of an economic system. Book D (24) is in agreement with this way of explaining the lack of "access by marginalized groups" due to inequity in the "distribution of wealth and income" arising from a lack of "participation" in the economy.

Poverty is explained using the rationalisation of prejudice, as indicated by the word "discrimination" in Book B (189). The findings demonstrate that prejudice was practised using racial, cultural and gender categorisations. The implication is that the marginalised groups did not get access to jobs that paid well, decent homes and respectable education and health care. In Book B (188), with respect to the distribution of "opportunities" in terms of access to "well-paid jobs, adequate housing, a good education or health care", discrimination and unfairness seem to be the basis of the explanation. The phrases "distribution of income is unfair" (Book E, 48) and "the poor may be poorer" (Book E, 48) appear to support the theme of discrimination being used to explain and rationalise the existence of situations of unequal access, and hence the prevalence of poverty in South Africa.

In Book E (48), the discussion is about the "disadvantages of a market economy", but the use of the word "may" in this discussion creates uncertainty for the reader. This apparent uncertainty is evident in the boldness of the title, which can be seen as a strategy of "topicalisation" (McGregor 2003, 5). Topicalisation places a particular sentence or words in a topic spot, and thus influences the reader to think in a particular way. In this instance, the reader is being manipulated to think of the free market as the market of choice. However, ambiguity is introduced with the use of the word "may", which creates uncertainty that discrimination in the free market is responsible for the fact that "the rich become richer and the poor may be poorer" (Book E, 48). The ambiguity creates uncertainty about whether the free market situation could worsen poverty. There is an implicit favouring of the free market as the system of choice. The implication is that in Books A, B, C, D and E, the economic practice of discrimination is used to explain poverty in the texts. Discrimination against the poor within the free market system (capitalism) is promoted through unethical behaviour.

The recurring theme of the segregation of marginalised people is observed in clauses in Book A (58-59), B (188), C (164), D (24) and E (48). The solution to inequality is the free market system, according to the texts. This proposition may influence the reader's acceptance of the discrimination in the choice of an economic system.

Structural Limitations Used to Rationalise the Legitimation of Poverty

Structural factors limit the opportunities for employment and provide a reasonable explanation for the poverty that exists in South Africa. These structural factors were listed with groups of words in the independent clauses in Books A, B, C, D and E. A list of potential structural explanations was identified in the texts. These were used to explain the economic structures that are given prominence and placed in independent clauses, such as "income inequality" (Book A, 158), "economic growth" (Book B, 190), "[c]ertain structures which exist in the economy such as access to markets" (Book C, 26), "economically marginalized" and "excluded from the decision-making processes in the economy" (Book D, 24), and "production in Africa" (Book E, 240).

While both Book A (158) and Book B (190) cite the issue of "unemployment" as a dependent clause, Book A offers the explanation that this results from the widening of the "rich-poor gap", whereas Book B (190) explains that "reducing unemployment can alleviate poverty". The explanation in Book B goes further by naming the policies of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) and the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Act (GEAR) used by the government to reduce unemployment. Book A (158) and Book C (26) both list the subject of unequal access to the market through resources. Book A (158) and Book D (24) list the matter of probable gender discrimination against women as another explanation. Book A, while it has structural factors in common with Books B, C and D as discussed in the previous sentence, also deviates from them by including "education", "family size", "cultural and personal preference", "inheritance" and "globalization" (158) with the structural factors. Book E (48), while displaying an understanding of probable structural factors and providing a very brief explanation for poverty, cites the matter of "production in Africa is so low" as a reason for the persistence of poverty.

The structural limitations present in the texts are as follows: Book A (158) cites the issues of a shortage of skills and education and gender discrimination with regard to access to the labour market. These are the underlying reasons for income disparity between the affluent and the poor. Book D is similar to Book A in naming discrimination against women. Book D posits the exclusion of women's voices from the "decision-making processes in the economy" (Book D, 24) as an explanation for their non-participation in the economy. Book B (190) uses policies such as the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) and the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) to justify the current situation regarding the position of the poor. In other words, the explanation provided is that although these policies have been implemented, a disparity in income still exists. Book C (26) gives details relating to "access to the markets" and the existence of "monopolies" as structural factors that explain the marginalisation of the poor. Book E (240) puts forth the slump in "production in Africa" as a structural factor that can be used to explain the difficulty in "finding solutions to high levels of poverty". The context of feasible structural limitations contained in the discourse of Books A to E is given as the reason for poverty.

Individual Deficits Used to Rationalise and Legitimate Poverty

The findings from Book A, B, C, D and E reveal that the strategy of legitimation is based on individual problems. Each of these books use individual factors as independent clauses to emphasise this, thereby justifying the existence of poverty.

In this paragraph, we look at the words and groups of words from independent clauses in each of the texts. Book A includes a discourse relating to "diseases" (206), indicating that the condition of poverty may be attributed to the ill health of individuals, which "decrease[s] the amount of work" (206) a person is able to perform. The text rationalises poor health, and specifically HIV and AIDs, as the likely cause of "reducing their income and driving them deeper into poverty" (206). It is also seen as a factor "which can cut off a main source of income for the family" (206). Book B's rationalisation for poverty is that "individuals may become discouraged by poverty, and they lose their self-esteem and confidence, because they cannot provide for themselves and their families" (188). This discourse may well be ambiguous. On the one hand, the implication is individuals are not encouraged to find ways to elevate their status in life. On the other hand, the discourse begins by contending that "the main impact of poverty is personal, because the most affected is the one who is poor" (188). Such ambiguity may confuse the reader insofar as it attributes poverty to individual apathy. Book B goes on to explain that this apathy could continue if the social grant is "too high" (188).

Book C, like Books A and B, looks to the individual to explain poverty. The findings in Book C claim that "endless opportunities exist for anyone to become rich, yet so few people seem able to do so-while the rich get richer, the poor get poorer" (Book C, 157). The use of the word "yet" (157) implies that even though economic opportunities exist, the poor have low achievement levels and this is the reason for their poverty. The reader is being channelled to think in this way and this is clear from the instruction that follows: "[w]ith this in mind, attempt to answer the following questions" (157). This logic is reinforced by the further reasoning that if "three million black middle class adults" (157) could take advantage of the economic opportunities, why is it the poor are not able to do this? This is clear from question two of the activities, which requires answers to the following question: "What factors are hampering poor people from obtaining their share of South Africa's wealth?" (157).

Similar attitudes are evident in Book D (121) where it is argued that the "government spends about 6% of GDP on education and South Africa's teachers are among the highest paid in the world (in purchasing power parity terms) but, despite this, quality of education remains a problem. Literacy and numeracy tests scores are low by African and global standards." The use of the words "despite this" may influence the reader into thinking that the problem of poverty should not be blamed on the government but rather on the individuals' lack of initiative to increase their proficiency in language and mathematics. This rationale is carried forward in Book E, where individuals are held responsible for their poor economic position "because they do not have the appropriate skills" (37-38), and further that "even if you do give them the skills, it will take ten to twenty years for them to find jobs" (37-38). The words "yet" (Book C, 157), "but" (Book D, 121), "they" and "even if" (Book E, 37-38) insinuate that poverty is due to individuals not taking advantage of opportunities, and suggest an unwillingness on the part of the poor to relinquish their status. The discourse in Books A, B, C, D and E relies on the agency of the individual, and not the socio-economic context, to explain poverty.

The Effects of Globalisation Used to Rationalise the Legitimacy of Poverty

The strategy of using controversies surrounding globalisation as independent clauses and as institutional factors that explain poverty is prevalent in Books A, B, C, D and E. The justification is explicit in some cases and indirect in others. The negative effects of globalisation as a probable cause of poverty is advocated very strongly in Book A. On page 208, the discourse manipulates the reader to accept that poverty exists because of "lack of education, malnutrition, violence inside and outside their homes, child labour and diseases". This situation is apparently due to "the global financial crisis ... a global problem from which we in South Africa cannot escape" and which "has a huge effect on child poverty". The reasoning is that poverty is a result of global challenges that exist throughout the world, and not only in South Africa. This manipulation in Book A is also evident in Book B. Book B's (222) position is that through the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), Africa is being marginalised in the globalisation process. The apparent argument is that Africa should pursue "its full and beneficial integration into the global economy". The text bullets one of the chief objects of NEPAD as eliminating poverty (222), but offers no explanations or details, which may suggest that NEPAD will not be able to eradicate poverty. However, the linking of the three objectives of NEPAD may imply that through growth and development, as well as increased participation in the global arena, NEPAD may eradicate poverty in Africa.

We also uncovered an incidental reference to globalisation in Book C (26), which occurs in a discussion that compares the "development and standard of living" of countries within Africa. This text does not use the words global or globalisation but the use of the words "African countries" suggests a comparative African approach. It also suggests that a low economic growth rate and increased populations appear to be the reason for the poverty crisis in African countries.

Book D uses an ambiguous discussion of globalisation to validate potentially the existence of poverty. On the one hand, the position is that "the natural resources of poor countries are often exploited by richer countries" (225). On the other hand, Book D asserts that the "fight against poverty can only be won if it is a global effort, with the richer countries supporting the poor countries in their fight against poverty" (225). The implication is that poor countries are dependent on affluent nations to solve their poverty predicament. Book E (251) uses a straightforward approach to vindicate and support globalisation as being "able to reduce the poverty level by a large margin".

Access and Proximity to Resources Used to Rationalise Poverty

A strategy of legitimation used to rationalise poverty, which Books A, B, C, D and E share to a greater or lesser extent, relates to access to, and the proximity of, resources. Book A emphasises the "lack of productive resources" (206) by placing the writing in bold and also by crafting the words "in poor countries, there are not enough productive resources" (206) as an independent clause. This topicalising and inclusion as an independent clause are intended to rationalise the reality of poverty. The text positions poor countries' lack of access to resources that can increase production as a possible reason for poverty. These resources include the following: first, human resources are insufficient due to impoverishment, health issues and low education levels; second, poor maintenance of natural resources; third, a lack of infrastructure in "poor rural villages" as a result of short-term economic decisions that do not favour saving; and finally, "[e]ntrepreneurship is non-existent, because of a lack of education and skills development" (206).

The positioning of access to resources to rationalise poverty also materialises in Book C and Book E. On page seven, Book C uses the following words as a heading: "Accessibility of the Economically Marginalised Groups". Book E includes the issue of access to resources by subscribing to the following definition of poverty: "Poverty can be defined as a condition in which a person or a family does not have the resources to satisfy basic needs such as food, shelter, transport and clothing" (175). Book B asserts that the government may be able to provide better access to resources and, therefore, reduce poverty by giving consent for "projects to be started and that as soon as these projects become economically viable, they can be privatized" (56-57). Book D relies on the issue of development to explain the "access to basic needs" (175) by the poor. The implication is that not having access to and not being within the vicinity of resources is a justification for poverty.

Using Capitalism to Rationalise Poverty

Capitalism is also used as a strategy to legitimate poverty. Book A (52) states that one of the disadvantages of a free market system is that "the distribution of income is not equitable". Wealth that is created apparently goes to those with capital. Hence, the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. The unemployed, sick, and homeless suffer. To convince the reader, a detailed explanation is provided to illustrate the disadvantages of capitalism, and this is presented using bullets. These include the following: first, "[r]esources are often under-utilised or not efficiently utilised". Second, "the distribution of income is not equitable". Third, "the freedom of choice does not apply to the poor". Fourth, "the profit motive can lead to the exploitation of workers". Fifth, "the use of technology and capital leads to increased unemployment levels and poverty". Sixth, "freedom of enterprise can lead to under-provision of merit goods" and "the market economy has no mechanism for reducing the equalities between the rich and the poor" (Book A, 52). These independent clauses emphasise the reasons for poverty under capitalism.

Book B discusses the problems of capitalism and the need for the involvement of the government. The discussion ends with the following quiet insertion: "As soon as these projects become economically viable, they can be privatized" (Book B, 56-57). This style of writing paradoxically both blames capitalism for poverty and vindicates it as a means of ending poverty. Books B, C, D and E all argue in this paradoxical manner, with the likely intention to confuse the reader into believing that poverty exists because of capitalism, but capitalism is required to end it. This is evident in the activity given in Book D, with two questions on capitalism and one question concerning the command system and the poor. The context of capitalism as a discourse is applied as a potential explanation for the situation of the poor. The apparent presentation of the definition of capital as neutral may be misleading. The reader may be led to a false understanding that capitalism's only role is to obtain and utilise capital to enable financial and economic operations. However, the apparent social power of wealth distribution and its accompanying effects that exploit the poor are masked.

Low Wages, Prices of Goods and Poor Infrastructure to Rationalise the Legitimacy of Poverty

The findings show Books A, B, C, D and E use low wages, the prices of goods, and poor infrastructure as a strategy to rationalise poverty. These texts prioritise certain economic instruments to explain the possible poverty of people relative to low wages and consumption. The following quotations from independent clauses are used in the texts: "A country's income distribution" (Book A, 157) and "the standard of living in developing countries is generally low-mostly due to low income" (Book E, 159). These clauses explain the disparity in spending between the rich and the poor. The discourse in both texts (A and E) comments on the disparity in spending between the rich and the poor, with the poor having difficulty in purchasing basic or essential items of food. We believe it is reasonable to assume that this disparity in spending is attributed to the differences in income between the rich and the poor, with the poor having a very low income. The rich have access to a variety of products and choices. The poor are denied access to goods and services as well as infrastructure. These patterns of denial are carried through in the following discourse contained in Books B, C, and D. Book B (11) contains the following quotations from independent clauses: "[g]ood jobs, earnings, and allowances", "[r]ecent economic growth", "[a] lack of economic opportunity", and "[t]he informal sector". These clauses are used to explain the inability of the poor to take advantage of the products and services in the manufacturing sector. These independent clauses reveal the following:

First, an apparent acknowledgement of the importance of having a decent income for the poor;

Second, that this denial of access to a decent income probably fuels labour unrest;

Third, that the challenges in the labour market are recognised as a "development issue" (11) for South Africa that has been topical for the past 20 years;

Fourth, that the informal and formal sector roles may have an impact, with the informal sector playing a significant role in creating income for "70-90%" (11) of the people.

"Marginalized groups" (Book C, 26), "example" and "income elasticity" (Book D, 109) are used to explain the expenditure of the poor on essential goods. The implication is that this is due to low wages or a lack of wages. Book D speaks of "economically marginalized" (Book D, 109) people. Here, the example of a candle is used, an essential item that is required by marginalised people who do not have access to electricity. The change in demand for such an essential item is affected by changes in the income of the poor. In Book E (159), the standard of living of marginalised people is captured as "low income that results in poverty" and "people who struggle to meet their basic needs". The implication of the discourse on low wages, the price of goods, and the lack of infrastructure is that these present presumed reasons for poverty.



Although Brady categorises poverty theories into three distinct groupings (behavioural, structural and political), he laments the somewhat insular manner in which researchers in these sub-fields work to negate or nullify one another's hypotheses (Brady 2019). He argues instead for integration and greater interdisciplinarity as scholars of poverty. It must be noted that writers of school economics textbooks (usually experienced school teachers and economics curriculum specialists/advisors in South Africa) may not be poverty specialists. As such, the causes of poverty and the theoretical bases for such causes are not comprehensively articulated nor effectively categorised. It is also important to recognise that poverty is only one of an array of topics that feature in the school curriculum. It might thus be unfair to expect nuanced/sophisticated explanations of poverty that might be found in a textbook exclusively on poverty. Textbook authors appropriate existing theories of poverty deemed to be constructively aligned to the content specifications of the CAPS, the national policy statement that spells out the state's ideological orientation. This "worthy" and "valued" knowledge is selected and programmed for study by school learners. The Department of Basic Education sets up content vetting committees to assess the validity and relevance of textbook content, a screening process that attends to issues of content accuracy and unwarranted bias and prejudice as it relates to race and gender in particular. This latter emphasis is particularly salient in the South African context given the country's history of racial prejudice and contemporary gender discrimination. While these appear as commendable objectives of such screening committees, the data and the analysis presented above suggest that less overt bias as it relates to the subliminal messages embedded in state-sanctioned content goes completely undetected. Textbook publishers, in their quest to remain on preferred, officially sanctioned and recommended catalogues, adhere tightly to CAPS prescriptions and proceed to compile their texts accordingly. It is in essence a strategic compliance so as to be favourably positioned in the lucrative school textbook market.

So, while textbook content selection is presented as transparent and state-approved, there is much to be concerned about in terms of what is projected as truths in disciplinary subject fields where there are stark theoretical contestations. It may be reasonable to argue that school textbook publishers (and their commissioned writers) may not be consciously culpable and that there may have been no malicious intent at the time of writing. It does, however, raise concern, given that particular distortions (of truths) are in fact prevalent in the selection of school textbooks under study, that similar patterns might be at work in other school subjects. Of importance are the implications that these findings have for the various stakeholders in the textbook production and consumption enterprise.

Through an intense and rigorous CDA protocol, this study was able to discern that poverty is legitimated using the legitimating strategies described above and that the causes of poverty are presented to the potential reader in a somewhat random fashion. In essence then, while the various articulations of the causes of poverty might well fall into any of Brady's three sub-categories (behavioural, structural or political), these explanations live at a somewhat superficial level. This study revealed how particular legitimating strategies work as convincing mechanisms or techniques to position particular truths. In this instance, it becomes clear that through distinctive linguistic sequencing and discourse appropriations, the concept of poverty is packaged and dispensed for consumption by the users of such textbooks. The purpose of the study was to expose what explanations of poverty prevail and what biases may be prevalent. The notion of a truthful representation is relative and possibly even elusive. What the article argues for is that textbooks should attempt to provide a balanced perspective on why poverty exists in society. This raises the issue of what this might imply for curriculum and pedagogy.

How might schoolteachers, subject advisors, examiners, or teacher educators, for example, detect and respond to ideological biases and distorted worldviews that may be evident in South African school textbooks? A somewhat "sinister" sub-plot as revealed by the focus of this study is that the poor (learners) are taught particular accounts of why poverty exists, some of which indict them for their current condition. Given that almost 65% of South Africans live below the poverty line (Lehohla 2017), classrooms are inhabited by children from varying socio-economic backgrounds, including children who hail from indigent families. It thus becomes necessary for teachers to develop high levels of sensitivity about whom their learners are. Importantly, it might well mean that teachers have to develop particular pedagogic practices that respond to their learners in a manner that is inclusive and ensures that the dignity of all children is preserved as economics is taught as a school subject. A humanising pedagogy, one that recognises and values learners as human beings and is critical of the subtext of content being dispensed, is vital (Khene 2014).

The findings of this study also have implications for teacher education. While the focus was exclusively on economics textbooks, it is reasonable to expect that the content of other school subjects (History, Geography, Business Studies) might also present controversial subtext. Teacher education needs to take cognisance of critical textbook usage as teacher preparation programmes are designed for and taught to preservice teachers. It becomes clear that teacher education must move beyond developing technical competences of teacher trainees. The issue of what to teach and how to teach (especially contentious subject material) must also receive due attention. These insights are also applicable to in-service teacher education programmes (continuing professional development) that are offered by subject advisors. Similarly, the school textbook publishing industry whose content selections determine the type of knowledge to be studied by school learners needs to be sensitive to the socio-economic contexts in which their products are used.



In this article we reported on a study that examined the legitimisations of poverty in school economics textbooks. We revealed how linguistic techniques and discourses work to legitimise particular worldviews. We exposed how ideological content might be presented as neutral and drew attention to the need for the various users of school textbooks to be vigilant of the subtext of what is presented as harmless knowledge. This study has implications for future research into, for example, how competencies to discern ideological bias might be inculcated in the South African schooling sector, which is hugely dependent on textbooks. A particularly disturbing revelation in this study was the subliminal messages about poverty that might be projected to the marginalised poor.



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"Hiding within the Glass Cage": Performance Management as Surveillance-A Case of Academic Spaces as Resistance Spaces



Sadi Mokhaneli Seyama

University of Johannesburg, South Africa




Universities have become toxic sites characterised by anxiety, depression and humiliation. Following new managerialism, leadership and management in universities have been driven by the mandate of achieving efficiency, which has led to the implementation of stringent performance management systems, increasing accountability and authoritarianism. While performance management is justified as an accountability tool that drives efficiency and effectiveness, its demand for absolute transparency has created "panopticons" and "glass cages". These have produced a stifling atmosphere in academic spaces, often characterised by competing demands for high research outputs and quality teaching, thus placing academics in subjected positions where their agency is threatened. In view of academics silently constructing uncontrolled and uncontrollable spaces to avoid increasing surveillance, I argue that academics are resisting universities' demand for the invading transparency of performance management. Through a critical social constructionist case study of academics and heads of departments, this article explores the paradoxical position of performing academics-those functioning within the "performative culture" while undermining neoliberal performative inscriptions. Framed by the notion of power and resistance and drawing on critical geography and workplace resistance literature, the study reveals that academics' acts are going against the controlled daily grind of systematised practices that are often meaningless in relation to quality education. They are reimagining and reconstructing lecture halls, stairs, offices and conference spaces as "invisible" free spaces outside direct managerial control.

Keywords: performance management; academia; university; power; resistance; space; panopticon; glass cage




This article interrogates how academics are responding to a surveilled and controlled performance management (PM) culture, which has turned universities into toxic sites characterised by anxiety, depression, and humiliation. I argue that although academics are confined in the "panopticons" and "glass cages" of PM in universities, they are silently creating free spaces of resistance. Universities in South Africa adopted academic PM as a managerial strategy to ensure the achievement of higher education's (HE) transformational imperatives (Cloete 2014). A complex context of redressing historical inequalities of access and quality while simultaneously responding to the fast-paced, competitive global educational trends and shrinking financial resources has obliged universities to adopt corporate managerial practices. Consequently, universities have redefined structures and processes that drive institutional performance to ensure accountability and foster efficiency and effectiveness (Davis, Jansen van Rensburg, and Venter 2016). As one of the strategies to achieve accountability, academic PM serves to align all performances with institutional objectives. PM is a human resources tool, which creates a process of determining and appraising employees' performance in line with institutional strategic goals (Lorenz 2012). The PM process in universities is target-driven, scale-rated, tied to achievement rewards and requires transparent accountability through quantifiable measures (Ball 2016). Even though managerial practices, including PM, are justified as accountability tools that drive efficiency and effectiveness, they are negatively affecting universities' key functions of teaching, research and community engagement (Teelken 2012).

Unintended though it may be, within the South African context these PM practices are becoming subtle disciplinary forms that, through the manipulation of rewards and punishment, are confining and subjugating academics (Seyama and Smith 2016). As a result of these practices, a captured performance is emerging. A captured performance in this context is a subjected performance where academics' performance is tied to predefined, marketised and corporatised educational outcomes that primarily serve capitalist interests (Seyama 2018). Such performance has a colonising outcome and is effected through transparency mechanisms that place academics in glass cages under the watch of the panopticon, threatening punishment for failure to adhere to requisite performance demands (Seyama and Smith 2016). As such, academics find themselves trapped under the surveillance glare of the performative masters, which produces a stifling atmosphere in academic spaces, and places academics in controlled subjected positions where their agency is threatened (Clarke and Knights 2015). As Wessels (2015, 14) observes, such threatened agency is stifling "academics' critical, investigative and risk-taking inclination", killing the human spirit that is requisite in realising the existential purpose of higher education institutions (HEIs).

In line with Gabriel's (2008, 320) observation that "even within today's glass cages, employees create niches that are unmanaged and unmanageable", I argue that academics trapped within the confines of neoliberally constituted university corridors are crafting spaces that afford them some invisibility within highly visible spaces. In this way, they are managing to resist universities' demand for the invading transparency of target-driven PM systems and finding meaningful ways to account for their performance in their private spaces. This article provides a narrative that answers the question: How do university academics respond to the repressive surveilled academic spaces? The argument of this article is inspired by Foucault's (1977) use of Bentham's metaphor of the panopticon and Gabriel's (2008) metaphor of a glass cage, which reflects the contemporary university's demand for transparency of academics' performance. I view the glass cage as an extension of the panopticon, where its walls are replaced by glass, thus enabling total exposure and eventual control and discipline. I argue that power is embedded in the panopticons and glass cages that materialise spaces. However, within this setting, subjugating academic spaces are being turned into spaces of resistance, thus becoming spaces that enable academics to explore their emancipatory potential. For the purpose of this study, Courpasson, Dany, and Delbridge's (2017, 238) conception of resistance forms the essence of the article: "Resistance is a social experience through which individuals shape physical places and exploit the geographical blurring of organizations to develop political efforts that can be consequential." Accordingly, these physical spaces are reconfigured as free spaces outside the glare of managerial control, permitting a rejection of subjected identities (Courpasson, Dany, and Delbridge 2017). In this article, a critical examination is offered on how academics are silently constructing uncontrolled and uncontrollable physical spaces to avoid increasing organisational surveillance and control.

The article proceeds as follows. First, I position the context of education as a space that enables control and freedom. Second, I conceptualise the notions of power, subjectivity and resistance as ways to theorise academics' construction of oppositional identities and practices. Third, I briefly relate the study's methodology, and lastly, I provide the readings of academics' accounts of their oppositional identities and practices and offer concluding remarks.


Space as an Enabler of Control or Freedom

In recent years, questions have been asked about why academics as public intellectuals with the responsibility to interrogate institutions' ideologies, policies and practices are under surveillance (Clarke and Knights 2015; Lorenz 2012) and being complicit in their subjugation as effected through managerialism (Alvesson and Spicer 2016). Following managerialism, leadership and management in universities have been driven by the mandate of achieving efficiency, which has had the effect of creating a performative culture and increasing authoritarianism (Davis, Jansen van Rensburg, and Venter 2016). This performative culture that is enabled by academics' PM produces academics who typify productive, post-industrial blue-collar workers struggling under managerial power (Fleming and Spicer 2003). Cairns, McInnes, and Roberts (2003) argue that the what, why, how and when of academics' work have been reduced to predetermined, measurable economic activities. Consequently, academic institutions are becoming hostile environments as PM is becoming more controlling (Ball 2016), confining academics in mental and physical spaces of panoptic surveillance and measurement (Crane et al. 2008).

Panopticism as a metaphor borrowed from the prison watchtower (Foucault 1977) explains how academics are forced to behave appropriately under the watch of the disciplinary gaze of line managers. According to Seyama and Smith (2016), panopticism enacted through prescriptive performance contracts enforces visibility, which becomes instrumental in controlling and changing the behaviours of those watched. Inspired by this notion, Gabriel (2008) uses the metaphor of an organisational glass cage to illuminate people's efforts to publicise their idealised personal brands or performative identities. Gabriel (2008) points to various forms of invasive glass cages within contemporary organisations-quality reviews, appraisals, reports, checklists, and rankings. Therefore, space, objectively or subjectively defined, is of consequence in the workplace.

In academia, space is reducible to the performance stage where academic actors demonstrate their prowess in the art of "academics" and derive power through "excellent research performance" or lose power through "poor performance". Of interest is how the same glass cages become intrusive and entangle academics in perpetual exhibitionism. In this way, the glass cages lend themselves to being the chain around academics' necks-the chain being loose or tight depending on the actor's perceived levels of performance. The problem with the glass cages is that while they are critical to shaping and affirming academics' identities and value as performers contributing to institutional visions and strategic goals, they desist from being personal spaces where academics can claim their rights to autonomous identity and intellect. In this way, academic space can simultaneously serve as a subjugating and an emancipatory mechanism (Cairns 2002).

To make sense of how academics conceive of their spaces and see possibilities for resistance, it is worth considering Lefebvre's (1991) representations of lived space as being both objective (material) and subjective (mental). Cairns, McInnes, and Roberts (2003) clarify that space does not only serve a physical purpose-it also represents people's thinking and the meanings they make of their experiences within such spaces. Consequently, the uses and effects of space can only be understood in terms of how people experience it and how such experiences are key to shaping their identities in relation to their daily realities (Shields 1991). Cairns, McInnes, and Roberts (2003) argue that while organisations are engaging in subjecting panoptic practices, their contexts are an imperfect panopticon because the power exercised within is not totalising. Therefore, within the exercise of power there is embedded resistance to such power (Foucault 1980). From this emerges the dynamic of struggle (Fleming and Spicer 2008) against disciplinary technologies that are intent on eradicating employees' opposition to managerial prescriptions. Indeed, academics are existing within the conundrum where the struggle for their personal autonomy is part of their daily experiences within their workspaces. In view of academics' control through PM, it is arguable that the inclination for resistance also grows and changes depending on contexts or events. Space matters in power-knowledge relations as experienced by academics because it provides a predetermined setting for performance discipline (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983).

The conception of geographical space is both abstract and concrete (Stanek 2011). It is largely comprehensible through the objects that occupy it; however, it does not owe its existence to such objects (Shields 1991). Space, as a physical void, which contains objects, is not experienced as neutral and a container of objects. It constitutes a certain atmosphere, which influences social relations among the bodies (human) in that space (Shields 1991). Treating space this way provides an understanding of how space within a particular contextual frame constructs compliant identities as well as resistant agencies.


Power and Resistance: Conditions of Freedom in Organisations

The conceptualisation of power within the Foucauldian (1980) paradigm has been very influential within contemporary critical management studies (CMS) and organisational resistance research (Alvesson and Willmott 1992). Foucault (1980) concepualised power as temporary and non-enduring and within reach of everyone. Foucault believed in the simplistic nature of power-insofar as it exists and operates at all levels in varying social relations, and importantly, within individuals. In this way, power permeates all social relations, be they formal or informal, influencing discourses and practices. Contingent upon how power is exercised, it is always productive either in generating repressive actions or resistant response (Foucault 1980). In its dynamism, power is then experienced both explicitly and implicitly with varying implications. Foucault (2002, 324) emphasised that "power is exercised over subjects, only insofar as they are free". Consequently, freedom itself constitutes the exercise of power and resistance is embedded in power even in conditions of domination (Foucault 1980). Therefore, people are permanently positioned in conditions within which they can act in a number of ways, either to reproduce the effects of power relations or resist their subjugating effects (Fleming and Spicer 2008).

Historically, resistance has been conceptualised negatively within factory labour relations, representing radical responses (Thomas and Davies 2005), and thus treated harshly. However, the more nuanced, non-radical and less blatant forms of resistance are being revealed as feasible responses that are not displayed to the public and are sometimes known only to the perpetrators. Placed in a paradoxical relationship with power, resistance is imprecise and uniquely produced, and it demonstrates more than just truant behaviour (Contu 2008). Outside the collective and explicit labour resistance (strikes) against capitalist greed, "resistance can also be understood as a constant adaptation, subversion, and remodeling process of dominant discourses present in confrontations between the individual and the organization" (Thomas and Davies 2005, 387). This posture on resistance opens theorisation on academics' individualistic, subtle and concealed forms of resistance that work towards a retreat into spaces of harmony where they can carry out their ethical and social mandate (Spicer, Alvesson, and Kárreman 2009). For academics, such social good ought to be realised partly through their public intellectual role to provide social critiques of corporate organisations, institutions, government, and so forth. If PM represses this critical agency of academics, such social imperatives will be lost.

However, while there is the possibility of turning power on its head for individuals to free themselves, Contu (2008, 4) is cautious about the Foucauldian "resistance", arguing "these transgressive acts that we call 'resistance' are akin to a decaf resistance, which changes very little". However, before disregarding ways in which academics "resist" unenviable conditions, it is crucial to understand their context and feasible actions that would give them some reprieve. Jones and Patton's (2020) study demonstrates how the Slow Swimming Club (SSC) located outside the university campuses offered academics free, unmanaged and playful space to escape and disengage from the suffocating managerialism in their academic spaces. In this space, academics were able to rethink the rules of engagement in an enterprise university and provided opportunities "to be openly productive" (Jones and Patton 2020, 381):

Such enacted spacing here has increased academics' creative resistance and political leverage back on campus through greater aesthetic sensibility and cross-disciplinary collaboration, back on campus. In other words, the academic political voice has increased through what appears on the surface as a disconnected leisure pursuit. (Jones and Patton 2020, 386)

If Contu's (2008) lens is used, such acts are not yet disruptive, as they do not dismantle the power structures and discourses. However, within the academic context, micro-emancipations at a conscious and intellectual level do emerge from decaf resistance. These micro-emancipations are worthwhile insofar as they lay foundations towards macro-emancipations. The paradox whereby resistance is both mentally and materially constructed implies that a one-dimensional conception of resistance cannot be adopted.


Context, Case and Method

To explore critically how academics are responding to a surveilled and controlled neoliberal performative space, I undertook a critical social constructionist approach (Hosking 2008) and conducted a case study of university academics in South Africa. I drew on critical management studies' notions of power and resistance within constraining organisational spaces (Courpasson, Dany, and Clegg 2012). This was done to make sense of the panoptic and glass cage educational spaces that are emerging post the implementation of PM in HE. Public HEIs are funded by the government and are mandated accordingly to account for their performance to the South African Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), and this process cascades lower down to individual academics. It is at this lower level where daily work encounters are influenced by PM practices, hence the focus on them.

The empirical material for this article is drawn from a larger study of South University (SU) on heads of departments' (HODs) critical leadership of PM in HE. SU is perceived to be spearheading a mandatory, prescriptive and stringent academic PM system under the deans' autocratic and instructive leadership (Seyama and Smith 2015). HODs acknowledged that neoliberal PM constrained their leadership as it created surveilled performative spaces. Of significance is that "HODs are confronted by varying expectations from the leadership as institutional representatives and safeguarding its interests, whilst at the same time academics' expectation for the HOD to be their representative and shield them from executive leadership" (Seyama and Smith 2015, 2956). Confronted by tensions emanating from neoliberal PM, HODs resorted to critical leadership's dialectical approaches in an attempt to create amenable performance spaces that enable meaningful academic performances within the repressive spaces (Seyama 2018). In this way, they engaged dialectical leadership's interconnected dimensions of consciousness, deliberation and resistance. HODs have been trying to lead with an understanding of academics' constraining context, the dilemmas of high research outputs and quality teaching, and taking the foot off the petrol when necessary. They have been willing to ensure humane perspectives are adopted when addressing challenges. Where possible, HODs have enabled flexibility in how academics achieve the university's strategic objectives, creating deliberative spaces of engagement where people feel safe to raise concerns and negotiate. Furthermore, HODs have resisted and confronted regulations that undermine academics' sense of worth and freedom (Seyama 2018). With all their efforts, HODs have acknowledged that the neoliberal agenda continues to keep a strong panoptic hold on the university's PM systems, therefore they will try to create a pleasant and meaningful working environment for academics (Seyama 2018). It is a particularly interesting case to understand how academics have reimagined and reconstructed institutional physical spaces as resistance spaces.

While this is a single case study, it is possible that emerging PM practices at SU typify academics' responses to constraining PM in other institutions. South University's PM system has been in place for more than 10 years. Both academic and administrative staff s performance is managed at various institutional hierarchical levels, with HODs managing academics' performance. Individual academics' PM contract is aligned to institutional strategic objectives and is target-driven and rewards-linked (Seyama and Smith 2016). Performance appraisals at the end of the year determine the extent to which academics have achieved or exceeded the performance targets. Performance is rewarded when the targets have been exceeded (Seyama and Smith 2016).

Following a qualitative methodology informed by CMS's project of interrogating power-knowledge relations in organisations (Alvesson and Willmott 1992), I collected data through in-depth semi-structured interviews with participants about their experiences of PM and leadership thereof. I conducted 25 interviews with SU HODs and academics. Ten of the interviewees were HODs responsible for implementing PM at departmental level, and the remaining 15 were academics whose performance was managed by the HODs. All participants were full-time employees with academic experience ranging between five and 20 years and held positions as lecturers, senior lecturers, associate professors and full professors. Data was gathered during two academic semesters, post the signing of the performance contract earlier in the semester and after the mid-year performance reviews. These periods were outside the year-end performance appraisals, where academics' performance is judged against the specific contracted targets, then rewarded or penalised accordingly.

Post-interview field notes were also used to make sense of the impressions I had of the interview process and the participants. To ensure relevant and meaningful participation, purposive and snowball sampling, using consenting informant participants who pointed out other colleagues as potential participants, was selected. To avoid the possibility of identification, pseudonyms were used and individual contextual description was excluded from the report.

As an exploratory study, data analysis was driven by what emerged from the conversations between the participants and me. Using the strategy of applied thematic analysis, all the responses to a single question, "How are you coping and surviving in this performative space?", were extracted. In the first phase, the process involved recognising, analysing and reporting patterns within the data (Saldaña 2009). To do this, the data was arranged in line with the research questions, and then Saldaña's (2009) approach was employed to the process of manual coding, which consists of a number of stages, starting with pre-coding. Pre-coding offered a first glance or impression of the data. In the second phase of analysis, critical scholarship was used as an analytical tool and "one of the purposes of this style of criticism is to read and write to alter or shift public knowledge by illustrating how that knowledge has been constructed" (Sloop 2004, 18). This was done by distilling Foucauldian notions of power and resistance that could explicate how academics were responding to the surveilled environment. The extracted text was read, and a set of initial codes and explanations developed. Using an iterative codebook of text, two coders independently coded all text.


Findings: Resistance Tactics

The findings emerged from the reading and reflection on the materiality of academic physical spaces as free spaces reimagined by academics as mechanisms of resistance in a performative entrepreneurial university. Within this setting, the article shows how academic spaces, experienced as panopticons and glass cages, constitute subjugating spaces that can be turned into resistance spaces. Noting that the glass "is also liable to crack, break, and collapse" (Gabriel 2008, 313), I argue that the academic spaces within participants' terrain are becoming spaces that enable academics to explore their emancipatory potential in reclaiming their primary purpose-critique, autonomous knowledge production and critical conscientisation of students. Emerging from the analysis of participants' accounts of surviving the paradoxical and uncomfortable setting are five resistance spaces: lecture rooms, stairs, offices, and conference and special interest group spaces. Each of these reveals a unique way in which academics use physical spaces to engage their agency to emancipate themselves from suffocating PM spaces.

Resistance in Lecture Rooms

Aaron (academic), in recognition of the university as a structure embedded with power dynamics, posits the following:

I understand that we can within the particular space ... manoeuvre. We can have liberated spaces within that system [performance management]. So ... for me, what we need to critique is the space ... the entrepreneurial university ... as a structure, so then we can talk about structural agency. Within the structure, we find agents who may or may not have agency to change or transform the structure.

In relation to Aaron's view, some academics in this study used lecture rooms as resistances spaces to initiate nuanced resistance against the panopticon and glass cage forces as related to PM. As a common point of disquiet in the performative culture, the demand for high research outputs is one source of resistance. For instance, Zama (academic) offers a compelling argument against academics who are using perceived "unethical" practices to achieve more research units:

Yes, you're getting the units but are the papers ... you're producing ... groundbreaking? Are they making sense to the humanity? Or are we writing papers for the sake of writing papers? And, I'm ... one of those people reluctant in writing papers for the sake of writing papers. Otherwise ... you're just proliferating the space with something that is already ... known. And, so, I'd rather spend my time with my students.

In defiance, the academic is deliberately choosing the lecture room as his resistance space rather than going to a conference or sitting in his office writing what he calls meaningless articles. Like Anderson's (2008) participants, he is disregarding the expected output targets. Instead, he is pursuing what he perceives to be worthy in line with the primary goal of education, which is facilitating learning for students' development as critical and active citizens.

Sharne (academic) is also using the lecture room as a resistance space where she engages students on the constraining political, social and economic conditions of the country:

I realise that I have to choose between the quality of my teaching and research outputs. But I get my inspiration from engaging with students beyond the disciplinary content. It is important for me that we engage students on political and social issues facing our country. In a world obsessed with capitalism and control of people, I have to conscientise my students to engage in the ethics of self-care. They need to understand issues of control like governmentality.

Sharne brings debates on political and social issues into the classroom so that students can begin to critically interrogate their impact on society and particularly on neoliberally driven universities. She talks to students about Foucault's (1977) notions of panopticism and governmentality that are useful as lenses through which students can understand how power is exploited to control people. She sees these mechanisms as ideal to facilitate students' development of a consciousness about power in their daily lives. In this way, she hopes such engagements form the basis of students' critique and that they build towards an ethic of self-care as emphasised by Foucault (1980). Notwithstanding his criticism of research, Zama acknowledges its positive role in the university, noting:

It's a catch 22 situation in my view as the students want to associate themselves with the high performing institution. But that high performance doesn't have time for them because now the lecturers that are supposed to be engaging with them are busy researching.

Carly (HOD) also uses the lecture room as a space of resistance. She regards herself as a change agent, an academic activist who will defy the governmentalising discourses and practices perpetuated in her discipline's curriculum. She explains:

I'd say I would use it [lecture space] once again to break through the cracks and openings. I deconstruct the whole role and I find the space to actually empower ... students. I ... search for empowering moments in a curriculum which may be static. ... I see myself as a change agent. I see myself as developing the agency of learners. ... I deviate from the prescribed work very often and going to places where I know I'm helping them to open their minds and develop vertically.

While the lecture room is a "legitimate" space for compliant performativity, in this instance Zama, Sharne, and Carly use it as a space outside the reach of managerial control. They use it for critical performativity (Spicer, Alvesson, and Kárreman 2009), which is a refusal to subjugate students (Ball 2016).

Resistance on the Stairs

Patrick (HOD) refuses to perpetuate a commodified student subjectivity, and he has creatively chosen the institution's stairs as a resistance space. Patrick has initiated an exercise project where he and his students walk up and down the stairs from the ground floor to the upper floor for about 30 minutes every morning before class. The essence of this project as a politically meaningful act is that Patrick uses this time to resist the demand for high research outputs that ought to be attained at the expense of teaching. The pillar of Patrick's resistance is his fundamental position about his role as a teacher. He stresses:

I think teaching and learning are a serious priority. The greater majority of academics are here to develop the students ... and they have been ... pushed away from that priority to some extent or to a large extent.

Patrick believes that teaching is paramount in a university and that academics need to spend more time with students to assist them with also developing their "soft skills"- life skills outside the fundamental discipline knowledge and competencies in non-curriculated socio-political activities. He explains:

The purpose of the stairs project is to help strengthen the individual ethic. So that when difficulties do come then they have the capacity to resist that temptation or whatever it is. It is simply doing something that other people might look at it and say, oh you are so stupid; can't you just use a lift [instead of walking up all the stairs]. But you're standing up for something you believe to be better and you stick with it. I believe that using an elevator is ... a metaphor for somehow to the top without effort. So, I believe for any success on any individual person and myself in particular you need to subject yourself to difficulties. Not too difficult that you fail.

On the face of it, the stairs are an objective free space, with no other meaning than its physical purpose. Nevertheless, they offer Patrick a meaningful space outside his office where he should be writing research articles:

I'm going on with my stairs. I'm not sure that the research effort ... would produce some of the results that I'm producing ... Because I know when you talk to people about this particular project, they love it. They think this is the answer to a social degeneration that has happened and is happening.

On the stairs, Patrick wages his struggle against the performative demand for research production and instrumentalist education that narrowly focuses discipline knowledge. He is emphatic that he does not care if he does not meet the research targets. If the project does contribute to his research, it would be incidental.

Resistance behind the Office Doors

In the era of surveilled PM, it is apparent that employee visibility has become an enabling control tool used by institutions to enforce economically subjected identities. The question is whether employee invisibility is an emancipatory or resistance tool. At SU, it appears that some academics, such as Gerry (academic) and Sarah (academic), are choosing invisibility within a transparent performative space to wage their battle against subjected identities. Under the gaze, they are finding ways to be invisible, denoting the metaphor of "hiding within the glass cage". They are content in this seclusion and being on the fringes of the obligatory performative spaces.

Gerry and Sarah choose to close their office doors, which seems to go against the unwritten corporate or institutional policy of keeping office doors open. Open office doors indicate not only an academic's presence at work, but also more importantly that they are working. Gerry does use the space accordingly, as she spends extended hours in the office beyond the prescriptive office working hours. Her struggle with surveillance emanates from her colleagues' perceptions that she is less competent because she does not have a PhD. As a junior, she is treated with suspicion. Her movements and activities are closely monitored. She reports:

I don't care what happens outside my office. I sit in my office and work hard and I am going to publish and become a professor as well. This is my space and I do what I want in here.

Here the academic is demonstrating that the confines of the office provide a "shelter" from the harsh autocratic atmosphere, and she finds comfort within the margins of the obligatory spaces, albeit limited. Sarah, in defence of closing the office door, argues:

With so many rules that one has to abide by-mostly unnecessarily because people want to stamp their powerless positional authority, I choose to do what I want. But, it's strategic. In the midst of panopticism where people want to know everything about you-where you are, what you are doing-it's good to get them guessing-feeling unsettled about your whereabouts. I know that they expect the worst of me; that I'm not in the office. So when they come with that attitude and open my door to find me there, I always think-the joke is on you. I'm not going to fit in your subjecting mould. I'm my own person.

The resistance Sarah's office space offers extends to other colleagues' offices outside her department. She notes:

My department represents a repressive space that constrains my being, so I withdraw from it and I choose to socialise with academics from other departments and faculties and that is when I get a reprieve and escape from the prying eyes.

Sarah's response is indicative of Schwartz's (2014, 111) observation that "healthy and smart people do not stay in toxic spaces that cause them harm" and it demonstrates agency and engaging in ethics of self-care (Foucault 2001), that is, refusing repression. Sarah's socialisation outside of her department offers shared spatial-social distancing. It enables her to create a space that offers emotional and intellectual safety, and nurtures harmony in sharing values and affirmation of academics as critical agents.

Resistance within Academic Conference and Self-Interest Group (SIG) Spaces

Jeremy (academic), Sharne (academic) and Abigail (academic) choose the conference and self-interest group (SIG) spaces to air their discontent with the institution's PM system. Jeremy reports:

I have my space. There are two abstract papers I have written and presented somewhere, where ... I'm indirectly attacking this mindset ... by looking at issues from a philosophical paradigm ... and my own paper that I will present at SAERA [South African Education Researchers Association]. It's clear I'm hitting on managerialism ... and my main argument is that it is making the university to become less of a university.

Sharne says:

Since I cannot be as open as I need to be in the institution, I love going to conferences. I regard them as legitimate spaces to share my intellectual freedom about the effects of managerialism. Interesting is how other academics flock to my presentations because they are facing the same conditions. If it means talking about the repressive nature of PM as a way for me to meet the requirements for conference presentations and publishing, then I'm okay with that.

Similarly, Abigail (academic) acts like a smart person by withdrawing from what causes her discomfort and problems and uses an alternative safe space: "I've learned that it can be quite brutal and it's a very unhealthy environment. So I do self-protect. I kind of withdraw from anything that can complicate." Abigail uses the SIG of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning for Social Justice (SoTL) group's space as a resistance space, indicating:

I've been very vocal about decolonisation, about how universities are run, about managerialism. I will go to sessions where the dean is sitting there and I will speak openly about how . there are kinds of mechanisms for silencing, [and] mechanisms for punishment.

Here Abigail is engaging in parrhesia (Foucault 2001) by openly and courageously speaking truth to power, while risking retribution. In this way, Jeremy, Sharne and Abigail are outside the critical institutional eye, but within a safe scholarly space that is also pertinent towards achieving the performative demands.


Discussion and Conclusion

Performance management (PM) of academics is justified as a necessary tool to align their performance to institutional strategic objectives, assisting with a collective approach for universities' accountability to stakeholders. Nonetheless, in the neoliberal university, the surveilled nature of PM is producing a captured performance, which is confining and subjugating academics (Seyama 2018). From this perspective, academics are not escaping the worker-labourer stereotype of being condemned to repressive PM conditions that provoke resistance. Empirical evidence in this study suggests that for academics to loosen the performative chain around their necks, they are finding spaces outside the reach of management's control. They are using academic spaces to break through the cracks and openings and repurposing them to defy managerialist approaches to education. Vieira et al. (2015, 746) refer to these emerging "forms of resistance used by academics [as a way] to re-establish the dignity of teaching practice". Vieira et al. (2015, 747) are adamant that "people need dignity and autonomy at work, and that when these conditions are not met, they manifest themselves as a strong tendency to resist and adopt deviant behaviour practices".

The findings in this article reveal that some academics are engaged in resisting the system in unique ways. They are using physical spaces within and outside the university to escape the panoptic eye and glass cage of PM or its symbolism in the way academic spaces are set up and culturised as performative spaces. These academics experience the uncomfortable surveillance glare of performative masters and they claim that there is repression beyond the paper of the performance contract. Likewise, the physicality of their space was also tied into the repression.

Despite the dispiriting context and pessimistic view of academic life (Wessels 2015), academics' acts are going against the controlled daily grind of systematised practices (Crane et al. 2008) that are often meaningless in relation to quality education. Through reimagined lecture halls, stairs, offices and conference and SIG spaces, academics in this study are loosening the performative chain around their necks. Within the exercise of power as advanced by Foucault (1980), these have become material and symbolic spaces outside the reach of management's control to resist repressive control (Crane et al. 2008). The use of lecture halls, stairs, offices and conference and SIG spaces shows that spaces of resistance take different forms, depending on the context and individuals' agential propensity to wage "productive" resistance (Fleming and Sewell 2002).

In this regard, where and how resistance is effected are significant for understanding how academics "free" themselves. As space is always productive in offering diverse meanings for different people (Lefebvre 1991), academics are putting these spaces to work in order to achieve critical performativity outcomes that serve to counter instrumentalist outcomes. In this "openness of meaning", participant academics are reconstituting captured identities and reclaiming their "own" space by reconstructing the meaning of the experienced space to refuse the prevailing domination (Mumby 2005). Some academics are using lecture halls as critically conscientising spaces that engage students beyond the confines of their discipline and enable interrogation of the influence of socio-economic and political discourses, practices and contexts on students' development and futures. The lecture halls become reflexive spaces in which students can question assumptions underpinning how education is offered in neoliberal universities. In this instance, the academics' actions are congruent with those of academics in Anderson's (2008) study who spoke with students about the disingenuous plan of managerialism to underfund resources and enforce large class sizes and less contact time, undermining meaningful teaching and learning. This orientation towards students' needs means academics are willing to re-engage education as critique-"to learn an attitude, a method, a relation to our own historicity, and our existence within and in relation to power" (Ball 2017, 35).

For academics, closing their office doors gives them privacy within the requisite transparency and protects against further intrusion on the already limited privacy. Such practices reflect resistance through distance (Fleming and Spicer 2008), which does not confront managerial control (Gabriel 2008), but uses creative and nuanced resistance tactics that do not expose them to the risk of reprisal. On the other hand, using stairs involves repurposing the university space to facilitate academics' activism. This activism as undertaken by Patrick encompasses a refusal of neoliberal subjectivity-a choice to spend more time on teaching instead of prioritising research. At the same time, this stairs project is a response to the calls for development of students as critical agents with appropriate life skills.

The findings also reveal that academics feel the burden of the glare within the institutional glass cages, and hence resort to using conference and SIG spaces as free spaces outside managerial surveillance, where there are no voices shouting them down when they raise their concerns, as would happen when inside their institution. Within the conference and SIG spaces, academics are taking their struggle outside the university, and what is significant about their tactic is that it could also serve as a space for the collective voice of academics similarly affected. In raising their voices, academics turn their voices into resistance tools that reject subjugated identities and oppressive practices (Gabriel 2008). These serve to highlight the problematic impression given by neoliberal managerialism that universities' purpose can be redefined primarily in economic terms. Shahjahan (2014, 223) views these as meaningful resistance strategies "through which we heal" and gain a sense of freedom. Such healing is paramount in view of Wessel's (2015) observation that surveilled and highly managerialist practices repress the human spirit.

In making sense of the value, meaning and productivity of academics' resistance spaces, Postma's (2015, 33) submission that "the limitation of acts of resistance is that they often remain within the logic and the problematic defined by the dominant order" is relevant. It is indeed the case in this study that academics' attempts at resistance are confined within the panopticons and glass cages of the neoliberal environment. Nevertheless, these are giving hope for some small measure of reprieve from repression and thus offer a temporary and transitory escape from the watchful eye. While participants' accounts suggest that at this point resistance tactics are not necessarily working against institutional neoliberal demands, this article argues that there is some "potency" in what Contu (2008) calls "decaf" resistance. These academics' resistance tactics are efforts to preserve some personal autonomy and respect, keeping intelligent selves intact (Clarke and Knights 2015) and dis-identifying with managerial power (Fleming and Spicer 2003). Their acts are not provoking direct or legitimate managerial punishment; however, not overlooking the typical managerial response, the punishment for such acts would possibly be meted out in the nuanced way that governmentality tactics are being used. What is noteworthy is that academics engage in these activities to mediate against demoralisation, which is detrimental to individuals' well-being and eventually to their scholarly progression. Here, the acts of academics correspond with the understanding of resistance as a coping mechanism that enables them to escape regimes of control.

Taking the radical humanist approach, which embodies the achievement of incremental micro emancipations, participants' resistance tactics are still worthy, particularly when they influence a critical consciousness of oppressive practices. A particular context with its dynamics of power determines the extent to which academics can use their resources and choose the nature and ways of resisting. Additionally, different motivations for resistance permit all accounts of resistance, explicit or implicit, decaf (Contu 2008) or productive (Courpasson, Dany, and Clegg 2012). Resistance should not be prescriptive, otherwise the same problematic deterministic and objectionable control of performativity will be invoked. This position is strengthened by Foucault's ethic of self-care, that is, choosing to do what does not destroy your soul (Postma 2015), which gives meaningful emancipation in individuals' life contexts. Fundamental to productive resistance, Postma (2015) argues, is care for the self. Such a choice enables academics such as Abigail, Carly, Zama, Gerry, Jeremy, Patrick, Sarah, and Sharne to stay true to whom they are as academic activists. For these academics, resistance spaces are consciously used to escape the glare within the glass cage, which can be quite blinding, and overwhelming-chaotic and violent to the mind (Cairns, McInnes, and Roberts 2003).

The noted spatial micro-emancipations are noteworthy insofar as they are vital towards keeping a critical view of performativity to prepare for macro-emancipations. It is in the interest of academics to recognise that most repressive tendencies are very nuanced and context bound; hence subverting them equally demands nuanced tactics and academic activists cannot always expect legislative recognition of the micro-emancipations. Generally, nuanced repressive acts are committed within the safety net of regulations. The spaces academics use as resistance spaces are personal spaces that have been part of their work life; however, the meaning and purpose of these spaces have changed following the painful panoptic and glass cage encounters. It would be interesting to explore the possibilities of resistance outcomes in cases where academics use spaces external to the university.



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EdTech Inc.: Selling, Automating and Globalizing Higher Education in the Digital Age, by Tanner Mirrlees and Shahid Alvi



Aziz Choudry

McGiIl University, Canada



Routledge. 2020. pp. 190. ISBN: 978-036735989-8

Reading University of Ontario Institute of Technology professors Tanner Mirrlees and Shahid Alvi's co-authored book, EdTech Inc., several months into a global pandemic when many schools, colleges and universities in many countries are-at least in theory-engaged in remote teaching and learning highlights the urgency and relevance of their critical analysis.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, this book would have served as a timely, well-researched and compelling corrective to claims that digital technologies have "revolutionised" education. It is a welcome counterbalance to the uncritical techno-utopianism and techno-optimism held by many educators, development practitioners and policy-makers concerning EdTech-digital technology in education-not to mention the evangelical zeal of marketing strategies of companies that sell and richly profit from these technologies, including the "big five" of EdTech (Apple, Alphabet Inc., Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook) and EdTech start-ups. By the end of 2019, the EdTech industry was expected to reach US $43 billion in value. At the start of this book, the authors warn that "[t]oo often, immersion in the EdTech hype cycle distracts from the real economic and political structures, institutions and interests that are shaping and attempting to benefit from EdTech's development, diffusion, application and impact in society" (5).

The EdTech sector has effectively mobilised in and greatly benefitted from the kind of disaster capitalism ascendant during the COVID-19 era. The pandemic has given a huge boost to the sector, with the companies that sell and promote these products and platforms, alongside state agencies and educational institutions, public and private alike, bulldozing or sidelining critical perspectives, all justified through commitments to the provision of education during a pandemic, and further aided by the climate of fear and crisis that has engulfed so many.

Through a critical appraisal of capitalist relations, interconnecting the histories of higher education, the neoliberal state, technology and automation, the book pushes back at the idea that all of this is inevitable and that resistance to (or even critique of) EdTech is futile and/or a sign of being a fossil who can't keep up with times that are a-changing. Indeed, as universities increasingly model themselves on corporations, the book's authors contend that EdTech is treated "as though it has a life of its own to fundamentally transform the qualities of educational institutions while mystifying the real neoliberal restructuring of higher education, and the expanding EdTech industry's agenda to sell digital technology to enhance the bottom line" (69). How much more so, as education, teaching and learning are further reorganised in pandemic times? The kinds of sober and critical perspectives and questions posed about educational technology that Mirrlees and Alvi, Neil Selwyn (2014) and others have urged us to take seriously quickly fly out of the window, if they were ever in the room in the first place.

Divided into six chapters, EdTech Inc. digs deeply into and under the digital platform industries' emergence from and role in the restructuring of capitalism, and in turn puts their interrelationships with higher education under the spotlight. Strongly critical of the "digital revolution" euphoria and technological determinism, Mirrlees and Alvi argue that if we attend to the social, economic and political context within which EdTech has been produced, we see a reorganisation and perpetuation of existing capitalist social relations and inequities rather than a disruption or break with the past. Adopting a historically informed, critical political economy of communications framework of analysis as it historicises and dissects the reshaping of higher education, technology and the interrelations of states, capital and higher education, this book is a must-read for anybody teaching, studying or working in colleges and universities, including school teachers contending with an "online learning environment". It is an important reference for education, humanities and social science researchers and administrators-including Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) aficionados of various kinds.

The book is written in an accessible, readable style. For example, in drawing from Marxist theory to understand contemporary capitalism, I appreciated the explanation of key concepts and the spelling out of characteristics of EdTech and the global economy as much as the political economy mapping of the EdTech terrain and actors. Thus the book will likely appeal to both experienced researchers and students alike, across a range of disciplines.

The book asks how the excitement and urgency that clothe so much of the EdTech talk connect to the material conditions and realities of a deeply unequal world. Mirrlees and Alvi remind us that "[f]ar from being inclusive of all, Internet access-and access to EdTech-is stratified, both geographically and socially. The reality of the digital divide-lack of access to the Internet, a digital device and digital literacy-within and between countries deflates the naïve hope that EdTech corporations will provide everyone everywhere with quick access to a free, high-quality and empowering education" (105). I think the book could usefully engage with Ruha Benjamin's (2019) excellent scholarship on racism, science and technology, and Safiya Noble's (2018) work on how commercial search engines-and the algorithms they use-reinforce racism. An aspect of the ways in which US-dominated EdTech industries perpetuate media and knowledge imperialism is surely their capacity to reinforce white supremacy. Michael Kwet's (2019) recent work on digital colonialism also comes to mind here.

Although the book draws on many US and Canadian examples, I appreciated the efforts to explore the global dimensions of EdTech from a number of angles. Chapter 5, "Globalizing Higher Education: Platform Imperialism" considers EdTech as a key aspect of US media and platform imperialism. Given the ways in which digital technology, education and development are connected, and how in turn the globalisation of US higher education and EdTech aligns with and supports US economic and geopolitical interests, we see the latest chapter in a much longer history of US media and education as soft power throughout the world. Alongside this, the book notes the profitability of data collection through digital education platforms with the dataveillance of students and other participants yielding a goldmine of lucrative personal details, online activities, interests and content that can be commercialised.

The implications for academic labour of education "going digital" are also central to the book. We are reminded of the harsh working conditions in the production of EdTech products (e.g. Apple/Foxconn workers in China) through to the attendant precarisation of academic labour, and the Taylorisation of academic work via the expansion of massive open online courses (MOOCs), coupled with the restructuring of higher education that was already underway. The drive to make course delivery more "efficient" by automating instruction, the authors argue, leads to the deskilling, displacement and obsolescence of professors and the reconfiguration of academic labour, for example through standardised audio-video recordings of lectures that can be reproduced and transmitted without instructors needing to be present after they have uploaded their knowledge into an online platform that they do not control.

Then there is the question of the quality of the learning that the techno-solutionist expansion into public education facilitates. Mirrlees and Alvi, in tandem with many critical educationalists, see the erosion of learning that sparks and sustains critical thinking and values dialogical processes among teachers and students, discussion and human interaction. The trend is very much towards top-down, didactic instruction and the further construction (and they argue the subalternisation) of students as consumers. "The idea of the lone, self-motivated young scholar learning from a laptop and then having a eureka moment is at once myth and farce" (124), they contend. This becomes evident when we consider who has access to laptops, smartphones and other digital devices, the internet and data, and even a reliable power supply.

Notwithstanding its sombre assessment of the implications for a restructured, commodified and market-driven landscape of higher education and digital technology, EdTech Inc. ends on some notes of hope. Throughout the book, we are reminded that even in the bleakest of periods there have always been struggles, movements and dissent that have pushed back at economic and political elites and the systems maintaining their power. In doing so, the authors urge that resistance is still possible within higher education and remind us of the power of critical learning and the education praxis of face-to-face dialogical educational encounters. In their words, "[t]he pedagogy of the precariat working class compels the professor-workers to have dialogical, personalized and face-to-face exchanges with student-workers, in this case, everyone we meet and teach" (137).



Benjamin, R. 2019. Race after Technology. Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. Cambridge: Polity.         [ Links ]

Kwet, M. 2019. "Digital Colonialism: US Empire and the New Imperialism in the Global South". Race and Class 60 (4): 3-26.         [ Links ]

Noble, S. U. 2018. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York, NY: New York University Press.         [ Links ]

Selwyn, N. 2014. Distrusting Educational Technology: Critical Questions for Changing Times. New York, NY: Routledge.         [ Links ]




Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment from the Perspective of the Social Model of Disability: A Teaching Experience



Müjde Koca-Atabey

Ankara Medipol University, Turkey.,;




This article aims to revisit the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) from the perspective of disability studies. The SPE is an issue that inevitably comes to light while teaching Social Psychology and how it contributes to a different course titled Psychological, Social and Cultural Aspects of Disabilities. The SPE presents a pioneering piece of research within Social Psychology. Similarly, the social model has reformed the concept of disability. The SPE and further studies demonstrate the importance of social forces in shaping human behaviour; that is, they explore how good people might turn evil in particular circumstances. The social model of disability emphasises the role of social oppression in creating disability. As these two courses contribute to each other, it is discussed that an appropriate level of analysis within the discipline of psychology has much to contribute to the inherently interdisciplinary field of disability studies and vice versa. Interdisciplinary curriculums might be a step towards inclusive higher education.

Keywords: Stanford Prison Experiment; disability in Turkey; disability and higher education; social model of disability; teaching psychology and disability studies




This article aims to provide a reanalysis of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) in relation to disability studies, more specifically in relation to the social model of disability. I am a social psychologist, and a disabled academic, whose main research and teaching specialism is the field of disability studies. I teach courses within both disciplines. This article reflects an analysis that arises while teaching Social Psychology, and how this teaching contributes to a different course titled Psychological, Social and Cultural Aspects of Disabilities. The course Social Psychology is a compulsory second-year undergraduate course; the disability studies course is a third-year elective course. The "aggression" chapter of the Social Psychology course provides an answer to an important question of mine: Do these seemingly different disciplines have more in common than would first appear? I think there is an implicit relationship between these two diverse topics. Converging evidence in the literature in this respect might be valuable and could lead to further analysis. However, before addressing these issues, it is important to highlight the fundamental features of the SPE and the social model of disability.

In the experiment, a mock prison was created in the basement of the Stanford Psychology Department. The participants were selected via an advertisement. Twenty-four university students were randomly assigned as guards or prisoners. The "police", who were in fact confederates, arrested the prisoners. The participants were provided appropriate uniforms and began to live in a simulated prison environment that was created by the researchers (Haney, Banks, and Zimbardo 1973; Zimbardo 1973). The simulation was truly successful as, over time, the guards and prisoners did not refer to their experience as an experiment or simulation (Zimbardo 2006; 2007). Zimbardo (2007, 444) stated that "[i]t was a prison run by psychologists rather than by the State". Although the experiment was initially designed to last two weeks, it was ceased on the sixth day due to increased violence among the guards towards prisoners and increased psychological distress among prisoners. It was stated that the system, not the individuals' dispositions, created the unforeseeable circumstance. The 24 participants were selected among 75 applicants, as they were the ones who were psychologically healthiest; so, a sadistic character or a kind of psychopathology could not be the underlying reason for the violence or distress (Zimbardo, Maslach, and Haney 2000). Therefore, that hypothesis, which might argue in favour of personality characteristics, was disregarded (Zimbardo 2007). It was discussed that similar to that experimental setting, the real-life violence within prisons is created by the system. More specifically, limited supervision and lack of education are the sources of violence, not a few bad apples or bad barrels. For instance, it might be instructive to consider what happened in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The night shifts were especially critical in terms of displaying the harshest forms of abuse (Banuazizi and Movahedi 1975; Zimbardo 1973; 2007). Hence, it was concluded that in such a circumstance the most important feature is a system that creates and maintains a specific situation. The system is the issue that creates the evil, as the Lucifer effect indicates (Zimbardo 1973; 2007). In order to reduce this kind of prison abuse, Zimbardo (2006; 2007) repeatedly favoured greater prisoner-guard surveillance.

The social model of disability originated in Britain in 1975, contemporaneously to the SPE, which was conducted in 1971. The fundamental principles of the social model framework are described as follows:

It is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments, by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society. (UPIAS and the Disability Alliance 1976, 4)

The model argued for a clear distinction between impairment and disability. It was argued that an inability to walk or to speak is an impairment. However, an inability to enter a building due to the steps or an inability to communicate due to a lack of technical aids is a disability (Morris 1993). In addition, the social model denied the established equation between illness and disability and put forth that it was not the doctors but the disabled people themselves who are the experts of the disability phenomena (Oliver 1996). Using the term "disabled people" rather than "people with disabilities" was a deliberate attempt to emphasise society's role in disabling people. According to this model, disability cannot be understood outside its social context (Koca-Atabey 2013; Marks 1997; Morris 1993; Oliver 1990; 1996). It was also discussed that since disability is a context-dependent phenomenon, all people are disabled in some respect (Taylor 2017). Valeras (2010) stated that disability might be conceptualised within a continuum and people might feel disabled or non-disabled depending on the circumstances.


Psychology and Disability Studies

As a pioneering social psychologist, Zimbardo (2007) criticised psychology for missing the big picture. According to him, clinical psychology and personality psychology are dispositionally oriented; they ask the question of whom to blame or to provide credit. In this sense, psychology becomes too specific and does not really ask big questions. Madsen (2014) stated that psychology should be much more in line with historical and cultural reality. Psychology is also criticised as discussing disability in a biased manner. As an ordinary human experience, disability receives relatively little attention within the psychology literature (Asch and McCarthy 2003) and is ignored within the curriculum (Dunn 2016). With an emphasis on issues such as loss, adjustment and psychopathology, these two disciplines, namely psychology and disability studies, have a troubled relationship (Reeve 2006). Disability-related material within introductory psychology textbooks is also limited and stereotypical in nature (Goldstein, Siegel, and Seaman 2010). Within the US undergraduate psychology curriculum, disability is mostly discussed in relation to the medical model (Rosa et al. 2016). It might be considered that disability is not included appropriately within the psychology curriculum. On the other hand, there are promising discussions about embracing both fields. For instance, community psychology is offered as an appropriate tool to integrate disability studies (Dowrick and Keys 2001; Goodley and Lawthom 2005; 2011).

Community psychology provides a paradigm shift from an individualistic, deficit approach to a systemic approach (Nel, Lazarus, and Daniels 2010). Dunbar-Krige and Pillay (2010) argued that the inability of mainstream psychology to address the needs of different groups led to the emergence of community psychology, which provides an appropriate basis for disability research. Similarly, Simpson and Thomas (2015) argued that clinical psychology and disability studies have much in common. A positive psychology of rehabilitation is also proposed (Dunn and Dougherty 2005). Livneh and Martz (2016) recently stated that the psychosocial adaptation to disability is conceptually linked with positive psychology. According to this view, emphasising the strengths and capacities of disabled people is essential. Rather than normalisation, optimisation of lives is crucial (Naidoo 2006). Within the framework of hedonic psychology, Amundson (2010) suggested that nondisabled estimators should not be used to score the quality of life of disabled people. Maslov (2012) argued that describing blindness as darkness is merely the construction of sighted people. This is in line with Hull's (2001) case, which concluded that sighted people's brains function differently to blind people's brains. Blindness entails more than losing sight, so it is not easily simulated although it may seem to be. A sighted person who closes his or her eyes would still have the shapes, figures and colours in mind. In fact, in a meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA), Zimbardo et al. (2003) argued that disability is something different than being blind, deaf or paralysed. Disability has a complex structure and is related to community, culture, economics, politics, and also global interdependencies. These arguments are in line with the basic arguments of the social model, which describes disability as a fact of life, a different life experience that might be interesting and affirmative (French and Swain 2004; Morris 1991; Oliver 1996). It was suggested that if psychology emphasises the individual in context (Forshaw 2007) or engages more on a societal and political level to influence change (Simpson and Thomas 2015), the relationship between the two disciplines might be more intimate. Watermeyer (2012) argued that disability studies ignored questions regarding the psychological and emotional aspects of experience for a long time with the fear of musicalising the phenomena. However, the possible contributions of the discipline were left out, resulting in an incomplete picture.


The Stanford Prison Experiment and the Social Model of Disability

The SPE clearly showed that human nature could be shaped by social circumstances (Drury et al. 2012). Therefore, the inevitable relationship between Zimbardo's main argument, the power of situation (Slavich 2009), and the social model of disability becomes much clearer. He specifically stated the following:

The dispositional approach is to the situational as a medical model of health is to a public health model. A medical model tries to find the source of the illness, disease, or disability within the affected person. By contrast, public health researchers assume that the vectors of disease transmission come from the environment, creating conditions that foster illness. Sometimes the sick person is the end product of environmental pathogens, which unless counteracted will affect others, regardless of attempts to improve the health of the individual. For example, in the dispositional approach a child who exhibits a learning disability may be given a variety of medical and behavioral treatments to overcome that handicap. But in many cases, especially among the poor, the problem is caused by ingesting lead in paint that flakes off the walls of tenement apartments and is worsened by conditions of poverty-the situational approach. (Zimbardo 2007, 8)

If we rediscuss the point and replace Zimbardo's phrase "public health" with "social model", we might reveal Zimbardo as a disability studies scholar, and this might not be that wrong. Zimbardo further stated that "everyone will be a prisoner or guard at some point in their life, because a guard is simply someone who limits the freedom of another person. Parents, spouses, and bosses do this all the time. And the recipients of this behavior? Well, they are the prisoners" (cited in Slavich 2009, 292). In a disabling society it is possible to conceptualise disabled people as prisoners and nondisabled authorities as guards. They are the people who tell the nondisabled what/how to do and what/how not to do. In fact, Finkelstein (2001) stated that in unchanged societies, disabled people are living in a social prison. The similarities do not end there. The SPE was regarded as a turning point in relation to the death of an outdated understanding of rehabilitation. Until that experiment, it was thought that prisons were places that rehabilitate criminals (Haney and Zimbardo 1998). Similarly, with the emergence of the social model, the old-fashioned, medical-based rehabilitation practices became unpopular. This kind of rehabilitation practice aimed to fix the body to fit the environment (Imrie 1997) and regarded rehabilitation as a tool for social control (Kumar 2011). Alternatively, within the social model of disability, the active participation of disabled people themselves is encouraged (for a discussion, see Shakespeare and Watson 1997). On the other hand, both the SPE and the social model of disability have important political dimensions and implications. For instance, the SPE enabled a discussion in relation to the prison system in the United States and all over the world. On the other hand, the social model served as an important framework to empower disabled people. Similarly, the social model, which originated in the United Kingdom, had significant international implications (Haney and Zimbardo 1998; Oliver 2013).



One might argue that the SPE was a single experiment but that the social model of disability is a huge social, academic and political movement. Even though this is the case in a literal sense, it is also possible to argue that the effects of the SPE are wide, varied and continuous. One of the first things that the search engines offer when you type "experiment" is the SPE (Taylor 2013). On the other hand, I am fully aware that the SPE and the social model of disability are widely criticised. For instance, it was stated that the SPE was not called an experiment because it did not test any hypotheses, identify variables, have control groups or apply the relevant statistical tests (Brannigan 2009). Similarly, Mastroianni (2015) argued that Zimbardo has a narrow situationist approach. On the other hand, the social model was criticised for creating a polarisation and a dichotomy (i.e. between impairment and disability) or being socially reductionist (Marks 1997), simplistic and misleading in some respects (Anastasiou and Kauffman 2013; Shakespeare 2004; 2006). However, these critics do not devalue the importance of the above matters.

Disability in Turkey is a chaotic phenomenon. A charity-based approach is prevalent (Bezmez 2013). The society does not treat disabled citizens as equal partners (Tufan 2008). It provides an unwelcoming environment to the disabled body (Bezmez and Yardimci 2016). The medical model is dominant (Sakiz and Woods 2014; Sakiz et al. 2015). Campbell (2009) argued that disability status is not a personal and private issue. This is the opposite in Turkey; disability is a person's own problem. The medical and individual nature of disability creates tension among disabled people. Their rights are neglected and the support that they require is based on arbitrary and unsteady rules and regulations. Not surprisingly, as an academic field disability studies has a limited space in Turkey. Psychology, on the other hand, is an increasingly popular discipline and the number of psychology departments is rapidly growing. In 2011, there were 64 departments; there were only six in 1990 (Sümer 2016). According to recent statistics, there were 79 undergraduate programmes in 2015. It was raised to 119 in 2019 (Çirakoglu 2019). In recent years, it is not that easy to investigate the quality or the quantity of the psychology departments in Turkey. There is more than one programme (i.e. one in Turkish, one in English) within some universities. Within this mass, disability is an underrepresented topic and to the best of my knowledge, the Psychological, Social and Cultural Aspects of Disabilities course was the first disability-related course offered to psychology students in Turkey (see Appendix A1 for the syllabus). Disability as a human experience is related to all sub-fields of psychology. One of the aims of the social model is to provide an inclusive education (e.g. Oliver and Barnes 2010; Riddick 2001); emphasising similarities between these two literatures might contribute to this higher-order objective.

My article integrates two seemingly diverse literatures. Levels of analysis are important features of psychology (Dunn 2015; Slavich 2009; Talasli personal communication), and with an appropriate level of analysis psychology could fruitfully contribute to the inherently interdisciplinary field of disability studies, within both the research and teaching aspects. Currently, I include a specific section (titled "Psychology and Disability Studies: Past, Present and Future", see Appendix A for a tentative syllabus) in my disability studies course to draw attention to the similarities between the two fields. Within the same vein, the disability studies' perspective could make the psychology curriculum more inclusive. Although inclusion is mostly discussed in relation to curriculum (Bunbury 2018; Hopkins 2011), an interdisciplinary curriculum is not widely discussed. Bearing in mind that embedding disability studies into curriculums is a long and laborious process (Treby, Hewitt, and Shah 2006), disability studies and higher education both need continuous attention and the former's inclusion might result in effective and more inclusive curriculums.



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1 Editorial Note - Education as Change generally does not publish appendices. This article, however, presents a compelling case for incorporating Disability Studies in university Psychology curricula in Turkey. We have decided to include the original appendix because it is central to the argument presented by the author. - Na-iem Dollie, Chief Editor, Education as Change



Appendix A - Click to enlarge

^rND^sAmundson^nR.^rND^sAnastasiou^nD.^rND^nJ. M.^sKauffman^rND^sAsch^nA.^rND^nH.^sMcCarthy^rND^sBanuazizi^nA.^rND^nS.^sMovahedi^rND^sBezmez^nD.^rND^sBezmez^nD.^rND^nS.^sYardimci^rND^sBrannigan^nA.^rND^sCampbell^nF. A. K.^rND^sDowrick^nP. W.^rND^nC. B.^sKeys^rND^sDrury^nS.^rND^nS. A.^sHutchens^rND^nD. E.^sShuttlesworth^rND^nC. L.^sWhite^rND^sDunbar-Krige^nH.^rND^nJ.^sPillay^rND^sDunn^nD. S.^rND^sFinkelstein^nV^rND^sFrench^nS.^rND^nJ.^sSwain^rND^sForshaw^nM.^rND^sFrench^nS.^rND^nJ.^sSwain^rND^sForshaw^nM.^rND^sGoldstein^nS. B.^rND^nD.^sSiegel^rND^nJ.^sSeaman^rND^sGoodley^nD.^rND^nR.^sLawthom^rND^sGoodley^nD.^rND^nR.^sLawthom^rND^sHaney^nC.^rND^nC.^sBanks^rND^nP.^sZimbardo^rND^sHaney^nC.^rND^nP.^sZimbardo^rND^sHopkins^nL.^rND^sHull^nJ. M.^rND^sImrie^nR.^rND^sKoca-Atabey^nM.^rND^sKumar^nA.^rND^sLivneh^nH.^rND^nE.^sMartz^rND^sMadsen^nO. J.^rND^sMarks^nD.^rND^sMaslov^nK. S.^rND^sMastroianni^nG. R.^rND^sNaidoo^nP.^rND^sNel^nW.^rND^nS.^sLazarus^rND^nB.^sDaniels^rND^sOliver^nM.^rND^sOliver^nM.^rND^nC.^sBarnes^rND^sReeve^nD.^rND^sRiddick^nB.^rND^sRosa^nN. M.^rND^nK. R.^sBogart^rND^nA. K.^sBonnett^rND^nM. C.^sEstill^rND^nC. E.^sColton^rND^sSakiz^nH.^rND^nC.^sWoods^rND^sSakiz^nH.^rND^nC.^sWoods^rND^nH.^sSart^rND^nZ.^sErçahin^rND^nR.^sAftab^rND^nN.^sKoç^rND^nH.^sSariçam^rND^sShakespeare^nT.^rND^sShakespeare^nT.^rND^nN.^sWatson^rND^sSimpson^nJ.^rND^nC.^sThomas^rND^sSlavich^nG. M.^rND^sSümer^nN.^rND^sTaylor^nA.^rND^sTreby^nE.^rND^nI.^sHewitt^rND^nA.^sShah^rND^sTufan^ni.^rND^sValeras^nA.^rND^sWatermeyer^nB.^rND^sZimbardo^nP. G.^rND^sZimbardo^nP. G.^rND^sZimbardo^nP. G.^rND^nC.^sMaslach^rND^nC.^sHaney^rND^sZimbardo^nP. G.^rND^nL.^sHaywood^rND^nK. J.^sHagglund^rND^1A01^nJiayi^sShi^rND^1A02^nPeter^sSercombe^rND^1A01^nJiayi^sShi^rND^1A02^nPeter^sSercombe^rND^1A01^nJiayi^sShi^rND^1A02^nPeter^sSercombe



Poverty and inequality in rural education: evidence from China



Jiayi ShiI; Peter SercombeII

IXi'an Jiaotong University, China
IINewcastle University, United Kingdom




In 1998, the People's Republic of China implemented an education policy, the "School Consolidation Policy", which entailed merging small rural schools with larger ones. It has had a massive effect on rural people across China, and as a result of it, over 60% of schools in outlying areas have closed. The policy's implementation and effects have received little scholarly attention, despite its scale and consequences. This article investigates the policy, drawing on the nexus between critical discourse analysis and an ethnographical study conducted from 2007 to 2018. The article reviews trajectories and critical junctures shaping educational change in one rural community in north-western China, as an example of broader changes that have been occurring across the country. This is presented through four thematically interrelated episodes, over a 10-year period, illustrating the conception of the policy, its local interpretation and implementation, and its consequences as perceived by stakeholders. The recontextualisation of rural education is part of the policy, as expressed in political discourse, and is examined together with its wider impacts. Attention is paid to the local adoption of the policy at different levels of government and the challenges faced by villagers in rural China in their efforts to capitalise on educational opportunities and secure a measure of social mobility. Consequences of the policy's implementation are analysed and include rising educational inequality, social marginalisation and a lack of social mobility prospects for families affected.

Keywords: School Consolidation Policy; Chinese rural education; education-poverty trap; educational inequality




Under the movement of educational reform in China, seeking modernisation and competitiveness (State Council 1998), backwardness, isolation and poverty take their toll on villages that are socially, politically, and economically vulnerable. From 2001 to 2012, the Chinese central government implemented policies attempting to redistribute education resources to cope with administrative and fiscal changes in the national education system. One of those policies was the School Consolidation Policy (chedianbingxiao); it was later interpreted by national media and the public as meaning the "merger of small rural schools with larger ones", and resulted in the closure of over 60% of Chinese rural schools (Ministry of Education [MoE] 2002; 2013). In 2007, we began an ethnographic study of the educational lives of the inhabitants of Jikan (see Figure 1), a village in the inner north-west of Shaanxi Province, to witness what villagers experience in their quest to capitalise on educational opportunities and gain some social mobility. We consider institutionalised discourse over a 10-year period through four interrelated episodes demonstrating the educational trajectories and life chances of Jikaners. The integration of CDA and ethnography (cf. Krzyzanowski 2011) allows for the analysis of issues salient to an understanding of the SCP's consequences in Jikan and other rural areas in China; by considering relevant state documents and local perceptions of the effects of the SCP, the study reveals educational inequality, the marginalisation of society's lower echelons, and a consequent lack of social mobility for rurally based children.


The School Consolidation Policy (SCP): Initiatives and Controversies

In 1998, the Chinese State Council (SC) issued Decisions on Deepening Education Reform and Fully Promoting Quality Education (hereafter, Decisions) defining the landscape of Chinese compulsory education. To improve administrative and fiscal efficiency in education, it urged reforms that simplify administration across China. The devolution of management means local governments have more power to develop basic education in ways they choose. The State Council and Ministry of Education (MoE) control policymaking, planning, and regulations at national level. Provincial-level authorities have been tasked to enact regulations and allocate funds to counties. County education departments are meant to supervise education and manage their senior middle schools, teacher training colleges and exemplary primary and junior middle schools. To manage the remaining schools, township governments rely on funds distributed by county governments and these compensate for deficiencies in township revenues. Changes in the education system have shifted rural compulsory education administration from village and township level to county level (see Figure 1 for the administrative structure of the Chinese education system).

The 13th entry of Decisions urges local governments to restructure schoolslby merging small poor ones with larger ones (generally located far from villages, presenting logistical challenges for rural families) with a subtitle, "adjust the school layout of rural compulsory education according to local needs" (SC 1998, 13). The general public and media referred to it as the "School Consolidation Policy" (SCP), meaning the closure and merger of small schools with large ones in urban areas, nationwide.

The intention of the policy, according to Decisions (SC 1998, 13), includes the equitable distribution of resources, greater economic educational efficiency and, supposely, more balanced development in education. It is believed that grouping students into large well-equipped schools improves management and enhances quality, especially in rural areas (Liu et al. 2012; Zhao and Parolin 2011).

However, the implementation of the policy was hardly promising, given financial and administrative concerns. When township governments carry the responsibility for making up financial deficiencies with township revenues being used to manage local schools, they may use the SCP to justify the closure of schools to save funds (Shi and Zhao 2016). The correlation between the number of closed schools and the competitiveness of Chinese provinces shows that financially weaker provinces tend to close more schools to save funds and reallocate these to sectors that contribute more to the GDP, such as manufacturing (Ding and Zheng 2014). Parents have to bear more financial pressure because of longer commutes from home to consolidated schools (Yang 2010). High overheads (for parents) and long commutes (for children) have led to increased dropout rates among village pupils (Zhao and Parolin 2011), which contravenes the intentions of the SCP. Road safety is a risk, as traffic accidents with casualties have occurred involving packed school minibuses, which have caught national attention (CNTV 2012). Over-sized urban classes of 70-100 students have raised pedagogical difficulties in dealing with students' varied academic levels. The closure of rural schools has also led to the loss of certain local cultural features, including traditional arts, food, and festivals, and has caused instability in local communities, with increased divorce and crime rates (Fan 2006; Xiong 2007).

Following controversies around the SCP, the State Council adjusted the policy in 2012 to compel local governments to rebuild teaching centres and primary schools where necessary (SC 2012). This adjustment has been interpreted by the public as the end of the SCP era (CNTV 2012). In the media and academia, the SCP's consequences are widely discussed (as reflected in aforementioned literature). The central government has, since 2012, issued several administrative remedies to regulate boarding schools, support the mental health of left-behind children, and relocate primary schools, where necessary (SC 2016; 2018). Officials at different levels of government write "self-inspection" reports considering the causes, consequences, and remedies of the SCP. However, the pace of school closure has become hard to decelerate. From 2001 to 2012 there was a decrease of 49.4 million in rural student enrolment (see Table 1). The number of rural primary schools in China declined by 62.75% between 2001 and 2012 (MoE 2002; 2013). In 2018, rural primary schools were still closing at a rate of 16 per day (Liwei 2018).

Issues related to the SCP are frequently analysed macroscopically, at the level of the organisation, with developmental issues dominating discussion. There is, however, relatively little discussion of policy implementation in rural areas or the effects on rural children. The lives of rural students who have been affected by the SCP suggest poor quality education, unpleasant school experiences and long-suffering peasant parents. Peasants' voices are not generally heard, and they lack channels to speak for themselves; furthermore, the wider public is not generally known for its sympathy towards lower social groups. However, as this research shows, shifts in the meaning and focus of the SCP, at all levels of government, contribute to the justification and legitimisation of the policy, making the closure of schools pervasive but unchallenged in ways that can alter the direction of the SCP.

This is part of a larger consideration of how collective conformity tends to run through the process of policy, as shown here. The different levels of government tend to justify the policy by framing its implementation as a task to satisfy the demands of the central government. Furthermore, age-long perceptions of rural residents as lacking personal ambition and enterprise (indicated by their lack of material success) and that sacrifice is necessary for advancement further silence rural communities, who reluctantly accept changes imposed on them. The SCP has not necessarily been implemented through coercion; rather, it has been imposed through the marginalisation of rural communities, which has been naturalised in political discourse in the current context of Chinese educational reforms, as has happened in other national contexts (see, for example, Sen 1999).



Jikan is a village in north-western China (see Figure 1), located in the Huangtu Plateau, and it is used here to consider the effects of the SCP. It is isolated with one dirt road leading to the nearest town, 15 kilometres away. Wealthier villagers commute by motorised transport, while poorer villagers walk or take a free ride if they need to travel. The removal of Jikan Primary School left pupils with no choice but to live as boarders or in rented houses near town schools or to remain in Jikan and wake two to three hours earlier than usual to reach town schools.

Most Jikan residents live by manual farming and raising livestock. Dry soil and weather make only a few plants available to cultivate, including jujubes, wheat and potatoes. The steep slopes (see Figure 2a and 2b) restrict the use of modern farming equipment, e.g. combine harvesters. Most farms rely on manual labour or limited use of tractors.

Rural and urban annual incomes in Jiaxian, where Jikan is situated, are 28% and 24% lower than in the nation overall (see Table 2), respectively, because the county is in north-western China, which relies largely on agriculture and is less developed than other parts of the country. However, Jiaxian County has a larger rural annual income per person than Jikan village, as those in Jikan mostly live on a national subsidy (around USD30 monthly), making their annual income rather low, overall.

From 2006 to 2016 the population of Jikan dropped from 467 to 124 (73.4%), as much of the workforce moved elsewhere, joining the growing national trend towards migrant work. Jikan residents who migrate to towns earn more than those who remain in their village. In China, the number of migrant workers is increasing considerably (see Figure 3) due to economic incentives, as their monthly net income is considerably higher than those of rural residents.

Jikan Primary School was a two-storey building (see Figure 2a and 2b). According to the village head, in the 1990s and early 2000s, there were at most nine teachers and 120 students at the school. Starting around 2001, enrolment decreased, as some children followed their parents to other counties when more rural parents sought better incomes in urban areas. When this study was conducted, in 2007, there were 25 students and three teachers at the school. Within Jikan, the school constituted a significant institutional setting, bringing together villagers for special events. Closed in 2008, it has since been used occasionally for storing crops at harvest time.

When this study was conducted (2007-2018), basic education was being restructured across China. This included the devolution of management, rising competition among schools, and readjustment of public school structures. In the arena of rural education, the SCP was meant to improve management capacity and enhance education quality. However, in many cases it led to mounting inequalities in the distribution of educational resources and the marginalisation of rural families.


Methodological Considerations

Our connection to Jikan dates from 2007. From 2007 to 2017, the first author returned and stayed for 10 days each year. Between 2011 and 2017, research was conducted into English language education in Yulin, the prefecture where Jikan is located (Shi 2016). The resulting ethnographical research depicts social processes linked to language education in which many poor migrant children are deprived of social mobility as a result of the leverage of English in high-stakes national exams. Concomitantly, from 2016 to 2018, attention was directed towards Jikan villagers who have children in primary and junior middle schools, which were targeted by the SCP. Interviews were conducted among Jikan students and families to gain an understanding of their educational experiences. In the intervening period, there has been continuing interest in the educational experiences of Jikaners. Ethnography in this context is useful for exploring the lives, experiences and meanings constructed by rural community members (e.g. Liu et al. 2012).

The research follows a scholarly tradition of integrating critical discourse analysis (CDA) and ethnography, from critical framing to analysis and representation (Fairclough 1995; 2001; Krzyzanowski 2011; Sercombe 2010). Ethnography and CDA both have an interest in contextual impacts and power relationships embedded in language use (Shi 2015). CDA analyses discourse practices as socially constituted events to demystify discourse and power relations (Wodak 2009). Ethnography also focuses on tensions between structure and agency, or macro policy and micro agency power, in influencing policy implementation. Ethnography provides researchers with the means to analyse agency and roles that local practitioners manifest in policy processes; CDA provides a foundation for dealing with policy substance, and a focus on power and ideology in policies (Krzyzanowski 2011).

We adopt Fairclough's (1995) three-dimension model derived from the ethnography of communication. This recognises that each instance of discursive practice can be seen as a language text, and is situated within a broader social structure. The dimensions are interrelated: discourse is the link between the text and sociocultural practice, and how a text is produced and interpreted depends on sociocultural practices, of which language forms a part; discourse shapes the text and leaves "traces" in surface features. We consider Jikaners' interpretations of ways that macro-level policies impact the implementation of the SCP and how local policy interacts with macro-level policy. Also examined are relationships between texts (oral and written), practices, and broader political and social structures. Official texts are analysed, as are interviews conducted with local officials, teachers and villagers. Regarding the former, we show how texts contribute to the institution of rural education as part of larger sociological processes. We pay attention to textual devices that contribute to the justification of power and inequality. The purpose is to contextualise SCP texts and identify local adaptations between 2007 and 2018.

The ethnography breathed life into the discourse analysis, focusing on the perspectives and practices of participants. The combination of CDA and ethnography allows one to see how discursive constructions of social practices interact over time and across contexts. It provides a foundation for understanding the recontextualisation of the SCP in local contexts, how this is related to policy texts, and what this means for Jikan's villagers.


From Resistance to Conformity: Implementing the SCP in Jikan Village

The following sections are structured around four episodes that mark critical junctures along the educational path of Jikaners, and also represent the SCP's process, from its emergence and interpretation to its subsequent implementation by local government proxies, in schools and local families. The respondents include the following: a.) the last groups of primary school children before the school was closed in 2008, including the 25 students in our 2007 study, as well as some who had transferred after the introduction of the SCP in 2001 (there was a decline in students from 2001: first, there were constant rumours that the school would be closed; second, teachers were transferred to town schools from 2001; and third, parents sought better incomes and left the village); b.) some Jikaners whose children used to attend Jikan village school, and c.) some parents who come from Jikan but currently live in other parts of Yulin and had children in primary school at the time of the study. The study then manifests the trajectory changes for Jikaners before and after the implementation of the SCP. Students and parents interviewed included only those who agreed to talk about their perceptions and experiences. The analysis demonstrates the inappropriateness of the SCP from the perspectives of some officials from lower levels of government, Jikaner students and their parents.

Episode 1: "Our School Is Safe (from Being Closed)" (Interview with Jikan Village Head, 2007)

The SCP is the 13th entry of Decisions (State Council 1998). The policy was printed and delivered to every education bureau across China for implementation. Then began the large-scale school closures, over a decade (outlined in section 2, above). In Shaanxi Province, various levels of government held meetings, wrote reports and arranged sessions to ensure the implementation of the SCP (SEB 2004; YEB 2005). Yulin, where Jikan is situated, was no exception, as 4278 rural schools and teaching centres were closed between 2001 and 2012.

Jikan Primary School was also partly affected by the SCP prior to its closure (in 2008). Some Jikan children, mostly males, moved to other counties with their parents. Boys are more likely to be allocated educational resources when parents decide which child to take with them to a city, where expenses are higher than in villages (cf. Duan et al. 2013; see also Lumadi [2012] regarding the South African context in which females are given less education opportunity than males, which further restricts their chances of social mobility). Among Jikan school students who graduated from junior middle school, girls are more likely to attend secondary professional schools or vocational middle schools where they learn skills to enter the workforce. Boys, however, generally have more chance of entering a senior middle school, increasing the possibility of entering higher education following a highly competitive national examination.

Jikan parents are aware that a schooling hierarchy exists; only when educational opportunities of higher status are unavailable do parents send their children to vocational schools. Education remains the exclusive means of social mobility for Jikan children. Parents' perceptions of their children's future success are typically based on getting into a university, and thereafter securing a decent government job, which is desirable due to its long-term security and benefits. Most Jikan parents of students who commute to middle schools agree that their children's schoolwork is very demanding. They use expressions such as "bear pain" and "endure bitterness" to describe the adversity in studying. The idea of "diligence for success" originates in Confucian thought whereby academic success requires suffering. An old Chinese saying states "only by enduring extreme pain can one become the upper class". This theme arises in many studies of the education-poverty trap (e.g. Brown and Park 2002; Ha and Yan 2018) in which it is found that poor rural students believe diligence will help them overcome their families' weak socioeconomic status. The parents in this study expressed support for their children's efforts and their own sacrifices, which are regarded as necessary to help achieve their children's future educational goals. As one parent explained:

Getting into a university is very hard ... I tell my kids: If you endure bitterness now, you will have a good life tomorrow. If you try to play around, you come back, raise goats and work on the farm. When you get into university, you will have a job. Everything will be all right . We endured bitterness all for you. We cannot help more, but to feed you and provide clothes. You are the ones who study. (Notes 2007/08/04)2

Parents' sacrifices put further pressure on children (see Paine and Delany 2000). The middle school students from Jikan who were interviewed found schooling stressful. They mentioned that not failing their parents is a key reason for their diligence, followed by getting into a university and having a good future. Extensive government support is not expected because of a belief that "diligence for success" justifies the tremendous effort rural children must make to capitalise on opportunities to achieve success. Social mobility, however, is affected by other factors, including government policies, social welfare, educational opportunities, and local administrative choices.

Six teachers at Jikan primary school were transferred to town schools after the SCP was implemented elsewhere in Jiaxian County in 2001. Three substitute teachers stayed in Jikan. In rural China, substitute teachers generally have relatively low-quality education degrees and little if any teacher training experience (Sargent and Hannum 2009). When it emerged that certified teachers were difficult to retain, more Jikaners moved away to pursue better opportunities for their children. Several nearby schools were closed and many Jikaners worried about the future of their village school. As one parent commented:

Teachers stopped coming ... The school does not look like a school anymore. If it continued, it would be closed as well. Without a school, children would have to walk dozens of li to school. Who would pick them up? Who can afford for all of them to stay in student accommodation? (1 li = approximately 500 meters; Notes 2007/08/12)

Several parents talked to the government-appointed village head, who also had children at Jikan Primary School. He went to the county educational bureau and enquired at several offices, asking who was "in charge". He was subsequently chased away by a guard, who told him to wait for a "notice" and not to return otherwise. The village head told his fellow villagers to relax, as he assured them: "Our school is safe" (safe means anquan and that a school is exempt from being closed; interview with village head, 2007/08/12).

Episode 2: "The Best Steel Should Be Used to Make the Edge of the Knife" (Interview with Local Education Officer, Mr Zhang, 2008)

The SCP was initiated as the 13th entry in Decisions on Deepening Education Reform and Fully Promoting Quality Education (SC 1998, 13), subtitled, "readjustment of school layout of rural compulsory education according to local needs". The Chinese text is less than 200 characters:

According to the principle of proximity of primary schools, the relative concentration of junior middle schools, optimisation of educational resource allocation, there is a need to rationally plan and adjust the layout of schools. Under the premise of providing convenience for students to attend the nearest schools, rural primary schools and teaching points should be merged appropriately. In areas with inconvenient transportation, the necessary teaching points should be retained, to prevent the likelihood of student dropouts due to school restructuring. The layout of schools should be planned, together with: the renovation of dilapidated buildings, formalisation of academic norms, urbanisation development and migration relocation. The adjusted school buildings and other assets should be guaranteed to develop education. Where necessary, boarding schools should be opened.

According to the text, local governments were required to alter educational provision according to local needs, such as (in)convenience of the school commute, academic norms, and migrants' relocation. Yet, the text leaves much unsaid and lacks clear directives, leaving various policy vacuums. Shortly after it was issued, Decisions (SC 1998) was sent for review and implementation by lower levels of government. The Shaanxi Education Bureau (where Jikan is situated) issued several texts, and passed these to lower levels of government. The authors of Suggestions on Inspection of Shaanxi Province's Achievement in Promoting Basic Education, issued by an inspection team from the central government and the SEB, spoke highly of counties where the SCP had been implemented (SEB 2004, 4):

In accomplishing the national policy in developing basic education, county education bureaus can, under the request of provincial governments, carefully fulfil the task of adjusting school distribution, and better school conditions. For instance, Yanchuan County, according to the plan, adjusted the number of schools from 437 to 334. It accomplished the task of primary school adjustment. In Zhashui County, 15 senior schools were reduced to 10, the average number of classes in schools increased from 6 to 12, letting the junior middle school coverage increase from less than 10000 to 13700; 279 primary schools (with only Grade 1-3) were cut to 197, teaching points reduced from 350 to 269.

The SEB (2004) has stated the provincial education bureau's alignment with the national government in accomplishing adjustments and further pronounced its power over county education bureaus, ensuring the closure of schools is a "task" that must be accomplished, rather than a locally tailored and negotiated policy. The text presupposes the factuality of a previous state of schools and positively evaluates changes brought about by the SCP, using language such as "carefully fulfil", and "better school conditions". While the policy is seen as regulatory, it is viewed as beneficial and an obligatory task for lower levels of government.

The provincial document was sent to every prefecture, county and township education bureau to "study" (SEB 2004, 1). In 2005, the Yulin Education Bureau (YEB) (the prefecture that administers Jikan), issued a document praising counties able to accomplish the task of closing many schools to "enlarge educational scale and efficiency, and optimize education resources allocation" (YEB 2005, 4). Between 2001 and 2012, the number of rural primary schools was reduced from 4827 to 549 in Yulin (YEB 2013), meaning only 11.4% of local schools were retained (see Table 3).

It should be noted there were indications that local governments were under financial pressure to support local schools, caused by a shift in the burden of education supply to county governments (cf. Ding and Zheng 2014; also see the discussion above). The SEB (2004, 3) shows the government also relied partly on donations to cover deficiencies in funding:

Comrades in Zhashui have altogether raised funds of over 219,000 RMB, among which 31,000 RMB was raised this year. They have set up a committee to send out an initial written proposal to raise funds, setting up moral steel to the fund-raisers and have created an enthusiastic trend in donation. ... Villagers have sacrificed a lot of their holidays to clean the building ... they have saved a lot of funds.

The discourse elides human participants from policy texts, supporting the implementation of the SCP and the unquestionable authority of the central government. In our study of the SCP in Jikan, vagueness can be seen in addition to the absence of accountability and due process. According to the procedures of the Jiaxian Education Bureau, a fact-finding visit should assess the necessity and feasibility of closing local schools. Government servicemen, in charge of basic education, were sent to villages to check the condition of the school. Mr Zhang, a serviceman from Yulin Education Bureau, was given the responsibility of implementing the SCP in Jikan, along with two colleagues. They went to Jikan Primary School to assess teaching quality, campus conditions, and the feasibility of the SCP.

According to villagers, the team stayed for a day, talked to the village management council, then left hurriedly. Questions were asked about the condition of the local school, including numbers of students, teachers, and classrooms, along with enrolment and dropout rates. There was no mention of implementing the SCP, according to the village head. Subsequently, the SCP was implemented in Jikan, without notice, in July 2008. In a meeting held for village heads in Jiaxian County, Jikan village's head was told by a county official to announce the news of the implementation and to "work with the villagers". Teachers and students were told to begin their autumn semester (September to January) in a town school (8 kilometres away), one month in advance.

In their study, Shi and Zhao (2016) found 79% of villagers were not consulted about when their schools were to be closed, a factor in villager dissatisfaction over the SCP. As might be expected, Jikaners showed a degree of objection, and gathered to write a protest letter. This was never sent, as no one was willing to take the initiative. The village head declined, as he felt obliged not to challenge the government, saying:

They came here and said that they were to check the school condition and asked questions about numbers of students and teachers. They never mentioned anything about closing or consolidating the school. We knew nothing when they decided to close the school. . Villagers, with children in the school, certainly felt inconvenienced about the changes and how this would affect their children's trip to school. Many children are too young to be transferred. Even if they are provided with student accommodation, one would feel worrisome. ... Schools in other villages were closed, and it's the norm not to disobey. ... It won't work if you complain. (Notes 2008/8/22)

The SCP has become normalised for villagers and the wider populace, and is viewed as not to be challenged. However, the closure of a school reduces the chances of children attending any school, and means families who seek alternative school arrangements will likely be split up, or forced to move, incurring further hardship (see the discussion above and below), factors also mentioned by Xiong (2007), Yang (2010), Liu and Xing (2016). An informal interview with Mr Zhang (who led the implementation of the SCP in Jikan) was conducted. Questions about the imposition of the SCP in Jikan were addressed to Mr Zhang. There was no mention of villagers' circumstances as a result of the change. Jikan Primary School had, according to Mr Zhang, backward teaching conditions and a small number of students, which are considered key for the implementation of the SCP. There were confrontations with local villagers during the process of the SCP's implementation, but he kept saying that the closure of Jikan's school followed directives from above:

We did everything according to the instructions of the upper government, to enlarge education scale and efficiency. ... Small schools like Jikan's are hard to keep. They have low education efficiency. Education resources are limited. . The best steel should be used to make the edge of the knife. (Notes 2008/10/04)

Mr Zhang's interpretation of the SCP encapsulates three themes important to an understanding the SCP's implementation. First, the implementation has shifted from being a policy that considers local needs (as suggested in Decisions [1998]) to a matter of "must-do" (as shown by the interpretation among lower levels of government). Local-level officials legitimised the closure of Jikan Primary School, aligning with the upper levels of government and following orders rather than accommodating parents' perceptions and needs regarding local educational provision. Second, rural schools are marginalised in daily discursive practices, which describe rural education as "backward" and "inefficient", as seen in the response of state proxies such as Mr Zhang. Third, when there was an apparent shortage of educational resources, the rationale was to redistribute these to larger urban schools. The metaphor "the best steel should be used to make the edge of the knife" is significant because it is underpinned by economic imperatives (as the metaphor shows), and places these above the needs of the rural poor. The metaphor serves as a device to naturalise the sacrifice of rural schools, economically speaking, and, the allocation of more resources to better schools, mostly in urban areas.

In the annual report of the Yulin Education Bureau (YEB 2009, 3), some counties, including the Jiaxian branch, were praised for "accomplishing the task" of "adjusting local schools' educational layout" and "reducing the number of schools according to its schedule". Using positive terms, such as "accomplishing" tasks in basic education, allows the bureau to sound authoritative, but blunts the truth that the decision results in considerable educational challenges for villagers affected by such decisions.

Episode 3: "The Students Lack Discipline" (Interview with a Teacher in a School to Which Some Jikan Children Were Transferred, 2013)

Following the closure of Jikan Primary School (2008), the remaining 25 Jikan students were moved to a town primary school on the outskirts of Jiaxian. Waking up at four or five o'clock in the morning for the long commute to school soon made it very difficult for some Jikan children, especially younger ones, to follow the school curriculum. Nearly every Jikan student interviewed recalled missing school regularly. They soon lagged behind in their studies, which meant that some of them (as well as their parents) gave up hope of entering middle school. In Jiaxian, the number of middle schools was cut from 10 to six, of which only one has a senior middle school branch, making competition to secure a place disproportionately challenging. By the end of 2011, the third year after Jikan Primary School's closure, of the last group of 25 children in Jikan Primary School in our 2007 study, 10 dropped out of primary or junior middle school. Unlike previous children in Jikan, who could at least complete their primary education in the village and had a chance of continuing their education, these left formal education early. Some returned home to help with farm work; others went to work as migrant manual labourers.

Some accommodation in Jiaxian was arranged for village students who lived too far away to commute to the nearest school. Over half of the 25 children from our 2007 study have experienced living in a primary school dormitory. According to a survey conducted by the Yulin Education Bureau in 2012, 49.35% of rural Yulin primary school students out of 127 189 and 47.6% out of 51 269 rural middle school students stay in boarding schools or private houses (YEB 2013). For children between six and 15, living apart from their parents during weekdays or the whole semester was not a cheerful experience. Elsewhere in China, rural boarding students comprise around 40% to 60%, and many have reported psychological issues (Zhou et al. 2005). Internet cafés attract these young pupils. Although the national government has banned those under 18 from these, the chance to make money from children prompts café owners to provide services for them surreptitiously. Some Jikan children, between 10 and 14, regularly use internet cafés, while some students have begun smoking and drinking.

The transfer of students from rural areas has meant some urban schools have become overcrowded, with more than 90 students in a class. Most schools have doubled or tripled the number of classes following the implementation of the SCP. The oversized schools with oversized classes have led to class management issues, and concomitantly lower teaching quality. One Jikan student commented:

We were stuffed in a room. Students sat in the classroom aisles and teachers could not walk around. ... They could not know what we were doing down there. ... You can read novels, eat or sleep. (Notes 2012/5/16)

Many teachers consider the poor educational backgrounds, diverse academic levels and discipline problems among migrant children as major difficulties in their classes. The situation becomes more severe when migrant parents cannot provide support, due to busy schedules and low educational levels. Below is an extract from an interview with one teacher, 60% of whose students have a migrant background (some Jikan children were transferred to the school between 2009 and 2013):

Our students come from migrant worker families. . These students have poor backgrounds. Most of them cannot keep up with the classes. ... Their parents, you know. I've been teaching students three years and I haven't seen most of them. ... They do not communicate with me. ... So the class is hard to manage. The students lack discipline. Habits of learning are poor as well. Students don't do homework carefully ... arriving at school late. They are not active in the classes. The parents are busy making money to raise the family. They don't understand the issues. (Notes 2013/5/19)

This episode, though initially easy to comprehend, encapsulates many issues related to the ways in which migrant children live and study in a city. Students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds experience bullying and social exclusion. Migrant worker children can be identified easily, since they generally appear with torn clothes and ragged schoolbags. They tend to be reticent, sitting in class quietly. When they speak, inaudibly or in a "strange" accent, other children tend to sneer. Some scholars have also reported psychological issues and difficulty with social engagement among migrant children in urban schools (e.g. Zhou et al. 2005).

These issues tend to affect negatively a school's performance. Sometimes migrant children are neglected by teachers, who refer to them as "retards", "stupid", or "lazy", and prioritise students with good academic grades who, mostly, are from urban backgrounds. Some teachers expressed dislike of migrant children, as they distract the attention of other pupils who are more likely to succeed at school and reflect well on teachers (cf. Ding and Zheng 2014).

For village students, the chances of academic success are reduced due to a range of negative factors, including parents' inability to provide enough financial or academic support. Among primary schools in Yulin, less than 10% of migrant students have audio material to accompany English textbooks, while the ratio is above 90% for other students of urban Hukou (household registration permit). Less than 10% of migrant students attend extra-curricular classes, while the ratio is over 70% in the best schools where urban students comprise 95% of the enrolment (Shi 2016). Eighty per cent of migrant children have at least one parent working and living away from home and most are unable to gain a "distinction" in their final assessments in order to enter a middle school. Nearly 90% of students who fail their exams are from migrant worker backgrounds (Shi 2016).

Episode 4: "They Have Got Used to Living without Us ... Children of Poor Families Become Self-Sufficient Early" (Interview with a Jikan Parent, 2018)

The SCP was called into question in 2012. In a national document (SC 2012), the central government scolded local governments for "blindly implementing the SCP ... causing difficulties for rural students in getting a good quality education". In a Yulin Education Bureau report (YEB 2013, 4), the phrase "blindly implementing the SCP" was used to rebuke "some places", which passed the responsibility and blame to lower levels of government. Although mistakes have been admitted by the central government, there remains a lack of accountability, exemplified by scapegoating "some local governments" for its failings.

From 2014 to 2018, the central government issued several policies to remedy mistakes made when the SCP was implemented. It issued directives that teaching points and schools should be rebuilt where necessary (SC 2012; 2018). In Yulin, 34 schools (18 in rural areas), 13 junior middle schools (10 in rural areas), 45 teaching points, and 27 primary schools were (re)opened from 2013 to 2015 (YEB 2015). Yet, the movement of students from rural to city areas and the relocation of migrant workers have meant the reduction of rural schools has continued. Rural students continue to pour into urban areas, resulting in schools becoming further overcrowded. Many renovated rural schools have been abandoned following reopening, as there are no students to attend them. Reports show that rural and county schools were put under pressure to keep students in school (CNWest 2016). For many villagers, educational incentives encourage them to send their children to urban schools for a better chance of academic success. Meanwhile, some parents who separate from their children, due to the imposition of the SCP, prefer to send their children to urban schools for better educational opportunities. One Jikan parent commented:

If I send my boy to the township school, he would stay in a boarding school. If I send him to the county school or to Yulin, he would live in a boarding school as well. I might as well send him to Yulin. It is better for his education. (Notes 2018/2/23)

In Jiaxian, and elsewhere in China, a special kind of service, called "agency parenting" or "trusteeship classes and houses", has become popular. It includes tutoring and boarding, collecting children from school, checking homework, cooking meals and attending parents' meetings. Despite being illegal, the service is increasing due to the widespread needs it caters for. The demands on parents, especially migrant workers, who are unable to provide adequate out-of-school care for children, the low quality of mainstream education in rural settings, the restrictions on rural students' access to education in urban areas and examination-oriented education are catalysts for the growth in "agency parenting". Fees vary from 150 to 2000RMB/yuan (USD23 to 310) per month, depending on the number of children in an agency's custody and the level of service needed. Most children under agency care live with agents, seeing their parents at weekends or during school holidays, while some might go home each day after homework has been checked and dinner consumed.

In one of the primary schools in Jiaxian, attended by many Jikan children, over half with a rural Hukou live in private boarding houses near schools. Elsewhere in China, the number of left-behind children, with one or both parents' living away from home, reached 9 million in 2016 (CNBS 2017). Recognising the problem, the national government began to regulate private boarding services (SC 2018), many of which are overcrowded and in a poor condition (see Figure 4). According to a boarding house owner, extended family members, mostly grandparents, collect children from the house every two weeks. Parents show up only to pay boarding fees (Notes 2017/10/14).



There has been considerable concern about young schoolchildren lacking adequate parental care, resulting in mental health issues, misbehaviour and poor performance at school (e.g. Zhou et al. 2005). Jikan parents seem to find the situation hard to change given their challenging circumstances. As one parent said:

They have got used to living without us. Children of poor families become self-sufficient early. Otherwise, what can we do? ... If you want to walk ahead of others, you need to make sacrifices. (Notes 2018/2/19)

Similar to those in our earlier study in 2007 (see Episode 1), educational opportunities and social mobility still rely on personal endeavour. "Children of poor families become self-sufficient early" is an old Chinese saying that has become normalised and hard to challenge. Wider contributing social factors, such as educational resources and opportunities, government policies, and community support, are not really considered salient factors.



The four episodes presented illustrate key moments in Jikaners' educational paths during the implementation of the SCP, including during the conception of the policy, its local interpretation and implementation over the course of a decade, and its consequences, as perceived by those affected. The characteristics of the four episodes can be seen as interconnected. Together, the four episodes depict the circumstances of rural citizens, represented here by inhabitants of Jikan, who have been socially marginalised by the implementation of the SCP. The rural-urban divide contributed to the creation and proliferation of SCP implementation (Episode 1), and in turn aggravated inequality and marginalisation in rural education (Episode 2). This process does not necessarily occur through coercion but rather collective conformity, which is evident in levels of policy texts that contextualise SCP as beneficial and obligatory, and public perceptions of rural schools and communities as backward and inefficient and thus obliged to close down (Episode 2). The discursive and social practice of the SCP as a means of economising based on the notion of the backwardness of rural education (rather than on human costs such as villager satisfaction, family or mental health) further naturalises the marginalisation of rural students in the public education system under the discursive disguise of success through personal endeavour and sacrifice and through a de-emphasis on public support and social justice (Episode 3). A vicious circle emerges as the outcome of the SCP, contributing towards a wider rural-urban divide and reinforcing educational, sociocultural, and psychological gaps, which were further reinforced by rural parents' and students' naturalisation of their lowly social position (Episode 4).

First, Episode 1 spells out how the Chinese central government conceived, justified and tasked local governments with the implementation of the SCP. The children and parents affected by this policy understand the hierarchical nature of educational provision and the need for application and some degree of self-sacrifice in order to fulfil aspirations, but they also lobbied local village representatives to secure sufficiently accessible educational opportunities. The age-long perception of the causes of rural residents' marginality, which surfaces in the discursive disguise of success through personal endeavour and sacrifice, further silences the rural community and encourages them to accept, albeit reluctantly, changes imposed on them; it also overlooks the human cost of the SCP's implementation, in attempts to align local situations (through school closures) with national aspirations for greater fiscal efficiency.

However, in Episode 2 one can see that the SCP's interpretation and implementation by many local governments is understandable, given that the onus is on these state proxies to implement central government policies, as shown in certain discursive features of the SCP texts, including extensive use of modal operators and elision of human participation. These include examples such as "distribution should be rationally planned and adjusted" (SC 1998, 13) or "county governments should be under the supervision of provincial government to adjust school layout" (SEB 2004, 1). Modal operators in the SCP text involve the author's attitude towards the obligation to take action in the face of central government authority. The upper levels of government use modal forms to reproduce their authority, reflecting the absolute nature of institutional hierarchy across China. Using inanimate noun phrases, which Fairclough (2001, 141) refers to as "one genre of governance", such as "school distribution", "optimisation of educational resources allocation", and an "urbanisation process", the SCP texts create the impression that the policy has no human cost, without specific explanation as to the accountability of policy agents or who the beneficiaries are. Similar expressions abound in other policy documents (e.g. YEB 2005), legitimising the apparent necessity of implementing the SCP, and making the closure of schools pervasive but unchallenged in ways that can alter the direction of the SCP.

The schooling process in urban settings further separates rural and urban students, due to rural students' lower socioeconomic status, and other differentiating markers, including the ways in which rural students speak and dress. Additionally, poor schools' performances further reinforce their peripheralised positions and increase the onus on them academically, compounding dropout rates (which have increased with school mergers and mounting teacher indifference). Furthermore, rural migrant students face challenges related to parents with low academic levels, a lack of friends among children at urban schools, and, consequently, poor levels of integration at school (Gao et al. 2019). A vicious circle emerges, contributing towards a lack of socioeconomic progress. This is reinforced by rural parents' and students' naturalisation of their lowly social position, despite their unhappiness with the effects of the SCP and the lack of consultation between state representatives and villagers about changes in educational provision.

In Episode 3, one can notice further effects of the SCP, such as the overcrowding of urban schools due to the migration of rural families seeking better alternative educational opportunities. Other consequences include the challenges that teachers encounter in the face of overcrowded classes and the negative effects on some urban schools, as well as migrant children, who often lack family support mechanisms due to low levels of education and poor financial circumstances.

In Episode 4, one can notice the Chinese central government attempting to repair the effects of the SCP by reopening some local schools. However, at this point, many local parents had already migrated to cities and many refurbished local schools remained redundant. One can see further outcomes of the SCP whereby private provision had sprung up in various forms, such as "agency parenting" and "private boarding services", to make up for the shortfall in government provision.

The SCP has unnecessarily created a perception of the rural as "backward" and needing "modernisation", exacerbating differences between rural communities and urban society. The idea of "modernity in education" has contributed to an ideology where opportunities for educational success have become citizens' responsibility, and rural education is seen as a relatively low priority for the state. The SCP echoes what Cummins (2000) has argued regarding the ways in which dominant groups around the world have historically organised educational systems to reinforce social differences and maintain the social status quo, rather than promote social mobility. The widening gap between the rich and the poor is a major challenge identified in the educational literature. The education-poverty trap is a challenge faced internationally. For example, Lumadi (2012; 2014) reports situations where rural South African children, especially girls, are deprived of quality education as a result of long school commutes, poor facilities and unqualified teachers. Setlhodi-Mohapi and Lebeloane (2014) find that the poor quality of school management teams can further contribute to the underperformance of previously disadvantaged schools that serve learners from predominantly poor communities. Motsa and Morojele (2017) show how vulnerable rural children in Swaziland, especially orphans of HIV/AIDS parents, are discriminated against. In Korea, Kim (2017) finds that limited opportunities and deprived circumstances restrict rural children' s aspirations; they and their parents express feelings of abandonment and disappointment due to social exclusion and limited access to educational resources.

The results of these studies are similar, with the rural-urban divide reinforcing educational, sociocultural, and psychological gaps between children from different geographical backgrounds, engendering negative climates in classrooms and society, and increasing the chances of maintaining cyclical intergenerational poverty. As UNESCO (2013, 36) suggests, efforts need to be made "to ensure that resource allocation is equitable, predictable and sustainable ... [especially for] those who need them most, such as poor and vulnerable population groups". Thus, more investment in rural and migrant schools is needed (Lai et al. 2014). This research then echoes the importance of social justice in education (see Gebremedhin and Joshi 2016; Hackman 2005; Sampaio and Leite 2018). Otherwise, the invisibility of education inequality persists and continues to support larger, somewhat oppressive structures in society.



In this article, the educational landscape in Jikan has been outlined. Its significance resides in giving voice to stakeholders, especially parents, children and teachers, as well as local officials caught between demands from above and the needs of poorly educated and represented rural citizens. The article drew on critical discourse analysis and ethnography in order to review trajectories and critical junctures that shape educational change in Jikan, as an example of broader educational changes occurring across China. We paid attention to the local adaption of the SCP in the discursive practices of different levels of government and what villagers in rural China endure to capitalise on educational opportunities and secure some mobility. We concluded that the SCP has unnecessarily exacerbated the rural-urban divide. The SCP has not necessarily been implemented through coercion or enforcement; rather, it has been imposed through being naturalised and reinforced in political discourse and everyday practices in the current context of Chinese educational reforms.



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1 1 RMB = approximately 0.16 USD
2 Interviews and government policy texts were originally in Chinese and translated by the first author into English for the purpose of analysis. The translation has been checked by two professional translators.

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Editorial: Decoloniality in/and Poetry



Katleho Kano ShoroI; Deirdre C. ByrneII; Denise NewfieldIII
IIUniversity of South Africa.;
IIIUniversity of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.;



This themed issue of Education as Change responds to the "decolonial turn" in academic and public discourse. The #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall student protests at South African universities in 2015 and onwards gave public manifestation to the growing dissatisfaction with colonial models of knowledge and knowledge production. In the wake of these protests, many education activists and scholars have joined the drive to move away from such models. Nevertheless, scholarship on practical implementation of decolonisation within teaching and learning at schools and universities remains limited and requires further investigation.

This themed issue offers some ideas relating to methods of decolonising curricula and pedagogies. The focus is poetry. Although a minor, frequently marginalised component of curricula for English literature at secondary schools and the discipline of English literary studies at universities, poetry has been chosen because it offers an instructive case study of the challenges and possibilities of finding spaces for transformation within disciplines and practices. We focus on attempts to decolonise poetry from within by means of small, local interventions and reconceptualisations, which aim to re-vision poetry within and outside classrooms. These reconceptualisations are constructed variously in terms of postcoloniality, indigenisation and Africanisation, as well as poetic praxis.

Some articles identify the challenges and others the possibilities associated with attempts to decolonise poetry practices. There is a striking disparity between the lack of enthusiasm for poetry in formal classrooms and its enormous popularity in community forums. While we recognise that English remains one of the languages of settler colonialism, the discipline of English literature stubbornly occupies a major place in the curriculum and the language is widely used by poets and scholars.

This themed issue is predicated on a vision of knowledge as inhering in scholarly writing of articles, reviews and reflective pieces, as well as creative works. For this reason, the issue encompasses poems and articles, including texts that go beyond traditional scholarly formats. The articles deal with contexts in the global South: Africa, the Caribbean, Australia and India.

The articles by Louis Botha, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers and Robert Maungedzo; Denise Newfield and Deirdre Byrne; and Adam Cooper are based on research conducted under the auspices of ZAPP (the South African Poetry Project), a group of scholars, poets and teachers that received funding from the National Research Foundation for a three-year research project within the domains of Indigenous Knowledge Systems, situated in secondary school English classrooms. The articles by Katharine Naidu and Denise Newfield, and Grace Mavhiza and Maria Prozesky, are similarly based in secondary schools. Bridget Grogan advocates a contrapuntal approach to teaching African poetry in higher education. Catherine Manathunga, Shelley Davidow, Paul Williams, Kathryn Gilbey, Tracey Bunda, Maria Raciti and Sue Stanton; Malika Ndlovu; and Vonani Bila all explore the importance of poetry as a healing and spiritual practice. Suren Naicker discusses the decolonising potentials inherent in traditional spiritual poetry. Arushani Govender focuses on poetry as articulating the cultural repertoire of a specific South African sub-culture. Gerhard Genis advocates an analytical method of exploring S.E.K. Mqhayi's poetry of the Great War. Heidi van Rooyen and Raphael d'Abdon use poetic inquiry as a form of research methodology.

The poems chosen for inclusion in this special issue were subjected to the same blind review process as the articles and were evaluated for their relevance to the theme of the issue. The poems by Flow Wellington, Kirsten Deane and Kobus Moolman speak to the issue of decolonisation in different ways: through highlighting the politics of language, gender, history and memory. Poems by Brian Walter invoke the troubled relationship between complicity and empathy within different subjectivities in a decolonial context. Mosima Kagiso Phakane and Nkwana Serutle Joshua address the lingering legacy of colonial structures of thinking and feeling. Trésor Musasa Kabamba's poem reminds us of the embodied and multimodal nature of poetry. Through the poems, decolonisation is figured as simultaneously personal, political, structural and intimate.

There are four book reviews and one reflective piece included in this themed issue. The fact that poetry collections are appearing with such regularity is a by-product of the decolonisation of the poetry publishing industry and its use by previously marginalised poets.



This issue is dedicated to the memory of two South African poets who passed away during the assembling of the manuscript: Myesha Jenkins and Angifi Dladla. Myesha and Angifi, your magnificent contribution to poetry, to culture and to us will never be forgotten and will continue to inspire us all.

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Towards Decolonising Poetry in Education: The ZAPP Project



Denise NewfieldI; Deirdre C. ByrneII

IUniversity of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.;
IIUniversity of South Africa.;




This article concerns ZAPP (the South African Poetry Project), which is a community of poets, scholars (including the authors), teachers and students, established in 2013 to promote, in educational systems, the work of contemporary South African poets. For the past three years (2017-2019), we have attempted through outreach and research to contribute to decolonising South African education by paying attention to indigenous poetic traditions and practices. Our research has focused on content, pedagogy and institutional practice. The article outlines and attempts to assess three interrelated components of ZAPP's research into the decolonisation of poetry and education: our research into the transformation of teaching and learning in EFAL (English First Additional Language) poetry classrooms, our ongoing research into what constitutes indigenous South African poetry today, and our research into institutional practices concerning the production and dissemination of knowledge about poetry. We draw on various conceptual frameworks to explore ZAPP's research, namely, South African poetry scholarship, decolonial theory, theories of indigeneity, theories of multimodality, posthumanism and new materialisms. The article shows both the achievements and challenges of our research efforts in the three areas of content, pedagogy and institutional practice. Its final claim is that these three areas are crucial sites of intervention in attempts at decolonising poetry in existing disciplines in research and education.

Keywords: South African poetry; ZAPP; decoloniality; education; knowledge production; indigenous knowledge systems; indigeneity; multimodality; new materialism; posthumanism




This article reports on the work of ZAPP (the South African Poetry Project), a collaboration among scholars (including the authors), poets, teachers and postgraduate students interested in poetry education. It is both an activist and a research project. ZAPP responds to the urgent call in South Africa, from 2015 onwards, to decolonise education by researching and promoting the work of South African poets in a variety of educational and public contexts. For us, as for Tuck and Yang (2012), "decolonisation is not a metaphor"; rather, ZAPP has attempted to decolonise poetry in education as a material practice of transformation, that is, through practical interventions. During 2017-2019, under the auspices of an NRF-funded project titled "Reconceptualising Poetry Education for South African Classrooms through Infusing Indigenous Texts and Practices", ZAPP undertook three research activities. The first concerns the teaching and learning of English poetry in secondary school English First Additional Language (EFAL) classrooms, where most learners are not first-language English speakers, but speak a number of African languages. Here we attempted to establish whether it was possible to infuse indigenous texts and practices into curricula and pedagogy. The second is more theoretical and concerns the question of indigeneity itself: what is indigeneity in relation to contemporary South African poetry in English? The third activity concerns the production and dissemination of knowledge about South African poetry within the academy.

Our approach-and our theoretical framework in this article-draws diffractively on scholarship in the fields of decoloniality (Grosfoguel 2007; Jansen 2017; Maldonado-Torres 2007; Mignolo 2007; Santos 2016; Tuck and Yang 2012), indigeneity (Fataar 2018; Msila and Gumbo 2017; Nyamnjoh 2012; Smith 2012), multimodality (Jewitt 2014; Kress 1997; 2010; Newfield and Maungedzo 2006; Stein 2008), posthumanism and new materialisms1 (Barad 2007; Braidotti 2013; Manning 2019; Taylor 2019). The term "diffraction" has been adapted from physics to refer to a research methodology and a way of reading. Diffraction is "a critical practice for making a difference in the world" (Barad 2007, 90). It does not set up "one approach/text/discipline against another" but rather invites a reading of the ideas of one framework or text through others (Bozalek and Zembylas 2018, 51). We diffract the above frameworks for the purposes of thicker understandings of complex phenomena, which cross the domains of literature, education, culture and politics.

The article begins by briefly discussing our chosen theoretical frameworks. After this, we outline our three research activities: in secondary schools, on the current poetry scene and the question of indigeneity, and concerning institutional processes of knowledge production and dissemination. In the first part, we narrate our unfolding relationship with a particular school as a case study of our research in schools. In the second, an ongoing project, we explain our methods of researching indigeneity in relation to contemporary South African poetry. In the third, we explore a particular instance of decolonising the production and dissemination of knowledge about poetry, namely, the colloquium. In conclusion, we sum up the achievements, challenges and failures of the project.


Theoretical Frameworks

The ZAPP project is an application to the field of education of common goals and principles of a group of studies that share an urgency to reconfigure ideas about political existence and about education, as mentioned above-decoloniality, indigeneity, multimodality, posthumanism and new materialisms. Our article draws on intersections across these fields, since, although they have different emphases and foci, they share a discontent with the status quo of knowledge production within and outside the academy. They all attempt to redress historical injustices, inequalities and marginalisations-political, cultural, social and economic.

Many decolonial thinkers aim to promote the decentring of colonial education-its epistemic and institutional structures-in order to complete the project of decolonising society (Kelley 2000, 27). Decolonial theorists such as Maldonado-Torres (2007), Mignolo (2007), Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2015) and Santos (2016) point to the epistemological effect of colonisation, which violently imposed European ways of knowing and thinking upon colonised people, resulting in "epistemicide" (the destruction of their own knowledge and cultures, Santos 2016). Accordingly, decolonisation entails delinking from Westernised epistemologies. Studies in indigenising education aim to decolonise curricula and practices by recentring the histories and ways of knowing of formerly colonised peoples, which have been erased, hidden or marginalised. Indigenisation works to restore cultural pride in indigenous ways of knowing (Gray and Coates 2010; Iseger-Pilkington 2011). The term "indigenous", nevertheless, is problematic. In our project, we consider it as necessarily plural, since there is a plurality of indigenous cultures in South Africa. Some scholars of previously colonised societies resent the trace of its disparaging usage in colonial discourse that it still carries (Barnard 2006; Smith 2012). Jansen considers the concept of "decolonisation" to have become a political slogan (adopted twenty years into South Africa's democratic transition by activist students who feel excluded from and alienated at universities) and requiring to be subjected to "critical review" by social scientists. Furthermore, the "retreat into indigenisation" indicates the "absence of vibrant, original and creative knowledge production systems in [South] Africa" and could suggest "a narrow Africanism" rather than an expansion of appropriate intellectual pursuits (Jansen 2019, 50-74). Likewise, Kalua (2019) stresses the debt that decoloniality owes to postcolonial theory, arguing that this means decoloniality is less original than is often claimed.

We acknowledge the contradiction in the attempt to decolonise English as a discipline, given its provenance in colonial education, as Ngügï argued powerfully at the Makerere Conference of 1962 (Ngügï 1986, 5-7). English, having been imposed by the colonial regime on education, administration and commerce, and having given way to Afrikaans during apartheid, has regained dominance in the post-apartheid era. While acknowledging the merit of objections such as these, ZAPP situates itself within the project of decolonisation as a necessary attempt at redress and transformation. Its research investigates whether, to what extent and how decolonisation may be achieved through indigenisation of a particular curriculum and its concomitant practices.

Multimodal approaches aim to promote scholarly and educational attention to the full range of representational resources and platforms, in line with the changing communicational landscape, which has decentred language. Thinking and knowing are held to occur in a range of modes, including the visual, bodily, sonic and spatial, in addition to language. In particular, they emphasise the way many modes are orchestrated in complex multimodal representations and communications, as in the diverse forms in which South African poetry is materialised (Newfield and d'Abdon 2015). Studies applying multimodal pedagogies in EFAL contexts have shown the positive results of broadening the repertoire for teaching and learning (Newfield and Maungedzo 2006; Stein 2008). The question of orality is crucial in South African narrative and poetic traditions (Gunner 2004; Finnegan 2013; Kaschula 2012; Scheub 1998), which are retrieved and reconfigured in the present South African poetry scene. We consider much current poetry to have its origins in orality, for example, in its izibongo, izithakazelo and amaculo, praise poems and songs, which are hybridised today with popular global cultural forms, such as hip hop and rap, and South African urban forms, such as kwaito (see Newfield and d'Abdon 2015).

Posthumanist and new materialist approaches reject humanism's claim that humans are the measure of all things; they reject human exceptionalism and individualism (Barad 2007; Braidotti 2013; Bozalek et al. 2019). Instead they assume the relationality of all matter and a flattened ontology-human, non-human, animal, material-in the past, present and future, as well as in different geographical contexts, a relationality demonstrated by the 2020 coronavirus phenomenon. Relationality entails "intra-action", which is preferred to "interaction" in order to highlight the inseparability of people, objects, events, actions, "doings" and "becomings"-all are entangled (Barad 2007). These approaches take account of ethics and ontology as well as epistemology, and are responsible and "response-able" (Barad 2007; Bozalek et al. 2019; Haraway 2012) to the inequalities in society. Haraway reconfigures the usual concept of "responsibility" as "response-ability", which is "a praxis of care and response ... in ongoing multispecies worlding on a wounded terra" (2012, 302).

Affect, a concept that derives from Spinoza, is central to ZAPP's research framework, and is implied in the above studies. It is a critical notion in decolonising pedagogies, which value the "warm current" of desire, "indignation and the will to resist" (Santos 2016, 26). Referring to a non-personal, non-cerebral energy or force that can bring about change, affect is linked to the "non-cognitive and non-volitional expressions of life, including feeling, animation, tactility and habituation" (Roelvink and Zolkos 2015 in Kuby et al. 2019, 185). A form of productive power or "potentia" (Braidotti 2013, 136), a capacity to act or be acted upon (Braidotti 2013, 55-57, 166-7; Kuby et al. 2019, 1856; Massumi 2015), affect is manifest in education (Sousa 2016). It animates classrooms and may be evidenced in individual or group motivation or engagement, or lack of them, with concomitant results for learning or lack of it.

Together, studies in these areas make a strong case for reconfiguring education in an ethical and situated manner, being open to new ideas and response-able to the other, whether that other be conceptualised from a human, cultural, epistemological, semiotic, material or planetary perspective. In addition, they privilege an approach to education that is not only cognitive, but holistic, conceiving of teachers and learners as "intra-acting"2 in multidimensional, complex, entangled relationships, contexts and histories.


Research in Schools: A Case Study

This section reports on our investigation into whether, and to what extent, it is possible to decolonise the curricula and pedagogies involved in teaching and learning poetry in EFAL classrooms. We chose six secondary schools in Gauteng and the Western Cape as our research sites. Space does not permit us to embark on a full discussion of our activities at all six schools, so one school is presented here as a case study. We use our chosen theoretical frameworks to shed light on the impact of our developing relationship with the school. Theories of decoloniality and indigeneity illuminate features of educational practice that need to change in order to bring about social justice. In particular, they draw our attention to elements of curricula and pedagogies that carry traces of colonial investments. Our decolonising agenda motivated us to strive to subvert these through infusing elements of indigenous material and pedagogical practices into the school. Our multimodal framework points to the fact that poetry occurs in multiple modes (such as graphic, oral, performative, and digital) and not only through the written word. In this way, it highlights the single, narrow approach to the way poetry is taught in formal classrooms. Our posthumanist and new materialist theoretical affiliation specifies that the school's geographical location, material and educational resources and its community of teachers and learners are not mere background information, but are, instead, components of the complex intra-actions that co-constitute the enterprise of teaching and learning, where material-discursive3 phenomena are entangled. Applying these frameworks diffractively directs us to attend to many features of the school's situation and teaching practices that are crucially pertinent to the teaching and learning of poetry.

The school is a well-functioning peri-urban school in the township of Soshanguve. Both teachers and learners are proud of its historical legacy; they also express satisfaction at the school's excellent pass rate in the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations (92% in 2018). South African schools are assessed and ranked on this statistic, which is a performative marker of the matriculation phenomenon. Education in the South African schooling system is an example of the sedimentation and performativity of relations of power and knowledge. Teachers hold knowledge, while learners do not. The type of knowledge held by teachers is premised on political interests, as may be discerned in the curriculum and in classroom pedagogies; apartheid interests still remain evident in the unequal distribution of material-discursive resources among schools. The school where we carried out our research possesses resources, such as classrooms, teachers, blackboards, desks and chairs, but is not as well-supplied with textbooks as it might be: there is, for example, only one copy of the prescribed poetry textbook in the school. The single textbook is a material object, but its scarcity results in practices such as copying and distributing copies of poems, and increases its value. In a better-resourced school in a more affluent area, every learner would receive a textbook and would thus become acquainted with the resources they need to pursue intra-actions associated with learning.

The school is located in an area of the township that is characterised by brick-and-mortar housing and tarred roads. Nevertheless, its reputation for high academic standards attracts learners from less well-resourced communities. Many of these learners arrive at school without having had breakfast, and without food, because of poverty. Hunger disables learning, creating an affective current of deprivation. The school's social justice mandate to redress inequalities and enable the learners to learn has led the management to enter into a contract with a local catering company to bring cooked food to the school daily.

We had two aims in our work at the school. First, we intended to explore the culture of teaching and learning poetry. Our second aim, which we thought far more important and time-consuming, was to decolonise the school's poetry curriculum and pedagogies through infusing indigenous texts and practices into the teaching and learning of poetry. In this way, we intended to assist in "[living] the African ideals by (among others) reflecting the indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) in education" (Msila and Gumbo 2016, iv). As the existing lists of prescribed poems for Grade 10 and 11 are out of date in relation to the current poetry scene,4 we intended to demonstrate practically that contemporary South African poems would prove more relatable for learners and would evoke better responses in written and oral work. We also intended, in line with decolonial pedagogies that build on a Freirean "pedagogy of the oppressed" (1968), to subvert the established hierarchy of power relations in classrooms through encouraging teachers to use learner-centred pedagogies, which are "linked to wider social movements promoting social reform and egalitarianism" (Schweisfurth 2013, 9).

With this in mind, we observed what happens in classrooms when poetry is taught. Most lessons unfolded with the teacher reading the poems aloud to the learners and then telling the class about the texts. Questions posed to learners tended to be closed, allowing learners only the option of answering "yes/no" or completing the teacher's sentences. The intra-actions in the classroom were very formal. They positioned one agent (the teacher) as firmly in charge of knowledge, while all the rest were positioned as passive receivers. The dominant modes in the classrooms were oral and written. Poems were taught mainly as texts on pages. They could be read aloud, but not performed: the oral was subsumed into the written. The classes did not provide space for multimodal understandings of poetry, or for learners to express creative responses to the poems. Under apartheid, education typically did not require sophisticated thinking from black learners; they were only required to memorise content. There has been a shift in contemporary South African secondary school education in the post-apartheid era, where slightly more analytical questions are asked in examinations, but a pass mark still depends more on memory of content than on critical thinking.

Figures of speech, where language functions at the slippery edges of meaning, combining, weaving and entangling sense, affect and paradox, were presented as technical aspects of poetry, which have a regular structure and use in poems. This is in contradistinction to Liz Gunner's account of the way figurative language in praise poetry functions to encode ambiguity and hybridity (2004). In order to understand figures of speech in poetry classrooms at our research site, learners only needed to memorise the technical aspects of their construction and apply these to particular cases. They were neither required nor encouraged to engage with the indefinable and polysemous aspects of language, which are the special qualities of poetry. If this were encouraged in the classroom, the humble metaphor or simile could become a vehicle for learners to take charge of their own learning and begin to decolonise the dominant pedagogies at the school.

The rigid teacher- and content-centred approach that dominates pedagogies of teaching and learning poetry is materialised in the CAPS (Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement) document, issued by the Gauteng Department of Education. CAPS instructs teachers about what they should teach in each section of the curriculum. It divides the curriculum into weekly sections, with instructions about what skills the learners should practise and how they should be assessed in each section. CAPS has material-discursive effects, producing oral and written intra-actions in classrooms that model its authoritarian approach. Teachers' intra-action with prescribed poems varies depending on their level of interest in the genre, which itself is circumscribed by their experiences at tertiary education level where the goal of teacher training is to instil a colonial model of "analysis" in the teachers so that they can pass it on to their learners. "Analysis" is a rigid and predetermined form of intra-action with a text, derived from British critics such as F.R. Leavis (1948) and I.A. Richards (1924). It is designed to elicit repeatable responses from learners that can be assessed unambiguously. The school's success rate in the NSC determines how desirable the school is to new learners. Teachers benefit, therefore, from teaching learners to answer questions in assessments and examinations "correctly".

In order to encourage a decolonised, indigenised and multimodal approach to teaching and learning poetry, the research team conducted workshops with teachers after school. In one particular workshop, we demonstrated that poems could be explored, dramatised, represented visually, transliterated into emojis or understood as calls to action. The teachers listened politely and found these approaches to their prescribed poetry creative, but clearly not a substitute for analysis. Our attempt at decolonising the curriculum through two approaches-introducing more contemporary South African poetry that draws on indigenous traditions and shifting the power balance in classrooms to make teaching more learner-centred-was unsuccessful. This was due to the pressure on teachers to get through the curriculum and produce assessments in which learners demonstrate their mastery of "correct" answers to the kinds of questions asked in examinations.

Learners did not respond enthusiastically to the pedagogical approaches used in most poetry lessons at the school. They understood that the teachers were under pressure to teach and train them to do well in examinations, but they found this approach "boring". A strikingly different affect was apparent in the school's vibrant Poetry Club. This meets once a week after school and is "coached" by the head of the English Department. She is no longer a "teacher"-where her role is that of a gatekeeping authority-but a "coach" who works with the learners to co-create themselves as poets. The Club is led and run by learners, who have, in this way, decolonised the space so that it is conducive to self-directed learning. Meetings are devoid of the formality that pervades classroom teaching; yet, there is respectful turn-taking and members' contributions are met with appreciation. Poetry is experienced as praxis, not as curriculum; to be done, not to be trained in. Finally, in the Poetry Club, poetry is indigenous-written by and for learners-and multimodal, being performed in gestures, vocal intonations and in collaboration with the audience.

On one occasion, the school attempted to participate in a national inter-school poetry competition supported by ZAPP (Poetry for Life), where learners were required to memorise and recite two poems from the online competition list: one from the European list and one from the list of contemporary South African poems selected by ZAPP researchers. The participants from the school willingly memorised a poem from the European list, but, against the rules of the competition, they recited poems they had written instead of prescribed South African poems. Such was the enthusiasm for creativity generated in the Poetry Club.

Unfortunately, our project to decolonise and indigenise poetry curricula and practices in secondary school EFAL classrooms was hamstrung by structural intra-actions of unequal power. "Authorities", whether at provincial or national administrative levels, or in classrooms, prescribe not only what shall be studied but how it is to be studied. The curriculum places teachers under so much pressure to complete tasks and assessments that there is little opportunity for learners to exercise either critical thinking or holistic learning choices. While this may lead one to conclude that we are back in the Foucauldian world of producing "docile bodies" (Foucault 1975, 136), this would not account for the material-discursive aspect of classroom practice, where the entanglement of educational policy, material resources, bodies that are not provided with the requirements to flourish, and a narrow view of poetry as "text" all co-contribute to an overly cerebral experience of poems as arcane, difficult and (preferably) to be avoided.5 This is an unfortunate legacy of colonial understandings of school education, which may take longer to undo than ZAPP's three years of engagement. Opportunities for learners to take control of their own learning do exist, nevertheless, and are taken up by learners outside classrooms, in corridors and in the Poetry Club.


The Contemporary Poetry Scene and the Question of Indigeneity

The second component of ZAPP's activity, which is still in process, concerns contemporary South African poetry and the question of indigeneity. Our research, as previously mentioned, is limited to poetry in English, or predominantly in English, in alignment with the terms of the research project. ZAPP probes the question of indigeneity in three ways: using extant scholarship in the fields of poetry and indigeneity, doing fieldwork research though attendance at spoken word gigs, festivals, poetry launches, broadcasts and other events to familiarise ourselves with the field of poetry as social praxis and as text, and conducting interviews with knowledge holders and practitioners6 in the field of poetry.

Scholarship on indigeneity and indigenisation informs our consideration of whether South African poetry in English can be considered indigenous or not, and, if so, to what extent, given the paradoxical position of English in relation to indigeneity (see, for example, Brand 2004; Fataar 2018; Msila and Gumbo 2017; Ngügï 1986; Nyamnjoh 2012). The question of indigeneity at the present time remains open, raising more questions than it answers. Does "indigenous" imply African? If so, is only poetry composed by black Africans "indigenous" or can the category be expanded to include poetry focused on Africa, African themes and cosmologies? Is poetry produced by politically subjugated groups, such as South African Indians (the descendants of indentured labourers brought to the colony by the British under false pretences between 1860 and 1911) indigenous, as Govender asks (2019)?

Motivated by a new materialist emphasis on doing, on praxis, rather than on interpretations-following Deleuze and Guattari's injunction not to ask what something means but what it does (Alaimo and Hekman 2008, 3; Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 4)-ZAPP has researched the field of performance. Some of its questions are: What role does poetry play here? Whom does it serve? What does it do? What are poetry collectives and why are they popular?7 What are the platforms for poetry? ZAPP has attended many live poetry performances, including poetry and jazz sessions at the now-defunct Orbit Jazz Club in Johannesburg (curated by Myesha Jenkins and Natalia Molebatsi), various iterations of the annual Word N Sound spoken word competition, poetry slam competitions hosted by Current State of Poetry, launches of poetry collections by Busisiwe Mahlangu, Gabeba Baderoon, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, Makhosazana Xaba, Vangi Gantsho, Danai Mupotsa, Arja Salafranca, Raphael d'Abdon and others, poetry performances by Malika Ndlovu, Toni Stuart and the InZync Poetry collective at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town, and numerous other events. The enthusiastic reception of these events testifies to the affective and political power of poetry: "Writing and sharing poetry shows us that we are not alone in our experiences of the world and opens us up to experience the world of another. In doing so, it helps us to develop compassion" (Stuart in Xaba 2019, 156).

In addition, ZAPP has embarked on a series of in-depth interviews with indigenous knowledge holders and practitioners in the South African poetry community. These aim to elicit their views on indigeneity in their own poetry and in the contemporary poetry scene more broadly. A preliminary analysis reveals that the poets hold widely divergent views. For some, indigeneity involves tapping into knowledge and practices that are embedded in cultures in multimodal and multi-sensory ways. Poets such as Pitika Ntuli, Vangi Gantsho and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers derive strength for their creative endeavours from their relationship with ancestors, including poetic foremothers and forefathers. Other poets regard indigeneity as referring, instead, to specific geographical locations, such as the Cape Flats or Soweto. The interviews still need to be completed and fully analysed.


Decolonising Institutional Practice: The Case of the Colloquium

As previously stated, our project's aim is to contribute to the national project of decolonising texts and practices in disciplines and institutions, working through praxis. Disruption and transformation rather than the overthrow of established curricula, pedagogies and institutional practices pertaining to the study of English has been the goal. Zembylas (2018) speaks of "twisting" the practices deriving from Eurocentrism and Eurocentric forms of knowledge, and this is an apt term to describe our actions. We have tried to decolonise the list of poems studied in EFAL classrooms through expansion and indigenisation, as outlined in an earlier section of this article. This section discusses our attempt to "twist" a specific institutional practice concerned with the dissemination of poetry knowledge, namely, holding a colloquium. To exemplify this, we use "Decoloniality and Indigeneity in Poetry and Education", organised by ZAPP at the University of the Witwatersrand in July 2019.

A colloquium is an academic gathering at which leading scholars read papers on a particular theme or topic, which are then opened up for discussion and critique. It is a standard Western event of high status in educational institutions. Distinguished experts in a field are invited to read scholarly papers to a group of fellow experts, who may be members of a particular interest group. The Rousseau Colloquium held at Trinity College, Cambridge, UK, in 2010 serves as a representative example. The Colloquium proceedings read: "A dozen specialists were invited to read papers to an audience of about a hundred other scholars interested either particularly in Rousseau or in the 18th century in general, who discussed the papers with their authors" (Leigh 2010). This approach is followed by most Westernised institutions in the world today, including in Africa, although a loosening up of restrictions and movement to digital platforms have recently been evident. Modifications to the strict, standardised features of the traditional colloquium by the colloquium on "Decoloniality and Indigeneity in Poetry and Education" will be examined below through the lenses used in ZAPP as a whole.

The Colloquium demonstrated ZAPP's aim to reconfigure ways of knowing through a reclamation of hidden or marginalised forms and structures. This aim is implied in the design of its programme cover, which features the Thebuwa Cloth, a three-metre multimodal wall hanging produced by South African learners in a township school (Figure 1).



Utilising language and other representational modes, the cloth integrates contemporary poems in English and traditional poems in African languages with other cultural practices such as cloth-making, embroidery, photography and cartography (see Newfield 2014; Newfield and Maungedzo 2006). The Colloquium programme included 25 presentations by a diverse range of speakers from all over South Africa, in line with ZAPP's aim of bridging divisions, dismantling unequal colonial power relations, acknowledging and overturning historical privileges enacted in the academy: in short, advancing democratic education. The Colloquium sought to close gaps between the haves and have-nots and to remove white supremacy; it sought to recognise, listen, apologise, develop capacity, repair, heal and celebrate across racial, gender, class and cultural divisions.

How was this done? And what made one of the delegates exclaim during the final discussion, "This was a decolonised colloquium"?8 The outline below explores features that may have given rise to this evaluation.

The first feature is an inclusive, polyphonic space, which brought out from the shadows what might be called indigenous knowledge and its practices through placing on the platform not only illustrious professors, but also poetry practitioners and holders, who did not necessarily hold postgraduate degrees from or prominent posts at universities.

The first of the three main addresses was given by poet Malika Ndlovu, who performed a 40-minute suite of poems about identity, power, oppression, pain and trauma in South Africa in an alternative, poetic way of presenting knowledge. The second was Pitika Ntuli, the patron of ZAPP, a poet who writes in five of South Africa's 11 official languages. He demonstrated the poetic nature of language through improvising a series of multilingual jazz riffs on key phrases given to him by the audience. The third was Leketi Makalela, a distinguished professor of language, who provided us with a scholarly exposition of decolonising principles and pedagogies for multilingual classrooms, which included, importantly, "translanguaging".9 In addition to recognised poetry and education scholars, the Colloquium presenters included teachers and other educators, emergent researchers, postgraduate students, poets and youth. All were acknowledged as valid knowledge holders, given space to disseminate their views and responded to as respected contributors to the Colloquium. In this way, the usual, ring-fencing conventions were abandoned and hierarchical power relations in the holding of knowledge were unmoored.

The design of the physical space and forms of delivery were multimodal and indigenous. They served to decentre written language, not overthrow it, since written language remains a central communicative format for poetry along with spoken word. They also orchestrated language with other modal forms to create an expanded sensory experience. The visual dominance of the Thebuwa Cloth, displayed on a metal frame, was complemented by specially commissioned sketches of South African poets on the walls.10 Being attentive to the politics of space, we sought to arrange the seating differently from that in university auditoria where formal rows of fixed seats face a podium. Inspired by the Kgotla,11 we arranged the chairs in a U-shape to facilitate discussion.

The format of the papers varied from papers and panels to poems accompanied by music, and from read papers to live performance. Thus, the theme of decolonising poetry education was not debated in a purely rational and cerebral way, but drew on African traditions of orality and of multimodal cultural production. The Colloquium thus acknowledged different ways of knowing and different ways of disseminating knowledge, apart from the conventional and cerebral ways of the Westernised academy. The Colloquium was a pluricultural event, representing a range of different forms of cultural production and knowledge dissemination in South Africa's different communities. Indigenisation was signified by the spatial arrangement of the venue, as well as by dress and stance (Hebdige 1979). One presentation opened with the burning of impepho as an injunction for healing, and later included the plucking of an isitolotolo (a form of Jew's harp) as part of a suite of poems (Figure 2).



The style of engagement was another decolonising feature. Eurocentric formality, conventionally associated with power and status, and manifested in self-promoting forms of linguistic sophistication, can have an intimidatory and exclusionary effect on audiences. The organisational style of the Colloquium was inclusive, warmly welcoming rather than coldly formal and distant, non-hierarchical. Chaired with a light hand, rather than presented in the carefully circumscribed ways of the white male expert, the Colloquium invited the participation of all attendees. Lively discussion was generated through affective and emotional as well as intellectual input and output.

The vexed and much-debated question of language in decolonising multilingual countries such as South Africa hung over the Colloquium. If removing English as the medium of dissemination of knowledge is required for decolonisation, this did not happen, because the ZAPP project locates itself within the discipline of English. English therefore remained in its pole position, functioning as a lingua franca, in spite of differing mother tongues for the presenters and delegates. However, the multilingual character of the South African nation was evident throughout both the formal presentations and the discussions through vibrant threads of African language usage and themes.

In this section we have highlighted the features that intra-acted (Barad 2007, 33) and sparked a decolonising circuit of affect in the Colloquium. Affect, which played a key role, was a transforming force, propelling and propelled by the above features. It was a kind of electrical circuit of motivation and energy, felt in the Colloquium as a whole, reconfiguring it. Affect activated and was activated by the intra-action of all the components constituting the Colloquium assemblage12-human, technological, discursive, epistemological, cultural, historical and social. Affect enabled the flow of connections between the ideas, experiences, emotions, memories and modes of delivery of presenters and delegates. In its context of de-hierarchised interaction, affect bonded the participants into a community. It also moved them forward in their different journeys of scholarly "becoming" as poets, speakers, researchers, performers, educators and theorists. The Colloquium was a "doing" (Barad 2007, 135, 178), a dynamic process of knowing and becoming, of empowerment, in contra-distinction to the disempowerment that can occur in the face of arrogant performances by competitive and individualistic speakers.



This article has outlined three components of ZAPP's research into the decolonising of poetry education. Its research into curricula and pedagogies relating to poetry in EFAL classrooms has shown the immense difficulty of infusing indigenous texts and practices into South African EFAL classrooms. The pressures of an overstuffed curriculum and of the need for success in the final matriculation examination-from heads of departments in the schools, line managers, including local and national Departments of Education-thwarted our attempt to make decolonising inroads into formal classrooms. On the other hand, spaces outside classrooms, such as the Poetry Club, were hives of poetic creativity and learning, thoroughly enjoyed by all. ZAPP's ongoing research into the nature of indigeneity in South African poetry today reinforces the fact that decolonisation and indigenisation of poetry are happening outside formal environments. The actions of poets on stages, no less than on pages, storm the bastions of what counts as "poetry", reconfiguring it as a dynamic, multimodal phenomenon with many dimensions. We celebrate the actions of poets in reconstituting and practising poetry in ways that serve them. The Colloquium unsettled the colonial certainties of what counts as knowledge, what can contribute to knowledge and how that knowledge is disseminated. It troubled what it means to be an expert and in whom expertise is constituted, twisting colonial relations of "race", privilege and power. It had a strong ethical dimension, ethics understood not in the abstract but as an embodied practice, a materialisation of a commitment to social justice.

The ZAPP project as a whole is motivated by "an ethical call to shift modes of being, doing and thinking" (Taylor 2018, 95) as redress for past wrongs, erasures and marginalisations. It speaks from the corners, the edges and thresholds of experience and the academy. It attempts to be life-giving to teachers, learners, and students, and to promote the work of contemporary South African poets. This has been a daunting and at times insurmountable challenge. On the other hand, in its diffraction of activism and research, ZAPP may be seen as a practical endeavour to decolonise and indigenise pedagogic and institutional practice. Along with the difficulties, it has opened up a range of possibilities for EFAL classrooms. It has also fostered mutually enriching collaborations between the academy and the outside world.

In the words of Lebohang "Nova" Masango:


Never again will I throw your name around

Like an old excuse

I vow to reclaim all that honours

The origin of we without fear

Bloodied but never broken

We are still here

(Masango, "To Do List for Africa", 2019)



We thank the National Research Foundation for their support of this project, Grant 105159. We also thank our wonderful ZAPP team with whom we have enjoyed stimulating and pleasurable times.



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1 Posthumanism and new materialisms are two interlinked areas of theoretical engagement, which we draw on in this article.
2 A neologism used by Karen Barad to signify "the mutual constitution of entangled agencies" (2007, 33), in contrast to the more common "interaction".
3 The term "material-discursive", used in new materialism, does not point to the fact that "there are important material factors in addition to discursive ones" but to "the conjoined material-discursive nature of constraints, conditions, and practices" (Barad 2007, 152). For example, the kinds of resources allocated to a particular school may be material things such as desks, books and chairs, but these are the effects of political ideas, agendas and policies that are discoverable only in discursive manifestations.
4 As an example, although four of the seven Grade 11 prescribed poems are South African, these are drawn from canonical works published in the previous century.
5 This is borne out by the fact that the school has elected not to study poetry for the NSC examinations for fear of decreasing their pass rate.
6 These terms refer to South Africa's drive to reclaim indigenous knowledge. The National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa established a domain of Indigenous Knowledge Systems. In our project, elders, who receive and transmit indigenous knowledge, are seen as knowledge holders. Younger poets, who draw on these traditions, are seen as knowledge practitioners.
7 The past half-century has seen the rise of numerous poetry collectives, including WEAVE, Feela Sista!, the Botsotso Jesters, InZync Poetry, the Current State of Poetry, Lingua Franca and the Mzansi Poetry Academy.
8 Horwitz, Allan Kolski, Johannesburg poet and publisher.
9 Translanguaging is a feature of language use in multilingual contexts; it is also a pedagogy that contests monolingual bias in literacy teaching and learning, and instead valorises alternation within and between languages by teachers and learners (see Makalela 2016).
10 These were commissioned from portrait artist Marco Bucceri.
11 The traditional Kgotla is a community gathering where Batswana chiefs and headmen discuss legal cases and matters of public interest, and where all are allowed an equal chance to speak. "The seating arrangement signifies the equality in the Kgotla" (Moumakwa 2010, 53).
12 "Assemblage" is a translation of the French agencement, a collection of things which have been assembled, arranged or laid out. For Deleuze and Guattari (1987), who popularised the term, the component parts of an assemblage are not fixed and stable but can be displaced and replaced. Our use of the term implies a collection of different components that interact, intra-act and connect in fluid and shifting ways.

^rND^sBarnard^nAlan^rND^sBrand^nG. v. W.^rND^sGray^nMel^rND^nJohn^sCoates^rND^sGrosfoguel^nRamon^rND^sIseger-Pilkington^nGlenn^rND^sKalua^nFetson^rND^sKaschula^nRussell^rND^sMakalela^nLeketi^rND^sMaldonado-Torres^nNelson^rND^sMignolo^nWalter^rND^sNdlovu-Gatsheni^nSabelo^rND^sNewfield^nDenise^rND^nRobert^sMaungedzo^rND^sNewfield^nDenise^rND^nRaphael^sd'Abdon^rND^sNjamnjoh^nFrancis B^rND^sSantos^nBoaventura Sousa^rND^nFlow^sWellington^rND^nFlow^sWellington^rND^nFlow^sWellington



Decolonised Tongue



Flow Wellington



Open your mouth,

w i d e...

Wider than the rounded constraints

of a stolen language

you try so hard to master.

Allow your tongue to time travel;

They say it cannot forget the language

of your Abogan1.

Open your mouth,

w i d e r...

Feel the clicks and echoes return and

rise from your belly.

Remember! Remember when your gowab2

was yours and didn't need

colonial justification.


Yours is the task of untangling twisted tongues

from censored silence-

Vkhlbagus sa cgaob tsi vais4

so the stories of old are forever told

with your mouth wide open.

KhoeKhoe Translations Provided by Flow Wellington

1. Abogan: Ancestors

2. gowab: language

3. Vai-oa: Remember

4. Vkhlbagus sa cgaob tsi vais: Reconcile your heart and mind




Refining Contrapuntal Pedagogy: Reflections on Teaching Warsan Shire's "Home" and W.H. Auden's "Refugee Blues" to First-Year Students



Bridget Grogan

University of Johannesburg, South Africa.;




This article reports on and discusses the experience of a contrapuntal approach to teaching poetry, explored during 2016 and 2017 in a series of introductory poetry lectures in the English 1 course at the University of Johannesburg. Drawing together two poems-Warsan Shire's "Home" and W.H. Auden's "Refugee Blues"-in a week of teaching in each year provided an opportunity for a comparison that encouraged students' observations on poetic voice, racial identity, transhistorical and transcultural human experience, trauma and empathy. It also provided an opportunity to reflect on teaching practice within the context of decoloniality and to acknowledge the need for ongoing change and review in relation to it. In describing the contrapuntal teaching and study of these poems, and the different methods employed in the respective years of teaching them, I tentatively suggest that canonical Western and contemporary postcolonial poems may reflect on each other in unique and transformative ways. I further posit that poets and poems that engage students may open the way into initially "less relevant" yet ultimately rewarding poems, while remaining important objects of study in themselves.

Keywords: contrapuntal pedagogy; Edward Said; Mikhail Bakhtin; Warsan Shire; W.H. Auden; decoloniality; empathy; affect



This article reports on and discusses the experience of a contrapuntal approach to teaching poetry, explored during 2016 and 2017 in a series of introductory poetry lectures in the English 1 course at the University of Johannesburg.1 Drawing together two poems-Warsan Shire's "Home" and W.H. Auden's "Refugee Blues"-in a week of teaching in each year provided an opportunity for a comparison that encouraged students' observations on poetic voice, racial identity, transhistorical and transcultural human experience, trauma and empathy. It also provided an opportunity to reflect on teaching practice within the context of decoloniality and to acknowledge the need for ongoing change and review in order to decolonise the curriculum. In describing the contrapuntal teaching and study of these poems, and the different methods employed in the respective years of teaching them, I suggest that canonical and contemporary poems may reflect on each other in unique and transformative ways. Further, I posit that poets and poems that engage students may open the way into apparently "less relevant" yet ultimately rewarding poetry, while remaining important objects of study in themselves. In providing this analysis of my experiences, I am also advocating for a transformation within the classroom that takes account of different genres and eras of poetry, the different identities involved in its production (contributing to the transformation of the canon), the context of reading, and the inclusion of a diverse student body in the teaching and learning process. I argue that taking account of diversity within the student body extends the contrapuntal comparison of texts into a polyphonic reception of comparison and difference. In my experience, ontological access matters in the classroom, an observation that became starkly evident when these poems were approached differently and in a contrasting order in the second year of teaching them. Ontological access may be understood in two ways in educational theory: as informing the person that the student becomes through the act of learning (Barnett 2009; Dall'Alba and Barnacle 2007), and as informing an educational practice that pays attention to who the student is, the latter being strongly related to epistemological access (Vorster and Quinn 2017, 39). Although this article pays greater attention to the latter meaning of the concept, my intention was also to focus students on social justice and thus encourage an ontological shift. Ultimately, I do not believe that contrapuntal pedagogy is an end in itself, involving the simple placement of texts side by side that are not usually studied together. Instead, I argue that that it needs to be carefully considered and ordered to provide optimal access and value to contemporary South African students whose voices, in response to the texts under study, form part of the matrix of discussion and learning.

Some context and a disclaimer are required at the outset, especially in an article that forms part of a themed issue on the topic of poetry and decoloniality. Before 2016 there had been two sections of poetry taught in English 1 at the University of Johannesburg. The first was designed to introduce students to poetic techniques and devices and different poetic forms; the second provided a focus on postcolonial poetry. From 2016, when teaching on the first part of this course, I wanted to break the unwitting divide created by this structure between "general" (often canonised Western) poetry and political or postcolonial poetry. In an article in The Guardian titled "How Not to Talk about African Fiction", Ainehi Edoro (2016) criticises this divide, paying particular attention to African novels. She examines how "African fiction is packaged and circulated, bought and sold not on the basis of its aesthetic value but of its thematic preoccupation", and links this to what she terms the "anthropological unconscious of the African novel", which manifests within the history of literary criticism as an engagement with African texts merely "from the standpoint of the social or political issues they address". This "anthropological" focus emerges, she argues, in contemporary criticism wherein "African fiction is invisible except when it is reflected on a mirror of social ills, cultural themes and political concerns". Edoro calls for a consideration of African and postcolonial writing that pays equal consideration to its style and aesthetics. My aim in teaching, in keeping with this call, was to dissociate Western poetry from technique and African poetry from mere political expression and to foreground politics and technique as combining in both traditions. For the weeks when I was teaching, I adopted a contrapuntal method, structuring each week according to different themes and teaching poems from different times and contexts that explored or related to these themes. This article describes one week of teaching, which was repeated for two consecutive years, during which the thematic focus was on refugee experience.

The disclaimer, then: in South Africa, decolonisation in the university context is often synonymous with the "call to Africanise the curriculum" (Almeida and Kumalo 2018, 2); however, I am not making claims in this article for having enacted a method of decolonising the curriculum with a particular focus on (South) African writing. Both of the poets under study are British (although one is of migrant African identity and descent), and each poem focuses on a historical and current world issue: Auden's poem focuses on Jewish refugeeism in the late 1930s, and Shire's on the contemporary global refugee crisis. Within the context of the call to decolonise higher education (and the 2015 and 2016 student protests playing out at the time2), Jonathan Jansen writes: "decolonisation ... is ... a knowledge project" (2019, 2). This article applies Jansen's view of decolonisation as epistemological to an analysis of contrapuntal and polyphonic practice within the teaching of poetry. For me, contrapuntal teaching may dismantle the Western canon-often privileged in university literary syllabi-while nonetheless retaining Western literature that is held to be of value by relating it to literature of the global South. The intention is to discourage an educational focus dealing only with "poetic identities ... sanctified with laurel crowns and preserved in printed editions", as Terry Ross (2000, 4) describes the English canon. It is to avoid the "teaching of literature", as emphasised by Henry Louis Gates, as synonymous with the "teaching of an aesthetic and political order, in which no women and people of color were ever able to discover the reflection or representation of their images, or hear the resonances of their cultural voices" (cited in Guillory 1994, 7). I hold, moreover, that decoloniality should also be seen as of the world. It should acknowledge the voices of the oppressed, albeit from different places and eras, in the South African teaching context, where issues of social justice should take precedence and where students may productively reflect on, and compare and contrast, injustices that have shaped the global as well as the local. Due consideration must be paid to how the global is framed in relation to the local, and lecturers and students should explore how canonised and contemporary or otherwise marginal(ised) texts may reflect upon or provide access to one another.

In drawing together two poems from different contexts that explore similar themes, my intention is to introduce students, albeit briefly, to the productive space of comparative literature. Edward Said, in Culture and Imperialism (1993), famously described comparative literature as "a field whose origin and purpose is to move beyond insularity and provincialism and to see several cultures and literatures together, contrapuntally" (Said 1994, 49). Said adopts the adjective "contrapuntal" from musical theory, adapting it to literature. In music, counterpoint (the noun form of "contrapuntal") refers to the relationship between independent voices or melodies that are interdependently linked in musical unity. Used metaphorically in literary studies, interpretive counterpoint brings together independent voices in comparison (in this case, Auden and Shire) to see how they may be viewed together-harmoniously or discordantly. Importantly, Said views the contrapuntal method as an "antidote to reductive nationalism and uncritical dogma" (1994, 49), as a means of "see[ing] some sort of whole instead of the defensive little patch offered by one's own culture, literature, and history" (1994, 49). He argues that "as we look back at the cultural archive, we begin to reread it not univocally but contrapuntally, with a simultaneous awareness both of the metropolitan history that is narrated and of those other histories against which (and together with which) the dominating discourse acts" (1994, 59).

A pedagogical method based on counterpoint may resist a defensive, univocal validation and reification of the Western literary canon, an accusation that may arguably be levelled against a course presenting a poet like Auden. It may also resist parochial methods of teaching, including an unnuanced decolonial approach, in which "only one culture [or identity] matters for its own sake in the classroom" (Metz 2019, 2). While Michael Garbutcheon Singh and James Greenlaw (1998, 194) provide a simple definition of contrapuntal pedagogy as "a comparative method in which teachers juxtapose Eurocentric and postcolonial texts", how this juxtaposition occurs is an important point of consideration within the classroom. The question may arise, for example, whether contrapuntal pedagogy fulfils the requirements of decolonising the curriculum if Western poetry still features prominently within it. I suggest, though, that a real benefit of comparative, contrapuntal teaching is its opening up of a space of plurality, of global literary circuitry, in which not only individual poems and identities are discussed, but also their relevance to the contemporary moment and to students' contextualised reading experience. In this way, Western literature may be decentralised as merely one part of a field of multiple, global voices, while significant literary works-many of which engage with and denounce social injustice, like Auden's "Refugee Blues"-are acknowledged and appreciated in the process. I want to open up the concept of contrapuntal pedagogy so that it does not simply reflect two or more texts in conversation with one another or being subjected to interpretation together, but also takes account of the teaching space, which consists of a diverse array of students (from different South African cultural, racial, linguistic, educational and financial backgrounds) and more factors than only the texts under study.

I therefore relate counterpoint, in music and literary studies, to the concept of polyphony, another musical term used to describe two or more lines of independent melody, taken up by Mikhail Bakhtin to inform his own theories of literature. In Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics (1984), Bakhtin explores the way multiple voices constitute individual texts, disrupting the authority of any single voice (Abrams and Harpham 2012, 86). Contrasting Dostoevsky's novels with what he identifies as the monologic fiction of Tolstoy, Bakhtin notes "a plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses, a genuine polyphony of fully valid voices" (Bakhtin 1984, 6-7; italics in original). I extend Bakhtin's definition to the classroom. It is important to emphasise the polyphony and plurality of the teaching and learning space, not only in terms of a contrapuntal approach to texts, but also in relation to the multiple "fully valid voices" (Bakhtin 1984, 7) of individual students, and the relevant and contemporary issues that may be brought to bear on literature-and vice versa-in the classroom. A polyphony of voices is important when dealing with a theme such as the refugee crisis and thus highlighting the experiences of vulnerable individuals from the global South within the context of globalisation. The South African university classroom is a mixture of multilingual and multicultural identities, and with its history of apartheid and migrancy from other African states, the polyphony of the classroom adds to the multivalency of literary comparison and interpretation. A transhistorical focus on oppression and migrant experience in different contexts also foregrounds the importance of looking back to other times and across to other places to reflect on current and recurring historical and political issues and to engage with literary expressions countering social injustice. This transhistorical approach requires historicising different texts: this draws contexts into relation with each other and levels the political playing field between them as well as the literary texts emanating from them. In my classes I emphasise poetry's evocation of empathy and I also suggest to students the productive possibility of empathising across cultural or identity divides and historical time in a manner that prioritises neither canonical poetry (such as that of W.H. Auden), nor contemporary poetry (such as Warsan Shire's). Instead, transcultural empathy brings together different voices to highlight issues of social injustice and, in this case, to articulate the traumatic experience of the refugee and the affective capacity of poetry to communicate it. The call to empathy across a cultural divide also counters, in the reader's experience, the dynamics and othering of xenophobia that inform the refugee speaker's experience in each poem under study.

Teaching contrapuntally involves looking closely at the texts, authors and contexts under study: not only at how they overlap or intersect, but how they may each be received individually within the classroom. W.H. Auden's "Refugee Blues" and Warsan Shire's "Home" both explore refugee experience in the first-person voice of the refugee (although Shire's poem also makes sustained use of the second person). Completed in March 1939, Auden's "Refugee Blues" is spoken by a Jewish refugee in the turbulent lead-up to World War II. The speaker's identity in Warsan Shire's "Home" is not as readily identifiable, although it is clear that the poem is situated within the contemporary global moment. A version of the poem was first published in Shire's début collection of poetry, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (2011), as "Conversations about Home (At a Deportation Centre)". I provided students with the transcription of another version simply titled "Home", published on YouTube and performed by Shire herself.3 In contrast to the necessity of reading "Refugee Blues" as a modernist poem in print, I wanted my students to hear Shire's poem in performance and to engage with the embodied, audible affect that it expresses. Engaging with poetry in performance allows students to respond to poetic affect more readily and quickly than a perhaps belaboured first reading of a poem by first-year students, inexperienced in reading poetry, would allow. Hearing poems in performance may encourage students to think about how best to read a poem when faced with the task themselves.

Shire's performance of "Home" coincided with the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, which also corresponded with my teaching and provided contextual, topical access to the poem.4 As global citizens, most students were familiar with the news footage and images that flooded world media at the time and subsequently, as well as the worldwide rise in nationalism and xenophobia. Students, however, are not only global citizens or citizens of the global South: they are primarily South Africans, which means that they constitute a diverse social body. As I have mentioned earlier, classroom reflections on global injustice were framed and situated within the South African context. My teaching corresponded with a wave of xenophobic violence in South Africa itself, and the trauma expressed in both poems-in the voices of distinct, suffering individuals who had experienced violent xenophobia and racism-allowed students to reflect on South African events and the individual traumas resulting from them. The global and South African crises formed backdrops to my teaching, which focused on experience and affect, and the role and techniques of poetry in replicating and producing both. Both poems, in their use of the first-person voice (among other strategies), invite the reader directly into the refugee's experience. They therefore encourage empathetic readings and provide strongly affective, powerful counter-narratives to discourses of oppression, othering, racism and xenophobia.

It is well-established that students find poetry "hard and that teaching it therefore presents a challenge" (Fulani, Hendricks, and McCarthy 2019; Moyana 1991). My aim was to find poems that "spoke" to my students and each other, thereby multiplying points of discussion and access to poetry within the classroom. The topical theme of refugee experience in relation to current global events and xenophobic violence was one way "into" the poetry, allowing students to engage with it more readily. However, there was more to consider than simply contextualising the poems. The call for decolonisation in higher education has led to intensified reflection regarding teaching practice in the South African context, where issues of identity matter in the classroom and often become the basis for students' receptivity to the subject under study. I needed to ask myself, then: How will students relate to the texts and writers chosen in this course? I had correctly predicted that students would gravitate to Warsan Shire more readily than to W.H. Auden. Like Shire, the majority of English students at the University of Johannesburg are young, black urban women. In addition, the freshness of Shire's performance poetry holds great appeal. Laura Apol (2017) observes that the "most exciting development in the world of poetry for young people is in the arena of performance. There is a widespread renewed interest in spoken poetry for and by young people. Its growth is signaled by the emergence of hip-hop, rap, poetry slams and spoken-word poetry events." Raphael d'Abdon (2014, 78) further emphasises South African students' potential receptivity to spoken word performances when he describes spoken word poetry as one of the "most notable means of artistic expression for South African youth in the post-apartheid urban cultural milieu". In a world where digital media is proliferating, moreover, in which spoken word poetry is widely disseminated and shared, and a large proportion of students are literate, comfortable users of digital media, Shire's poetry has reach. With thousands of Twitter followers, coverage on YouTube and her poetry featured on Beyoncé's sixth album Lemonade (2016), she appeals immediately to many contemporary students.

Introducing students to W.H. Auden is more challenging. It is worth thinking here about how students who are unfamiliar with an author may encounter them initially. Beyond lectures, this encounter is most likely to occur online, and Auden's online presence may appear stuffy and intimidating to students encountering his persona and work for the first time. A Google Image search yields a series of black and white photographs, most of Auden in his old age. Austere, tweed-clad and white, his craggy looks may personify European, masculine intellectualism and produce the impression of bygone scholarly severity. From the perspective of the average twenty-first century South African student, he is distant in numerous, seemingly intractable ways: age, time, culture, citizenship, and most likely race and gender as well. It is worth asking, therefore, how such a figure may become relevant to a contemporary first-year South African student. One answer is in the subject matter of the poetry; another lies in the way in which it is taught. Introducing students to Auden's poetry by way of Shire, and suggesting that their poems, although penned by a contemporary British-Somali poet and a dead British modernist respectively, may reflect on South African issues and experiences, makes the task significantly easier.

It is not my teaching method to dwell on the identities or biographies of writers unless they are particularly relevant to the subject matter. But it is necessary to provide some historical information about the texts under study, and the experience of teaching these texts together indicated that authorial identity does matter to students and does influence affective responses to reading. Increasingly, as identity politics come to the fore in the contemporary moment, we cannot declare the author dead as, following Roland Barthes, we were wont to do in the past. As I will argue later, the way in which the poems are introduced and contextualised strongly influences students' receptivity to them. However, I also want to discuss the poems themselves, as I do in my classes. In teaching these poems together, I move quickly to discussing the speakers' voices and their representation of experience. To start a discussion in the classroom that takes note of the voices emphasised in the concepts of counterpoint and polyphony discussed above involves reading both poems closely with students, to see how each poem emphasises refugee experience and thus works to evoke the reader's empathy and response. I considered the representation and voicing of subjectivity in each poem and attempted to situate these subjectivities historically. Students were encouraged to give voice to the poems by reading them aloud in preparation for the lectures (due to the large classes, I read the poems to students during class time), and were asked to consider: Who is the "I" that is speaking? What is the "I" communicating about their experience? What is the effect upon the reader of that communication?

Auden's "Refugee Blues" explores the treatment and experience of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany just before World War II. The speaker has escaped to a new country where s/he feels alienated, vulnerable and out of place. I asked my students to identify themes that the poem explores as implicit in the refugee experience, and which contribute to the mood and affect of the poem, attempting to draw the students' voices into the discussion. From the poem, students identified the following themes of refugee experience: homelessness, alienation, restriction, death-in-life, purposelessness, disbelief (in the hatred of others), rejection, discomfort, danger, threat and war. They were then asked to find quotations in the poem that reflected each theme and to analyse these. An important aspect of teaching poetry to students is teaching them how to write about it: this is one of students' difficulties with the genre. Granting clear epistemological access is necessary for student success, and an important aspect of decolonial education (Vorster and Quinn 2017). Identifying themes, attaching them to quotations and analysing the significance of the quotations in discussion in the classroom allow students to begin to construct an informed argument while working through the poem and responding to it intellectually and emotionally. Rather than having lecture slides prepared in advance, I asked my students to help me to create them, workshopping and modelling poetic analysis with and for the class. In relation to the theme of homelessness, for example, a class discussion produced the following paragraph (I provide extracts from my workshopped lecture notes here to illustrate my notion of the polyphonic classroom, in which class dialogue actively contributes to learning):

In lines 1 and 2 of the poem, Auden uses imagery of the city to suggest that, from the refugee's point of view, all of the citizens of the city in which s/he has arrived have a home. The speaker describes "ten million souls" (line 1) who are "living in mansions" (line 2) or "living in holes" (line 2). S/he therefore describes an enormous city-the place in which they have come to live-in which the millions of people, from the rich to the extremely poor, have a place to stay. However, the third line of the poem sets up the contrast of the refugee experience, emphasising the speaker's homelessness, isolation and sense of displacement: "Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us" (line 3). This isolation is emphasised by the structure of the tercet and the fact that the third line stands on its own in relation to the rhyming couplet.

An important aspect of "Refugee Blues", which contributes to an understanding of the speaker and the context of the poem as an utterance, is that it is addressed to a specific hearer or addressee: I wanted students to engage with this terminology. This aspect of the poem-its voicing in the first-person plural ("yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us" (line 3)-also contributes to its affective dimension and I wanted students to explore this. Throughout the poem the speaker addresses someone for whom s/he has great affection, someone who is loved. S/he addresses the loved one as "my dear", a melancholy phrase of endearment that recurs in the last line of every stanza. Students are asked to consider the effect of this repetition and also the effect of experiencing the poem as an expression of intimacy between two oppressed people whose humanity is not recognised-in fact, is actively denied-outside the context of their relationship. Effectively, students are asked to consider how the speaker's relationship with the addressee contributes to the reader's empathy. Together, we composed the following analysis responding to these questions, extracted from my lecture notes of 2017:

The speaker expresses great affection for the addressee, which is evident in the repetition of the phrase "my dear" throughout the poem. Although the speaker's circumstances suggest their alienation and that they have come to a country where they receive no kindness or compassion, the fact that they address someone who loves them and whom they love in return reveals that they are entirely worthy of love and care despite the circumstances. The refugee the speaker addresses is worthy of affection and compassion too, which they receive from the speaker. By emphasising the speaker's caring relationship, the poem invites the reader to care for the speaker and their addressee too, to see their warmth and humanity, and thus to appreciate the terrible plight and alienation of the refugee. The hatred, violence and coldness that they have experienced are emphasised not only in the descriptions of horror but also because of the contrast of these to the warm emotions reflected in the speaker's relationship with the addressee, emotions nonetheless tinged with shared sadness, loneliness and paralysis within the political context.

In exploring poetic voice in Auden's "Refugee Blues" with my students, I asked them to consider how the poem's use of the first person, as well as its emphasis on the speaker addressing another with care and understanding, may invite the reader into the personal experience of the refugee. The poem both situates the reader within the perceptions of the speaker and addresses the reader as though they were the loved one themselves. The reader is simultaneously speaker and addressee and is thus doubly hailed. This doubling occurs in multiple ways, allowing the reader to experience, for example, the simultaneously spoken and voiceless condition of the refugee, the simultaneity of dehumanisation and raw, vulnerable human experience, and the dual experience of political and social hatred alongside the poignant intimacy of personal care and human worth. In addition, students considered the musical genre of "the blues", which informs Auden's poem and contributes to the poem's sense of nuanced, multivocal affect. They were asked to listen to blues music and to consider the layered empathy and attention to human suffering inherent in a poem that, as James Held (1992, 139) writes, "capitalizes on the emotional power of the blues, its themes resonant with the blues' great themes of suffering", specifically the suffering of generations of African Americans, which suggests the poem's wide view on human suffering and social injustice. This musical history drew further connections between Auden and Shire and focused further attention on transhistorical and transnational issues of "race" and marginalisation, enabling students to consider the poem as Auden's "experience of his new home after his emigration to New York in 1939" (Held 1992, 139). To balance the attention paid to listening to Shire read her own poetry, students were given the option, having been warned of disturbing footage, of viewing and listening to a YouTube version of the poem set to blues music, accompanied by Second World War images.5 In this video, the poem's sense of devastation is augmented by visual imagery and the resonant sense of suffering inherent in the blues.

Thus far I have provided observations based purely on Auden's "Refugee Blues". This method of discussing Auden's poem first mirrors my first year of teaching these poems. The method I employed in the second year, however, when I reversed the order of teaching, was far more effective. I suggest, therefore, that the way and order in which contrapuntal texts are taught matter. The point that I am making here is that identity matters in teaching and that the different identities of Warsan Shire and W.H. Auden, referred to earlier in this article, contributed significantly to students' reception of the poems. In an important article on decoloniality and South African higher education, Jo-Anne Vorster and Lynn Quinn (2017, 39) observe that, for black students, "curricula and pedagogic processes are often not aligned with who they are as people and it is not possible to divorce themselves-their being-from what is taught and how it is taught".

This implies that "teaching and learning is not only an epistemological project, but, in essence, also an ontological one" (39). As Vorster and Quinn argue, in South African higher education, "the discourse of epistemological access must be critiqued and explicitly understood as integrally linked to that of ontological access" (39). Similarly, Katherine J. Mayberry observes that sensitivity to identity in the classroom-to ontological access-has profound and positive implications for teaching and learning. Academics, she writes, who pay attention to identity or ontology and its role and implications in the classroom are driven "to step back from their podium and ponder the teaching role, to reconsider and in some cases redefine the goals, methods, and informing ideological assumptions of undergraduate teaching" (Mayberry 1996, 6).

Auden's "Refugee Blues" is undoubtedly a moving poem. As Yi Tang argues, the poem "addresses the serious Jewish refugee problems by evoking in its reader the intense effects of poignancy, apprehension and compassion" (Tang 2017, 442). Nonetheless, after the first year of teaching the poem in conjunction with "Home", I stepped back from the podium and pondered my teaching role, as Mayberry argues is necessitated by a focus on ontology in the classroom. The response to Auden had been subdued; later, the response to Shire was decidedly not. Initially, I had not considered how the poems should be taught, specifically in relation to each other: I had simply taught them in chronological order, assuming that contrapuntal teaching was merely "a comparative method in which teachers juxtapose Eurocentric and postcolonial texts", as Singh and Greenlaw (1998, 194) define it, and without thinking of how the juxtaposition should function. Effectively, moreover, my decision had unwittingly prioritised Auden over Shire, seemingly making her poetry relevant by virtue of its similarity to his. Placing Auden first appeared to result in students finding the lecture largely uninspiring- another ordinary, Eurocentric history or poetry lesson in which they were asked to look at black and white photographs of, for most of them, distant European history and personages, and then introduced to poetry of, consequently, limited excitement or relevance. To reveal to students the worth and poignancy of Auden's poem and to de-emphasise the focus on Western literature and history inadvertently set up by the way I was teaching (objectives that may seem contradictory, but certainly are not), something needed to shift. Flipping the order of the poems the following year changed the teaching and learning experience entirely.

There is a contemporary urgency to Shire's "Home" that can be related to her identity as a young, black, contemporary poet of African migrant heritage with influence in the global internet world and popular culture, expressing topical political and social concerns. As Anna Carasthatis and Myrto Tsilimpounidi observe of Shire's political relevance in Reproducing Refugees: Photographia of a Crisis:

Warsan Shire's "Home" went viral and became a rallying cry and was widely referenced in sympathetic discourses at the height of the refugee crisis-not only in Europe but also in protests against the Trump administration's so-called Muslim ban in the United States and demonstrations in Israel against a proposed policy which would have led to the deportation of tens of thousands of African migrants. (2020, 81)

The contemporary urgency of "Home" arises in part from the way Shire finds inspiration for her poetry. As Alexis Okeowo (2015) observes in an article for The New Yorker, "Shire has said that she is most interested in writing about people whose stories are either not told or told inaccurately, especially immigrants and refugees." She collects these stories from her family members and people she meets, "bring[ing] out her Dictaphone when relatives come to her with tales from their experiences", injecting her poetry with authenticity and understanding. Interestingly, there is also some potential and direct South African relevance to Shire's expressions of refugee experience. In an interview with Kameelah Janan Rasheed (2012), she describes spending time in South Africa:

South Africa completely changed the way I write about home. While I was there I worked with African refugees. I understood homesickness in a more direct, desperate [way]. My homesickness is privileged. Before South Africa I could not even write about home.

Whether these descriptions of "home" are related to the poem "Home" is debatable. However, "Home" strongly expresses the refugee's ambivalent feeling of homesickness in relation to a home that has become hostile, a feeling that Shire implicitly expresses in the quotation above. Drawing students' attention to Shire's experience of South African refugees was valuable in helping them to focus on the ways in which the poem may relate to the issue and trauma of South African xenophobia. Students began to reflect on the traumatic circumstances that may result in a refugee leaving home and on the compounded trauma of xenophobia experienced in the country of destination (including South Africa). Already Shire seems relevant to South African students in ways that Auden could never be. Her "race", African heritage, experience of working with African refugees in South Africa and capacity to "go viral" in the internet age situate her in the context of teaching in tangible ways. However, her poem's sentiment is echoed in Auden's. As Yi Tang observes, "[d]riven by his moral conscience, Auden attempted to use his art to affect the public in order to call for a change in refugee policy by asylum countries" (Tang 2017, 442). Teaching the poems together intensified and expanded students' responses to the theme of refugeeism, also requiring them to think of histories of oppression, ranging from the treatment of German Jews to the contemporary treatment of refugees. With ontological access in mind, teaching Warsan Shire's poem before W.H. Auden's granted him relevance and interest while also prioritising Shire and thus flouting any emphasis upon the metropolitan and canonical. Teaching Shire's poem first also focused students on important poetic techniques employed within it and presented the poem as possessing interrelated aesthetic and political significance in the same way in which "Refugee Blues" was taught later.

As with Auden's "Refugee Blues", my teaching of Shire's "Home" emphasised the speaking voice. This focus was augmented by allowing students to listen to Shire reading the poem herself. In a powerful and moving performance, Shire's voice cracks and quivers with emotion as she voices the speaker's horror at being driven from home.

Interestingly, this is the only point at which the second-person voice of the poem, which implicates the reader in the refugee's experience, shifts to the emotional vulnerability of the first person. This is reflected in Shire's sudden emotion within the recorded reading and a feature of the poem which students discussed in comparison to "Refugee Blues":

I want to go home,

but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home told you to quicken your legs

leave your clothes behind

crawl through the desert

wade through the oceans

The pauses in and shakiness of Shire's reading at this point (towards the conclusion of the poem) reflect the trauma expressed within it: non-verbal, emotional and embodied tone and rhythm take precedence over the language itself, thereby emphasising its meaning. In trauma and affect theory, pain and trauma are frequently described as nonverbal. Elaine Scarry, for example, in The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (1987), describes pain as inexpressible in language, even as obliterating the meaning-making function of language. As I have discussed elsewhere (Grogan 2014; 2018), Julia Kristeva, in Revolution in Poetic Language (1984), identifies two dimensions of language. These are: the symbolic, or the aspect of language that clearly and logically conveys meaning; and the semiotic, or the affective, bodily dimension of language, evident in extra- or pre-verbal factors such as rhythm, tone, hesitation and breathing. After hearing Shire reading her poem, an affective space opened in the classroom as students engaged with it in an emotional, immediate sense. Their responses were intensified by what many students have described as an affinity with Shire and an understanding of the poem's topic and relevance. The experience of the poem is powerful and I have to warn students beforehand that topics arise within it that may upset them. Nevertheless, the power of the experience is important. I have never yet observed as strong a response in the classroom to literature in its written form. This experience offers a significant opportunity, however, to reflect back on poetry that students must read themselves. In addition to acknowledging the ontological access that Shire's poetry appears to provide, I share Deanna Roberts' sentiment: "I have found using spoken word poetry in the form of online videos entices students to explore poetry further" (2015, 103). Focusing on Shire, in my experience, allows students to recognise the significance of all poetry as an affective medium, hence the reversal of order in my teaching of the poems in the second year of presenting them. In that year, students expressed far greater understanding of Auden's "Refugee Blues" and far greater empathy for the Jewish European speaker in the 1930s who suffered such cruel oppression. The love that some of them expressed for Shire and her poem translated more freely and easily into understanding the love and care expressed by the speaker to the addressee in "Refugee Blues".

To return to Warsan Shire, the analysis of "Home" in the classroom occurred in much the same way as the class discussion that resulted in a shared interpretation of "Refugee Blues". Students were asked to identify what the poem communicated and they summed it up as "providing explanations for why it is that the refugee must leave his or her home country". They agreed that the poem is designed to show the listener or reader the refugee's history of violence and trauma and to indicate that leaving home is not a choice but a necessity. They recognised that the poem, like "Refugee Blues", is designed to encourage empathy. In looking at how the poem encourages a focus on refugee experience, three particular features were discussed. First, students were asked to reflect on the complexity and ambivalence of home, as the speaker presents it in the poem. Second, repetition or anaphora was discussed, particularly of the phrase "no one". Finally, the personification of home was addressed to identify how it contributed to the speaker's ambivalent responses to the notion of home. The following analysis emerged, taken from my lecture notes of 2017:

The poem understands that "home" is essential to the creation of an identity. It is where we come from and informs how we understand ourselves. "Home" is usually understood to be a nurturing environment to which we return for solace and affirmation. "Homesickness" is the feeling of sadness experienced when away from home, evident in the poem's description of the refugee "carr[ying] the anthem under [her] breath" (lines 18-19). However, feelings regarding home become mixed when home is violent, like "the mouth of a shark" (line 2), a place to which it is neither safe nor desirable to return, however much the refugee may yearn to do so. The combination of the fear and love of home therefore informs the refugee's ambivalent experience.

The phrase "no one" is repeated throughout the poem to emphasise the fact that "no one" would make the choice to leave home unless circumstances forced them to do so. There are a number of examples of this sentiment expressed in the poem; for instance: "no one leaves home unless/home is the mouth of a shark" (lines 1-2); "no one leaves home unless home chases you" (line 12); "no one puts their children in a boat/unless the water is safer than the land" (lines 24-25). Each of these examples suggests that the option of staying at home is dangerous and untenable. Home is emphasised as unwelcoming and unfriendly. By repeating the phrase "no one", the speaker suggests that nobody, including the reader, could tolerate the circumstances of the speaker's home country. This encourages an understanding of the refugee's experience of terror at home and the message that "home" can in fact turn against its citizens.

Throughout the poem, "home" is personified to suggest that it has become violent and hateful. However, at the end of the poem we see a slightly different version of "home". "Home" is personified as telling the speaker to "run away from me now/I don't know what I've become/but I know that anywhere/is safer than here" (lines 94-97). This image of a "home", which is saddened by what it has become, allows the speaker to suggest that "home" still displays some degree of care and kindness, warning the speaker to get away from it. The personification at this point in the poem therefore shows that the speaker feels some degree of sympathy for "home" despite its violence, and therefore some degree of love for it.

The classroom is an affective space, in which various responses and affects circulate, constituting the experience of accessing texts and the interactive nature of the classroom itself. This article has argued that contrapuntal teaching can contribute to this affective circulation and its expansion, especially when attention is paid to the way and order in which poetry is taught, and if the unique aspects of the poems under study are read with a view to the interaction between their formal and affective components. Students respond enthusiastically to contemporary poets with whom they identify. In my own classroom, students were moved to read or listen to more of Warsan Shire's work and to Google performances of her poetry. However, they were also excited by the way in which her poem, "Home", provided access to W.H. Auden, whose modernist poetry might otherwise have appeared opaque, foreign, anachronistic and difficult. In a previous year, Auden's poem was less enthusiastically received, perhaps even lost, in the process of teaching it before a lecture on the more popular Shire. However, Auden's "Refugee Blues" circles the same themes as "Home"-refugee displacement, alienation, fear and overwhelming loss-which further opened up the theme of refugee subjectivity, allowing students to reflect in more depth not only on the poems themselves, but also on the current global refugee crisis, historical refugee experience and the pervasiveness of xenophobia within South Africa today. A polyphony of voices within the contemporary South African university classroom and an emphasis on all of these voices, including those of students, opens up discussion in exciting and productive ways. Nevertheless, students' epistemological and ontological access must be considered, contributing to curricular and pedagogical choices and providing exciting and important opportunities for responding to contemporary, historical, local and global injustice.



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1 The University of Johannesburg's Department of English offers a three-year undergraduate programme in the study of English literature. English 1 provides an introduction to literary genres: novels, short stories, drama and poetry. There are approximately 600 students in the class in each calendar year.
2 In 2015 and 2016, South African universities were rocked by student protests under the banner of the #FeesMustFall movement. Students across the country shut down universities in protest against unaffordable fees and financial exclusion. The protests were not only related to money: the university's colonial history and associations with whiteness came under fire and an urgent, escalating call for the decolonisation of university curricula arose.
3 Warsan Shire's reading of "Home" may be accessed here:
4 As of 1 March 2020, World Vision's website notes that, since the onset of the Syrian civil war in March 2011, more than 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country and 6.2 million have been displaced within it (see
5 See

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New Land



Kobus Moolman

University of the Western Cape, South Africa.



(for Adam Small 1936-2016)

Black mountain silence.

Broken land

without breath.

Three thin white trees.

A woman with a rock on her back

where her baby used to be.


Bare river panting.

Steep sky

without air.

Three thin yellow dogs.

A man with a rusted spade

where his hand used to be.


Old words undefeated.

Old songs

without any rest.

Three thin blue chimes.

A child with a torch in its mouth

where the long night used to be.

^rND^1A01^nVonani^sBila^rND^1A02^nOlufemi J.^sAbodunrin^rND^1A01^nVonani^sBila^rND^1A02^nOlufemi J.^sAbodunrin^rND^1A01^nVonani^sBila^rND^1A02^nOlufemi J^sAbodunrin



Angifi Dladla (1950-2020): An Embodiment of Ku Femba as a Poetry Teaching Philosophy for Renewal



Vonani BilaI; Olufemi J. AbodunrinII

IUniversity of Limpopo, South Africa.;
IIUniversity of Limpopo, South Africa.;




Angifi Dladla's poetry and teaching doctrines are considered tools for consciousness raising, healing and popular education for decoloniality. Through ku femba, an age-old practice that serves as a channel to cast away evil spells in a society bedevilled by violence, Dladla displays the relationship between man, ancestors and the otherworldly as a vehicle for decoloniality. His feisty narrative poems, "I Failed My Children" and "Marikana Chorus", explore the spiritual dimension and infinite possibilities of experience rooted in oral and written tradition. Dladla's Femba Writing Project, based on his philosophy of teaching poetry, affirms that poetry rooted in decoloniality reflects not only the poet's political convictions, but a shared communal experience of those on the edges of existence who are capable enough to challenge the master's voice (the voice of the Western canon) that often defines quality in poetry. Dladla is steeped in direct knowledge of the precarious life in South African townships; he draws on his accrued knowledge and on the complexities of history and memory to create and teach compelling poetry that resonates with the ordinary without falling into the trap of ghettoising his experience. Dladla's poetry and teaching philosophy challenge the colonising practices that have shaped and continue to influence the teaching of poetry in South Africa. They form part of a wider agenda of defining African selfhood in a decolonial context.

Keywords: Angifi Dladla; ku femba; decoloniality; popular education; Femba Writing Project



Who Was Angifi Dladla?

Born on 24 November 1950 in Thaka township in Gauteng, Angifi Dladla was an established poet, with two poetry collections in English (The Girl Who Then Feared to Sleep [2001] and Lament for Kofifi Macu [2017]) and a collection in isiZulu (Uhambo), yet he is still on the edge of mainstream studies in poetry, especially in academia. For many years he was a creative writing teacher and the director of the Femba Writing Project, publishing school and prison newspapers, and the anthologies Wa lala, Wa sala and Reaching Out: Voices from Groenpunt Maximum-Security Prison. Kelwyn Sole (2010) asserts that Dladla's first poetry collection, The Girl Who Then Feared to Sleep, received widespread praise from critics for "its wide range of styles, voices and themes, its raw power and experimental freshness, and its heartfelt response to a society in which racism, violence and the misuse of power are still endemic. [He was] a poet who requires readers to look at compelling events and issues from which our first instinct has been to turn away."

Dladla's horror of violence is not a new phenomenon. He was born in the East Rand, which was almost the epicentre of violence, with many incidents of brutal necklacing, in the 1980s. It is estimated that over 14 000 politically motivated deaths occurred in South Africa in the 1980s and early 1990s mainly as a result of what was termed the "Third Force's" unleashing of black-on-black violence. This was a political strategy orchestrated by the apartheid regime to maintain its oppressive supremacy over South Africa's black majority in the service of white privilege. Scores of people were hacked to death and gunned down in trains, hostels and townships such as Katlehong, where Dladla taught for many years. Dladla, a Pan-Africanist writer and Marxist sympathiser, could not ignore this grim reality of epistemic violence ravaging the country like a plague. In his own words:

Poetry demands a search for the essence of things. The deeper I go, the more I'm sucked in and in and in. I become liberated from the physical world! Take, for example, the poem "Rubbished". That was about a schoolchild who was shot [by Inkatha] and hacked and left to die at a rubbish dump in Katlehong. I wrote this poem the very day I saw the body. Then one day, after many years of seeing people dying and visiting mortuaries to identify my relatives, I wrote "Ubuntu". This poem led me to go deeper, to write "At the government mortuary", "So turned a taxi", "Our bodies", "Rotting", "Bodies", "The dead". No matter how many corpses one sees, one cannot get used to them. (Interview in Metelerkamp 2001)


What Is Ku Femba?

Dladla's aunt was a diviner. She could cure her patients who suffered from different ailments and conditions. She had many patients. Like most healers, she enjoyed singing and doing praise poetry. Dladla explains:

We used to call my aunt "mama". Her last specialisation was plunging into the river and disappearing without trace. She came out after three months. It was in the 60s. That fascinated me. When I was at the junior secondary school I tried to ask her about her life in the depths, but she always avoided my questions. In 1975 she moved with her Zimbabwean husband and their family to Zimbabwe. She could cure people who had ingested poison, stomach aches and those with fertility problems. She did not use medicinal herbs; to those with marital problems, she acted as a psychologist. That really worked, their problems were solved. The song I remember went like this: "Lelo dlozi ela ngenzayo/ Lelo thongo eli nguBaba/ O sikhanyisele/ O sikhanyisele Most of her songs were in the language we did not understand. People said it was XiNdau. She would say "Thokoza" when greeting anyone. (Interview with the authors, 2019)

Healing through ku femba is a delicate practice. Dladla explained the finer details of ku femba and how his poetry is an embodiment of this age-old practice that serves as a channel to cast away evil spells in a society bedevilled by greed, corruption, violence and hatred. In Dladla's poetry, which is rooted in everyday life encounters and set mainly in townships and overall the Black and African ecosphere that is characterised by centuries of neglect and uneven development, the characters often resemble a chaotic society: they are a traumatised people in need of exorcism and treatment. The characters in Dladla's poems include denizens, beggars, drunkards, political discards, the landless who yearn to return to the occupied territories, victims of the notorious necklacing, widows who mourn the violent departure of their Marikana mine-working husbands and breadwinners. These characters from our ghetto are, in our view, the reason Dladla summons the spirit of the diviner to perform ku femba to determine the spirit that may be provoking the political and economic madness in individuals and society, but more importantly, to foster balance that humans must maintain with their ecosystems. According to Dladla:

Ku femba is a type of exorcism performed strictly by an accomplished ku femba specialist. Unlike the Biblical King Solomon who used a ring or a Catholic exorcist who invokes those who are in purgatory, this one invokes the Ndau ancestor from the spirit world. When the drums have reached a certain timbre and tempo the Ndau ancestor takes over the specialist's body, sniffing out evil spirits and casting them out of the door back to the culprit who sent them. Then a breathtaking performance follows. The ancestor in the specialist' s body acts out the culprit' s unquestionable movement, voice, mannerism and boasts. That' s the opportunity for the patient and the specialist' s assistants to ask her/him questions like "Why did you bewitch me?" "What are you wearing as you speak?" (Interview with the authors 2019)

A sangoma combines ancestral powers and herbs, plants and animal fat for treatment of ailments, trauma, epilepsy, infertility and stomach aches. But Dladla, a poet whose poetry is inspired by Pan-Africanism, integrates these elements in his poetry to diagnose, chase and "steam" away demons and nightmares rooted in apartheid and colonialism that trouble township folks, using indigenous languages instead of always insisting on English. For this reason, Dladla, who understood this well, established the Femba Writing Project, whose aim is to encourage writing that is engaging and performative as well as innovative and relevant in the townships. This idea resonates with Ngügï wa Thiong'o's (1986, 4) notion that "the choice of language and the use to which language is put is central to a people's definition of themselves in relation to their natural and social environment, indeed in relation to the entire universe". Msila (2020, xi) emphasises the necessity to challenge the cultural hegemony that dominated during the decades of colonial and apartheid rule.

Today, the cynicism we witness in society is mainly due to internalised aspects of Western culture. It is because of our beliefs in Western science and Western scholarship that we tend to neglect the local as we frequently underscore globalisation, perceiving the decolonial project as an antithesis of progress. Thus we realise that the first priority for the decolonisation of knowledge is cultural decolonisation.


How Is Ku Femba a Tool for Decoloniality in the Teaching of Poetry?

Many of Dladla's poems bring people's history into sharp focus: their struggles against apartheid, social catharsis, loss, township violence, HIV/Aids, poverty and inequality. Consequently, the answer to these historical malformations and abuses lie in the healing power of nature, the ku femba, in all its ecological ramifications and manifestations. African children are often taught Anglo-Saxon poetry, which may be good, but has little cultural relevance to their social environment and circumstances. This literature undermines the history and culture of previously colonised people and their poetic traditions. The voice of the African poet is rendered dull and absent in the classroom. Even worse, it appears to be the norm in the post-apartheid poetry classroom to teach politically correct texts in pursuit of "rainbowism" and social cohesion. Dladla (interview in Penfold 2018) considers this a dangerous terrain:

Our country will be robbed of stories from the township and rural communities. The only hope will be students who studied at the multi-racial schools. But the universe has its ways and surprises. Here we are as products of Bantu Education writing poems, plays and novels.

In our interview with Dladla (2019), he made the following claims about recorded history vis-a-vis the quintessential roles of oral/performance poetry and other narratives:

The recorded history since 1652 is not our history. Those who replaced the apartheidists after 1994 fear our history and thus marginalised it altogether and embarked on Year Zero, just like the French or rather like the Cambodian Khmer Rouge. Thus, the so-called school history books are nothing else but self-aggrandisement of the ruling class. Our history is in oral poetry and narratives, in poetry, narratives and non-fiction written by those who fought colonialism and its appendages, but certainly not apartheid; in Malombo jazz, in [Hugh] Masekela's "Stimela" song, in Phuz'ekhemisi's "Njalo-nje" song; in township and rural graves; in the food we eat like maotwana, mokgodu, manqina, skobho as if our forefathers slaughtered their livestock or game just for this and threw away the rest; in township houses and shacks as if we did not have families, in a maid's room in the white suburbs, in our independent churches who decolonised Christianity, in the makers of history like Jesse Owens, our athlete who infuriated Hitler by winning four gold medals in Germany and Leone Jacovacci, our boxer who also infuriated another supremacist Mussolini by demolishing Mario Bosiso, the Italian hero. There are great men and women who came before us. We need to humble ourselves and dig our long, painful, heroic and rich history. The benefits of knowing our history as poets are part of decolonising our writing, empowering and inspiring our people. We are all in war: Vonani [Bila] and Lesego [Rampolokeng] in their field; Caster Semenya and Serena Williams in their field against global racists; our scholars who must come up with new knowledge, and so on.


How Does the Poetry "Explode" and "Resound" as Ku Femba?

"I Failed my Children"

In the compelling, self-referential and confessional narrative poem, "I Failed My Children", Dladla gives an account of physical loss and the recovery of ancestral land and other social and spiritual landscapes. These were taken away as a result of colonial and apartheid machinations that made black people subservient to barbaric purposes. In this poem, the nostalgic children yearn for the rural utopia. Although urbane, they are restless. They dislike the crowded cities of fierce and roaring traffic, deadly highways, of vagabonds buried in trash under bridges who warm themselves around galley fires in winter and the zoo and prison enclosures. They helplessly watch the rich sip coffee in sit-down restaurants in affluent Sandton and other suburbs. The smog spiralling in the air in Soweto, the banalities of commercialisation and media culture make these children yearn to return to the land and nature. They persistently demand alternative ways to have an intense bond with their ancestral homes: locations from which their great-grandparents were forcibly removed under the insane and dehumanising apartheid laws such as the Natives Land Act of 1913 or the Bantu Authority Act, 68 of 1951, which provided for the establishment of black homelands and regional authorities. Born-free children want to remember the unknown past as part of liberation and a self-healing peace-building passage.

The inquisitive children, including the last-born girl who is the leader of the pack, insist dialogically that their deflated and somnambulant father pays attention to them. They want to pay homage to their ancestors. They want to be one with the cosmic forces. Their dreams are surrounded by the poignant and romantic rural picaresque and the unexplored venerable forests. Sadly, the children do not know that their felt need may flounder. This is because the loathsome and frenzied "apartheiders", and their aggressive hordes of insensible and indistinguishable ethnographers, historians, strategists, social anthropologists, cartographers, cultural commissars and the repressive military, have systematically carried out an onslaught to diminish any fragment of black people's scattered history. Ancient black civilisations, remnants of social memory, the everyday arts, black people's sense of self and collective consciousness and any iota of dignity have all been destroyed. The apartheid regime excluded the black majority on matters of governance and the economy to inflict a notion of exile, self-pity, loneliness and black people's alienation from the land, nature and the spiritual realm, thus propagating deep racial, social and political divisions and the weakening, even collapsing, of political and economic structures and the prevailing ideologies, expressions and identities of indigenous Africans. As Dladla the poet (and, equally, the textual persona in the poem) veritably laments this ongoing dialectic struggle and conflicting paradigm, "That place with its graves/ no longer exists. It's now a potato farm. " In the words of the born-free:

"No manga-manga business dad, Dad,

no pussyfooting, we now are serious.

This December, you show the way.

"We drive you where you were born,

to the house where you grew up.

We want to capture the aura.

Then we'll be complete.

"You show us the way where

your navel cord was buried.

You show us the way where bones

of your people are rooted, our ancestors.


That place with its graves

no longer exists. It's now a potato farm,

so I was told. We had never returned.

We never dream to this day.

Who could return after bulldozers,

storm troopers, rottweilers bundled us

in trucks with our cats, dogs

and broken furniture to far-off locations?

(Dladla 2011, 26-7)

In Dladla's world, "there's something that the dead know", whether this be the pain of slavery, colonialism, Sharpeville, Soweto, Bhisho or Boipatong massacres, or postapartheid massacres such as Marikana and the death of 144 Life Esidimeni patients, or any social carnage, such as necklacing and xenophobia:

Something the dead know

is the head held in broken hands;

the drooping mouth-hole,

a white speck of eye

leaking a tough sort of shame,

a burnt rubber which blackens blackness

and wires which swaddle the victim

like a Pharaoh.

Something the dead know:

Bones whiter than white

shall inherit the earth.

(Dladla 2017, 78-9)

In the sequel and hybrid poem "Marikana Chorus", Dladla combines the dramatic technique of performance poetry and the prophetic voice to make the connection between the dead and the living even more symbiotic. This is part of invoking the ku femba spirit.

"Marikana Chorus"

... the ragged miners sing, kneel, burn impepho incense, sprinkle the snuff, clap hands rhythmically as they talk to the spirit people .... Around the monument they empty their hearts in dance. (Dladla 2017, 86)

In the above epigraph, the speaker summons the powers of the ancestors to help the so-called "wildcat" striking workers of the Association of Mines and Construction Union (AMCU), under the leadership of Joseph Mathunjwa, to defeat the plutocratic Lonmin mine, now taken over by Sibanye Stillwater. Dladla's deep sense of history makes us aware that the Marikana massacre saw 34 mineworkers, who were demanding a living wage and decent working conditions, slaughtered and 78 more injured on 16 August 2012.

Oral history suggests that Marikana derives from the Setswana word Marakanelo, meaning "a meeting place". The hill is also known for miracles. It is claimed that in the past invisible people could be heard singing, shouting and dancing. Traditional healers would train their apprentices on the mountain and perform rituals at this meeting place. Perhaps that is why the hill or koppie became known as Thaba ya Dimakatso or Mountain of Wonders. We can understand the claim, which Dladla highlights as tragicomic, that the Fanagalo-speaking workers consulted a sangoma who would make them brave and invisible when they confronted the police.

According to a News24 report titled "Marikana Men Queued for Muti-Police",1Lieutenant Colonel Victor Visser told the Farlam Commission that "the men gathered at the koppie, carrying pangas, spears, and knobkerries, and believed the inyanga would sprinkle them with muti to make them brave". Sadly, the muti of the sangoma2 did not protect them against the state police's bullets nor did it triple their money. In the poem "Marikana Chorus", Dladla relives and even imagines the tragic collaboration between the South African government, its alliance partners (the South African Communist Party [SACP], the Congress of South African Trade Unions [COSATU]) and international capital, implying that the state can get away with mass murder with impunity.

Your AMCU is a small cockroach,

it needs a mild spray or a toddler's toe.

It is toothless, noisome like an anus.

Today is D-day-the end

of this criminal act.

Today is your hour-the finale

Of this dastardly venture.

Come on SACP and COSATU

Close ranks, isolate, petrify AMCU

Come on People's Storm Troopers,

Encircle these bastards in the manner

That you are trained to do.

I give you a helicopter, razor wire,

Rottweilers, horses, machine guns.

Come down hard on these dissidents.

Shoot the magodukas, shoot merafes

Execute these fucken migrants!

Let our thunderbolts shame

The magic of their witchdoctors!

Come on, each shot be a kill-shot.

One, Two, Three: FIRE ...!

(Dladla 2017, 84-5)

The poet knows that the dead miners are not dead; their restless spirits must be safely repatriated to their places of origin. Sadly, the children of the stone-breaking miners have lost fathers. These men, from all over the South African nation, but mainly from the Eastern Cape, were shot several times in the back, shoulders, thighs, buttocks, groin and feet by the guns of the new government. Wives are now widows; their husbands who provided love, bread and soup are dead. There are whirlwinds in families that were once stable. This upheaval is all because of the government's collusion with international capital, through the hand of its police officers, who decided to gun down dozens of black workers. Dladla implies that the state mowed down black lives to protect the riches of the mining magnates. The dead remain restless; they speak in shrieking voices of multitudes of organised workers:

Marikana, Marikana,

tina ai funa lo New Apartheid.

World Trade Centre Accord

through TEBA and the barracoons

never was for us workers.

Marikana, Marikana

you have cartwheeled us

from Cecil Rhodes' road

into a ghostly canyon.

Marikana, Marikana,

today you know what is not new:

"The driving force of civilization".

Workers of England or Europe,

today you know what is not new:

Our blood relations, O Engels!

(Dladla 2017, 86-7)

Although 34 Lonmin workers were killed by fire from the R5 assault rifles used by the South African Police Services (SAPS), the calamitous Marikana Day has become a memorable day. It is commemorated by the people, especially the workers and supposedly "left-leaning" political parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and civil society groups as a manifestation of the actualities of ecological damage and injustices to workers generally. During these commemorations, one can see rituals for the departed souls being performed by religious sects, including traditional healers. Just after the Marikana murders, the place had to be cleansed. The spirits of the dead were collected and then repatriated to safe cultural spaces (their homes). They were not taken to modern-day alienating memory institutions, such as museums, galleries, libraries or archives in the big cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town or in foreign lands, but to warm "homes" in the villages, farms and townships where they had originated. Once back home and in the company of the clan and ancestry, it is assumed that the dead can regain their voices and unimaginable power. This would not happen if they were kept in foreign memory institutions. The dead are then connected to their ancestors through rituals that are characterised by feasting, drinking, dancing and above all, poetry performance.

The spirit repatriation and cleansing ceremony is carried out as part of family, community and cultural heritage and pride. Its aim is to promote respect, remembrance and understanding and it is a necessary sacred healing process for the grieving family, community or country to find closure. If the spirits of the dead are not properly returned to their homes, indigenous cultural experts and poets, such as Dladla, argue that disaster may strike in the form of repeated underground mining accidents, storms, floods, road fatalities and other mysterious disasters and pandemics. One can equally argue that the Marikana massacre may have dampened the spirits of voters to ignore the African National Congress (ANC) in national polls, thus gifting the opposition some of the metropolitan municipalities. Dladla's poetry of ku femba may be teaching us that the dead are saying to the structures in power-whether these be corporates or governments-that they must correct their wrongs, compensate families that lost their beloved breadwinners and pay the workers, take care of the poor, the sick and unemployed. Dladla's concern for historical reparations for damages caused to people and ecology-black labourers, their native land and mineral resources-is a demand for ethical leadership and ecological justice for the living and to set free the departed souls of the working class. This call for social justice and cultural cleansing is a crucial decolonial aspect of Dladla's poetry.

The following section interrogates Dladla's poetry teaching philosophy and how ku femba challenges the colonising practices that have shaped and continue to influence the teaching of poetry in South Africa.


How Does Ku Femba Mediate Dladla's Poetry Teaching Philosophy?

Dladla believed that poetry can be taught. He founded the Femba Writing Project (FWP), an initiative that takes into cognisance students' backgrounds and the tradition of poetry, like ku femba, as a style of African performance that is rooted in therapy. For Dladla (2017, 11), "Students are not potatoes in a bag, but individuals with unique personalities, unique life experience and therefore unique needs that cry for individual attention, real growth and development." Dladla further highlights his commitment to writing and teaching poetry:

The inner voice comes readily especially when I'm editing. There is excitement and joy as I concentrate on the text. That's when a flash of insight comes in. Yes, just like music and fine art, poetry can be taught. But not like in the colonial classroom where a topic and a title is prescribed to the learner, and the teacher starts with teaching poetic devices such as rhyme, figures of speech, and types of poetry. Under an able master the student feels and experiences the beauty of the music but the master does not encourage the student to play and sing like him. He just inspires. My motto is "Everyone has a story." Even a child from the kindergarten tells stories. (Interview in Penfold 2018)

Despite being unheralded and almost unknown in academia, Dladla wrote and taught poetry in schools, prisons and community centres for over 30 years, in multicultural settings. His poetry has appeared in almost all major South African literary journals, yet it is hardly made available in mainstream anthologies and the classroom. He has taught the young and old, prisoners, refugees, perpetrators of necklacing murders of the 1980s, political activists, high school students, peasants in shacks and the rich in comfort zones, the weak and uncomfortable, the politically charged and the intransigent and embittered in the East Rand, introducing them mainly to African and contemporary South African poetry, as well as critical texts from the African diaspora.

Dladla's teaching philosophy encourages students to appreciate poetry set for examination, but primarily to enjoy it and allow it to raise their consciousness before they can "deconstruct" a poem for technical analysis. Dladla believed that students can enjoy poetry and use it to develop self-love, instead of seeing themselves as savages, barbarians or commodities ready to be exploited and disposed of. They need not focus on technical inhibitions, poetic terminology, moral maps of what is good, true, beautiful or ugly. He inspired them to write original work with aesthetic considerations and for the benefit of posterity. For Dladla, teaching poetry meant the creation of space for the sharing of knowledge so that those who receive it can improve their lives and the lives of those they meet. Teaching, therefore, aimed to create renewed, energised and decolonised beings. Echoing Fanon, Ntombela (2020) contends that in decolonisation, "there is replacement of the settler, re-establishment of the marginalized and reordering". Msila (2020) argues that the decolonisation of the school system refers to the dismantling of colonial and apartheid systems that were responsible for the oppressive and marginalising divisions. Msila posits:

Decolonisation needs to move us from barbarity to freedom, from brainwashing classrooms to enriching critical sites, from stunted growth to intellectual freedom and expression. The gift of decolonized education is immense for our learners and the future in that it will ensure that the learners move beyond the realm of bondage of history to liberatory education that ensure[s] the magnification but not the romanticisation of the African continent. (Msila 2020, 5)

Dladla's teaching doctrine built students up intellectually and in all facets of human activity so that they could become positive change agents in the private and public domains for decolonial education and renewal. To understand decoloniality, Ngügï wa Thiong'o (1986, 16) grapples with the way the colonialists imposed a foreign language on African children.

The real aim of colonialisation was to control people's wealth: what they produced, how they produced it, and how it was distributed; to control, in other words, the entire realm of life. Colonialism imposed its control of the social production of wealth through military conquest and subsequent dictatorship. But its most important area of domination was the mental universe of the colonized: the control, through culture, of how people perceived themselves and their relationship to the world. Economic and political control can never be complete or effective without mental control. To control a people's culture is to control their tools of self-definition in relationship to others.

Steve Biko (1987), Frantz Fanon (2017) and Es'kia Mphahlele (1974; 2002) (among others) have stated that language and culture are tools for liberation for the colonised and oppressed. Vuyisile Msila and Mishack Gumbo, key figures of the current discourse about decoloniality in South Africa, emphasise that when black people use indigenous languages to express themselves instead of English they feel a sense of adequacy, resourcefulness, identity, pride and purpose. Msila has lobbied government, universities and education policy-makers to adopt holistic, inclusive and socially just curricula that are rooted in African expression and the untapped experiences of rural folk in Africa's history.

Dladla believed that the role of the teacher in bringing about this renewal did not need to perpetuate racial, gender and ethnocentric misunderstanding. He embraced the culture and customs of his people, but he wanted his students to recognise that culture adds to their social consciousness, personal identity, critical thinking, and happiness. He explains his poetry teaching philosophy and goals as follows:

My teaching methodology compels me not to rest on my laurels. I usually teach a mixed class consisting of adults, youth, children from nine years old, those who prefer English, and those who prefer the mother tongue. I come to class without a textbook, without notes or a lesson plan. Everyone has a story! To me students ... are individuals with unique personalities, unique life experiences, unique stories, and therefore unique needs that cry for individual attention, real growth and development. Each individual is an authority of his or her own story but they are not always aware of what they know, or they have forgotten it, or they just take it for granted that the reader knows as well. (Interview in Penfold 2018)

We can deduce from Dladla's teaching philosophy that he preferred the Communicative Language Teaching approach, a method that stresses communication. In Dladla's philosophy, the student unpacks factors that determine their existence, their familiar environments, their sense of beauty and the losses they have experienced. He encouraged students to create a connection between their lives and what is directly observable in their environment and bodies-what may be regarded as the quotidian- a representation and reproduction of everyday reality. These tasks were carried out either as classwork or homework and students were encouraged to work dialogically or in silence, depending on the nature of the student, as a key component of transferring knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to the learners that will make them recognise their common needs and dangers and prepare them to be Africans without inferiority complexes.

Dladla inspired his students to listen, read and write poems, but more importantly, to develop opinions about themselves and the world so that they could challenge their own underdevelopment and powerlessness. He stimulated students' sense of imagination by providing them with free-writing poetry exercises, usually based on memory and history. For example, in Mene Tekel, Dladla's play about the scourge of necklace murders in the 1980s, he used the boys and girls who had been affected by necklacing as performers. After the performances, the parents invited the poet for lunch or supper, and asked: "How did you do that? SAP [South African Police] failed. SADF [South African Defence Force] failed. But with you ... these boys, they changed" (Metelerkamp 2001). He encouraged the violent boys and girls who fuelled chaos in the East Rand to verbalise their horrible experiences as part of snuffing out the malevolent spirits that were haunting them (as perpetrators of necklace murders) and the community (as victims). This is an effective cleansing and purification ritual, aimed at restoring the identities and reintegrating the perpetrators of ritual murders back into their families and communities.

Dladla's teaching philosophy discouraged moral arrogance and "parrot" learning. He asked his students to do research in order to discover new information, but warned them that this freedom of expression did not extend to perpetuating racial or gender stereotypes and prejudices. Although he went to class often with no textbook, notes or a lesson plan, he was able to adjust to the expectations of his usually overcrowded class because of years of experience in poetry teaching and mastery of his accommodating teaching methodology.

In June 2020 Dladla listed poets on his Facebook page who had influenced and stirred him over the years. They included the Black Consciousness poet and struggle veteran, Don Mattera (Azanian Love Song), Okot p'Bitek (Song of Lawino), Mazisi Kunene (The Ancestors and the Sacred Mountain), B.W. Vilakazi (Inkondlo kaZulu), Pushkin (The Bronze Horseman and Other Poems), D.B.Z. Ntuli (Imvunge Yemvelo), Basho (The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches), and Yannis Ritsos (The Fourth Dimension). These poets and their texts are mentioned to inspire the students to be enthusiastic about poetry and challenge remnants of coloniality in social, political and economic structures when he teaches students how to create original work that shares the idiomatic and cultural register of his community.

In Mattera (1935-), Dladla identifies one of the brave pioneers of Black Consciousness lyrical poetry in South African English and Isicamtho/Ringas (derogatorily called Tsotsitaal). Like Dladla, Mattera suffered forced removals and detention. Both have striking gifts, both pedagogic and political. Dladla's poem, "I Failed My Children" chronicles his childhood memories of being uprooted by the apartheid government from his ancestral land, while Mattera's memoir, Memory Is the Weapon (2010) is an account of life in Sophiatown (a truly cultural mosaic) from which he was forcibly removed. Both performance poets enact "sonic layering", as C.M.E. Graebner describes performance poetry and its public function. The sonic qualities of language imply "the simultaneous interaction of words, speech, music, non-verbal sounds, the poet's voice, and poetic imagery that appeal to our smell, taste and vision" (Graebner 2007, 2). As a poetry teacher and poet, Dladla would rather teach this kind of "oral" poetry in the syllabus as relevant work to inspire interest in local cultural heritage.

D.B.Z. Ntuli and Benedict Wallet Vilakazi (1906-1947) are considered fathers of modern isiZulu letters-especially poetry-and outstanding teachers and linguists. Dladla is fascinated by Ntuli and Vilakazi's commitment to education and literature. Vilakazi was the first black South African to receive a PhD in literature. In his isiZulu poem "Imbeleni", loosely translated as "Should Death Knock at My Door", the poet anticipates his demise. Critic and isiZulu poet Sandile Ngidi observes: "He wants to be buried along the road, to say hello to school children" (Ngidi 2020). One can argue that Vilakazi is calling for the necessity of recovering buried history, especially stories and memories of the people who live under the shadow of cultural shame and indignity. This yearning to give a voice to buried narratives allows Dladla and Ngidi to understand Vilakazi's poems as embodiments of communal experiences and figments of imagination that should be memorialised in irresistible lyrical, dramatic and narrative monuments. Such immortalisation of the local voice means decoloniality within the global landscape. Dladla could be celebrating Vilakazi partly because there is a famous street in Soweto, where iconic figures Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived, which is named in his honour.

In Mazisi Kunene (1930-2006), Dladla is attracted by the poet's commitment to indigenous languages, orature and the Zulu heritage. Mpalive-Hangson Msiska describes Kunene as an indigenous poet who saw himself as part of a specifically African tradition of written and oral culture. Most of his poetry in English was first written in isiZulu. Kunene employs such traditional genres as the funeral dirge, the war song, the praise song and the elegy. He also includes elements of traditional religion and cosmology, such as ancestor worship (Hamilton and Noel-Tod 2013, 331).

Okot p'Bitek's Song of Lawino was first published in 1966 in the Luo language. It is an epic poem that laments an African woman's cry against her husband's abandonment of the past in favour of Western traditions. Guershom Kambasu Muliro (2007) observes:

The poem poses a question: what kind of liberation should Africa take on? Should it honor its traditions, or should it adapt the European values that were already set in place during colonialism?

In Yannis Ritsos (1909-1990), Dladla may have found resonance with the Greek poet's radicalism and triumph over tribulations. His youth was marked by family devastation: economic ruin, the early death of the poet's mother and eldest brother and his father's commitment to a mental health facility after psychological disturbance. Ritsos spent four years (1927-1931) in a sanatorium to recover from tuberculosis (Poetry Foundation n.d.). These deeply felt events compare sharply with the ferocious violence and substandard living conditions of Africans in the townships, informal settlements and villages. For Dladla, the panacea for such human crisis requires the healing intervention of ku femba as a poetic mode to bring about balance between humans and nature across "race", language, class and geography. According to Poetry Foundation (2020), one of Ritsos's most celebrated works, the "Epitaphios", is a lament inspired by the assassination of a worker in a large general strike in Salonica. The poem was burned by the Metaxas dictatorship, along with other books, in a ceremony in front of the Temple of Zeus in 1936. Similarly, in "Marikana Chorus", Dladla pays homage to the striking workers who were murdered by the South African Police Services in 2012.

Dladla's approach did not bar him from reflecting on the shameful history of slavery, colonisation and grim apartheid violence, especially since he studied and taught history in high school. In class and writing workshops, he introduced radical figures such as Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, W.E.B. Du Bois, Steve Biko, Malcolm X, Robert Sobukwe and others who spoke of the undeniably heavy burden of oppression and inferiority of the black majority, as part of his quest to use history to build a truly humane society. Dladla believed a deeper understanding of decoloniality in the classroom implies building bridges between Africans in Africa and in the diaspora, fostering the appreciation of different poetic traditions, enhancing cultural solidarity and not limiting oneself to the cultural and poetic ghetto. He achieved this objective by steadily introducing his students to a varied set of poetic traditions and influences such as anti-imperialist poet Amiri Baraka's "A Poem for Black Hearts" (1965), a tribute to Malcolm X, a popular figure during the US civil rights movement who was assassinated in 1965.

For all of him, and all of yourself, look up

black man, quit stuttering and shuffling, look up,

black man, quit whining and stooping, for all of him,

For Great Malcolm a prince of the earth, let nothing in us rest

until we avenge ourselves for his death, stupid animals

that killed him, let us never breathe a pure breath if

we fail, and white men call us faggots till the end of

the earth.

Another of Dladla's favourite poems is Leopold Sedhar Senghor's3 "Prayer to the Masks" (1945), in which the speaker looks back to his ancestral African roots as a source of strength and cultural decolonisation as he fights European colonisation:

Masks! Oh Masks!

Black mask, red mask, you black and white masks,

Rectangular masks through whom the spirit breathes,

I greet you in silence!

And you too, my panther headed ancestor.

You guard this place, that is closed to any feminine laughter, to any mortal smile.

You purify the air of eternity, here where I breathe the air of my fathers.

When students hear stories such as Malcolm X's, which are similar to their experience, they often reflect on their domestic icons such as Andries Tatane, a 33-year-old who was shot and killed by police officers during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg in the Free State province. They pour out their emotions through stories, songs and poems, vividly aware of the narrator of their tales, in their languages of choice (not always English). This methodology implies that even in the absence of the facilitator or teacher, students can empower themselves provided they are self-driven, serious, honest, disciplined, able and accentuate the positive and thrifty with resources at their disposal. Dladla echoes Ngügï's sentiments (1986, 97) that "African literature, literature of the African diaspora, and all other literatures of related experiences must be at the core of the syllabuses".

Dladla's ku femba philosophy has strong affinities with the Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, who once said: "Learn your theories as well as you can, but put them aside when you touch the miracle of the living soul. Not theories but your creative individuality alone must decide" (cited in Berold and Stacy 2017, 12). The process of making poetry, according to Dladla, is driven by achievement, correction, improvement and success.

Dladla's poetry teaching philosophy was learner-centred rather than rigidly didactic. It was not top-down, exclusive, elitist, predetermined or simply aimed at perfecting a certain technique, such as mastering the use of a poetic device. It was education for the powerless, grassroots, disadvantaged and exploited social groups such as students in broken-down schools in East Rand townships. He was concerned to teach in a way that responded to the social context. His approach was political and aimed at social change and transformation. It dramatised the harsh realities of unjust township existence and celebrated black spiritual endurance. Dladla upheld these ideals of popular education in line with Brazilian popular education theorist, Paulo Freire (1970), who steadfastly believed that the learning process should be facilitated to assert the rights of the affected community, promote robust debate, encourage questioning and confront authority if necessary. Further, it should ignite in learners the spirit of self-reliance and the building of alternative visions so that they can take full responsibility for their destinies.

In an interview with Roger Dalea and Susan Lee Robertson (2004), Portuguese-born activist Boaventura de Sousa Santos highlights that structural inequalities are the reasons that people resist corporate globalisation, including market-driven education offered by schools and universities. As a counter to this form of globalisation, Santos has proposed the creation of a Popular University of Social Movements, "a global university from below, indeed a counter-university aimed at bringing together activists of social movements and social scientists/artists engaged in participatory research-action" (Dalea and Robertson 2004, 7). Dladla's Femba Writing Project exemplified Santos's vision of a grassroots university as an instrument for decoloniality, education, empowerment and change.

Santos further argues that other forms of resistance in education should involve a complex articulation between participatory democracy and techno-democratic qualification. In his own words (cited in Dalea and Robertson 2004, 7):

We need qualified citizens for the tasks ahead but not in such a way that they become professionalised participatory citizens. Without a very wide range of qualifications for common citizens it will be impossible to promote forms of participatory democracy capable of being the organising element behind the counter-hegemonic forms of globalization.

Despite inhabiting separate geographies, Dladla and Santos shared the need to challenge corporate power through decolonial education measures and strengthen South-South cooperation. This sentiment is equally shared by the Puerto Rican sociologist Ramón Grosfoguel (2011), whose "Radical Universal Decolonial Anti-Systemic Diversality" project resonates with Dladla's ku femba, if one considers the struggles of African people against dispossession, including the fight to speak through poetry, even if it means in the ancient ku femba language of Xindawu. As opposed to the abstract universals of Eurocentric epistemologies, which subsume/dilute the particular into the same, a "radical universal decolonial anti-systemic diversality" is a concrete universal that builds a decolonial universal by respecting multiple local particularities in the struggle against patriarchy, capitalism, coloniality and Eurocentric modernity from a diversity of decolonial epistemic/ethical historical projects.

Dladla's ecosphere was constituted by ku femba as an intangible spiritual poetic presence that interacts with physically and psychologically injured communities, such as poverty-stricken learners and victims of violence. Throughout his writing and teaching career, Dladla (2017, 12) developed the guiding principles of his innovative Femba Writing Project to underlie his pedagogy of sensitivity to the spiritual realm. Dladla recalls an astonishing incident in 1979 when he was a new teacher in Vosloorus:

One day immediately after break, I was writing something on the board, and students were coming in. Then something came storming in. It was a wild man, kicking, punching, biting and scratching the hell out of me. Fortunately, the boys dragged and kicked him out. Girls were pleading to them he must not be killed "It is Mahlomola, the local madman." (Interview in Metelerkamp 2001)

After this incident, students and teachers were always laughing at him. Dladla calmly decided to write a poem titled "The Intruder". He read it in his classes and students loved it. The headmaster demanded that he reads the poem for the whole student body at the school assembly. As Dladla emphasises: "That was the end of laughter ..." (Berold 2003, 176). He had managed to cast a spell through poetry. Poetry no longer had to be taught in its usual formal Eurocentric fashion, but became a living syllabus capable of mediating and healing the fresh wounds of social strife and bringing about a decolonial turn.

The Femba Writing Project is a practical programme, which begins with students identifying their strengths and weaknesses. The safe learning space encourages learners to share experiences. It is democratic and participatory and projects (in the form of writing assignments) are carried out in class and in the broader community.


The Significance of Dladla's Poetry Work in South Africa

Dladla explained his role as that of a poet in the community. He was angry over poor service delivery and other government excesses, but he remained patriotic. He declared that his work was not about the illusion of a great South African landscape and wild game. Although Dladla's work was influenced by a number of writers, he did not echo their voices. His poetry is neither a mimicry of Western poetry nor the projection of an uncritical African past:

A poet is the conscience and pulse of his or her people. Our people are angry. In Afrikaans they are gatvol or very fed-up. This is demonstrated by daily service delivery protests. As expected, the police respond with overkill. The poet as a responsible citizen cannot be neutral and soft while the politicians are increasingly binge eating and hoarding more than they need amid dire poverty. Still, our leaders remain bigheaded, insensitive, and offensive. (Interview in Penfold 2018)

Dladla's observations are a sharp reminder that 26 years into democracy, the poor are damned by their own comrades who probably seek guidance from elsewhere, for example from large corporates, instead of carrying out the mandate of their constituencies. Dladla highlights that under the guise of freedom, people's expectations of a better life for all have floundered. It is as if he is evoking Frantz Fanon's (2017, 300) warning:

If we want to respond to the expectations of our peoples, we must look elsewhere besides Europe. Moreover, if we want to respond to the expectations of the Europeans we must not send them back a reflection, however ideal, of their society and their thought that periodically sickens even them. For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, we must make a new start, develop a new way of thinking, and endeavor to create a new man.

Robert Berold, the publisher of Dladla's two collections in English, notes that the poet lived in a spiritual reality and managed to observe human life without being overwhelmed by the pain we inflict on one another.

For Dladla, there was no area of life that poetry should not investigate: his range was vast, from personal joy and pain, love and family relationships, to the largest political and historical questions. Humour and satire were his subjects too. He was especially interested in poems dealing with spiritual mysteries and prophecies, both within and outside African spiritual perspectives. His concerns were always refracted through a lively and down-to-earth language: he wanted his poetry to be understandable to his own community, who were his primary audience.

Kelwyn Sole is a Marxist intellectual who has affinities with its democratic rather than its Stalinist forms. He studied and taught the literature of Black Consciousness (BC) for more than 30 years. What he found different about Dladla's work compared with the BC poets of the 1970s, when he first came across it, was that:

Angifi is a purveyor of Pan-Africanism not in terms of any Party politics, or the way some young people are using the term nowadays, but in terms of its potential as a gentle, humanising and embracing philosophy. It seems to me that we have an intellectual and creator in Angifi who bases himself in the reality of township life, and has a view of the world that starts-and radiates outwards-from there. Yet from there it radiates into the continental and global: willing to embrace, into his worldview, the creative, open-minded and progressive potential of the human race . from his basis in the reality of his own life, race, and class among his community. (Sole, interview with Vonani Bila, 2019)

In conclusion, Dladla' s philosophy of poetry teaching affirms that art is a potent tool for social healing. He encouraged his students to write about their own lives and their own experiences. They work from within, living their characters. In his words, "Great poets are not cheap singers praising what is imperfect, disposable and dying. They praise only the universe ... the Almighty God!" (interview in Metelerkamp 2001). Upon hearing about Dladla's death on 17 October 2020 aged 69, Johannesburg poet Alan Finlay described him on Facebook as "a quiet and brilliant poet, who said the hardest things in the quietest way. He never felt the need to shout" (Finlay 2020).

Rest in peace Angifi Proctor Dladla, uDibi Lwase Sandlwana, Muntu wa Bachaki, Mgabadeli!



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Senghor, Leopold Sedhar. 1945. "Prayer to Masks". Accessed October 3, 2020.

Sole, Kelwyn. 2010. "Angifi Proctor Dladla". Poetry International Archives, 15 October. Accessed December 11, 2020.

Sole, Kelwyn. 2019. Unpublished interview with Vonani Bila.



1 This article was originally accessed at (accessed 9 September 2019). It has since been removed from the News24 website.
2 Inyanga and sangoma are both isiZulu words for a traditional healer. Muti is slang for the medicine prepared by traditional healers.
3 Senghor (1906-2001) served as Senegal's first president from 1960 to 1980.

^rND^sDalea^nRoger^rND^nSusan^sLee Robertson^rND^sGrosfoguel^nRamón^rND^sMetelerkamp^nJoan^rND^sPenfold^nTom^rND^1A01^nMosima Kagiso^sPhakane^rND^1A01^nMosima Kagiso^sPhakane^rND^1A01^nMosima Kagiso^sPhakane



Bokgabo le Setso



Mosima Kagiso Phakane

University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.



Tse direto re di nyantse

Di re kgomaretse magalagapa

Di elela le masika nke ya Tugela meela

Ke ditaola tsa bogologolo

Maleme a bagologolo

Ge ebe ba rutlumulla bjoko ka ditheto

Go tshikinyega le thaba ya pelo

Mekgolokwane ya gona

Legodimo le be le theoge le gokare lefase

O kwe nke lefase le opa magoswi

O kwe nke mawatle a letsa mekgosi

Bohwa ke lehumo

Re ka mokona dithai le dinonwane

Wa bogale mollo o sohlasohla tsa mohwelere dikgonye

Meno a tloswa bodutu ke dithotse le dithuthupe

Ya maotwana a mararo e bipetswe ke ditloo le ditloo-maake

E goragora nke e a tsikiditlwa

Nka le tuntetsa gare ga diema le dika

La sala le kgohlotse mahlo nke mankgohlo

Ge nka re matshidi, mahlatswa, dihletlwa

Ge nka re leselo, sego goba thitelo

Bjoko bo ka ema pho!

Gwa thunya musi wa kgakanego

Yaka pelo e rothisa ya bohloko

Bohwa ke selo se sele go rena ba kalana ye ntshwa

Re kakatletse tse sele ka tsa go kompula meratha

Ra furalela le go thuntshetsa lerole

Dijo-kgolo tsa bogologolo

Metse go swa mabapi

Tsa hloka seboka di sia ke nare e hlotsa

Ke moka re di furaletse, bongwana' magana go botswa

A ke gona ge re itlhapila diatla

Diatla tsa go relela ruri

Di a re phonyoga tsa bogologolo


Heritage (Translation of "Bokgabo le Setso") by Mosima Kagiso


We were breastfed these poems

They hang onto the palates of our mouths

Flow through our veins

Like the flow of the Tugela falls

These are ancient bones

Tongues of those we descended from

They scattered brains with praises

Shook the rockiest of hearts

The ululations

Heavens descend and pulls earth into its arms

You'll hear as if earth is applauding

You'll hear as if oceans are singing praise

Heritage is wealth

We can devour riddles and indigenous stories

As the fierce fire gobbles the dry wood

Keeping our teeth company is fried and dry pumpkin seeds and maize seeds

The three-legged pot almost overflowing with nuts

Unsettled, as if being tickled

I can baptise you in proverbs and idioms

Leave you so wide eyed with shock, like an owl

I could tell you about a variety of wild berries

Mention a variety of indigenous apparatus

Brains would stand still

And smoke of confusion would fill this space

My heart sheds tears of pain

Heritage is foreign to us

We hold tightly to foreign deeds

Easily erasing the roots we descended from

One flaming house can easily lead to a stream of houses on flames

A herd of lions divided is easily outrun by a limping buffalo

Have we really discarded all these teachings, an unruly generation

Are we really erasing the roots we descended from

Slippery hands, the lessons they've fed us are slowly slipping away




Mapping Pathways for an Indigenous Poetry Pedagogy: Performance, Emergence and Decolonisation



Grace MavhizaI; Maria ProzeskyII

ISTADIO, Faculty of Education, South Africa.;
IIUniversity of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.;




Poetry is notoriously unpopular in high school English classrooms all over the world, and English FAL (First Additional Language) classrooms in South Africa are no exception. We report on a pedagogical intervention with Grade 11 learners in a township school in Johannesburg, where the classroom was opened to indigenous poetry and identities by allowing learners to write and perform their own poetry in any language and on any topic. Rejecting essentialist notions of indigeneity as defined by bloodline or "race", we work with a notion of indigenous identity as fluid and performative, and as inescapably entwined with coloniality. We argue that indigenous poetry, meanings and identities were emergent in the open space created by the intervention. To further explore this emergence, we discuss pedagogy itself as performative, an interaction between teacher and learners in which knowledge is built, stories told and identities sedimented. We focus on what can be learned about possible pedagogical pathways for an indigenous poetry pedagogy from the learners' performances. We identify the constraints and potentialities for a decolonial pedagogy that arise when the classroom is opened to indigenous poetry, and ideas for what such a decolonial pedagogy would look like. The findings suggest that new ways of thinking about the ethics and politics of poetry in the classroom are required, some general to all indigenous pedagogies, and some specific to local South African traditions of praise poetry.

Keywords: indigenous poetry; decolonisation; pedagogy; performance; South African education




The study of poetry has been shown to promote language learning among English FAL (First Additional Language) learners, as well as to encourage learners' awareness of and confidence in their cultural identity (Farber 2015; Harris 2018; Xerri 2018). Yet poetry is notoriously unpopular in high school English classrooms all over the world, and English FAL classrooms in South Africa are no exception. The reasons for this situation are manifold. First, the poems prescribed are often foreign to the lifeworlds of learners, containing literary and historical references that limit understanding greatly for non-native speakers of English (Brindley 1980 in Finch 2003, 3), such as South African FAL learners. Poetic traditions that are more familiar to many learners are often not acknowledged explicitly in policy documents. In the South African context, these traditions include praise poetry and music genres such as hip hop and rap. Second, teachers are afraid of working with poetry, often because they feel they lack the necessary knowledge and skills, and when they do teach it they do so poorly, focusing on the technical aspects rather than the meaning of poetry (Benton 1999; Calway 2008; Jocson 2005; Riley 2012). Third, learners come to share the negative attitude of their teachers, believing that studying poetry is dull and pointless (Hanauer and Liao 2016; OFSTED 2007). Finally, in South Africa specifically, the National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) is highly prescriptive and assessment-driven; poetry is assessed in national written examinations by means of short questions that focus on mastery of figures of speech, diction and imagery (Department of Education [DoE] 2011). This means of assessing poetry helps shape the way it is taught and reinforces the negative perceptions of it among teachers and learners.

This article reports on a pedagogical intervention that aimed to address this negative perception of poetry in a Grade 11 classroom of English FAL learners in Johannesburg, Gauteng. Grace Mavhiza, as the teacher of this class, implemented the intervention, while Maria Prozesky supported the development of the necessary pedagogy. The article hopes to contribute to a small but growing body of research on alternative pedagogies for poetry in the context of the South African public education system. Previous work has explored the effect of drawing on learners' multiliteracies (Newfield 2009; Newfield and D'Abdon 2015; Newfield and Maungedzo 2006), and of focusing on spoken-word poetry (D'Abdon 2016). These studies share the conviction that privileging the learners' own funds of knowledge is vital in promoting equity of access and social justice in education. Continuing along this trajectory, this study discusses the use of performance as a pedagogy, explicit discussion in the classroom of local lived traditions of oral poetry as poetry, and the introduction of learners' own writing of poetry in the classroom. We also explore how these tap into indigenous poetic elements and ongoing indigenous poetic traditions. As we discuss below, we understand the meaning of "indigenous", when applied to literature, as more complex than simply "originating or occurring naturally in a particular place" (Lexico 2020). In the pedagogical intervention we describe below, Grade 11 learners in a township school in Johannesburg performed poems they had written or selected, in any language/s they wished, on any topic of their choice, with explicit encouragement from the teacher to draw on izibongo and other forms of traditional poetry with which they were familiar. In striking contrast to the text-focused, close-reading poetry lesson so common in South African classrooms, these lessons were lively and unstructured, and produced real change in the learners' behaviour in their English classes. Our focus in this article is on the "pedagogical pathways" (Madden 2015, 2) revealed during the intervention: that is, the constraints and potentialities for a decolonial pedagogy that arise when the classroom is opened to indigenous poetry, and ideas for what such a decolonial pedagogy would look like.

The question of which poetry can be called "indigenous" is not simple, and the answers depend on how the term "indigenous" is understood. The relationship between indigeneity and decolonisation is also complex. We begin, therefore, with a discussion of indigenous poetry and how it can be defined in the educational context. Rejecting essentialist notions of indigeneity as defined by bloodline or "race", we work with a notion of indigenous identity as fluid and performative, and as inescapably entwined with coloniality. Such a definition allows us to understand what happened in the classroom, where, we argue, indigenous practices and identities emerged from the learners' performances. To further explore this emergence, we draw on understandings of all pedagogy as performative, since, in the interactions in the classroom, knowledge is built, stories told and identities sedimented. With this analytic framework established, we then briefly describe the intervention, and discuss the findings of our analysis of the poems the learners produced and performed. We discern a decentring of traditional classroom roles and practices, and a rethinking of the ethical role of the teacher in a decolonial pedagogy that seeks to bring to the fore indigenous poetry and identities.


Defining Indigenous Poetry

"Indigenous" is a contested term that cannot be reduced to the dictionary meaning of originating or occurring naturally in a particular place. The history of indigeneity as a concept is intertwined with that of coloniality and decoloniality. As Linda Tuhiwai Smith argues, colonisation is central to defining indigeneity:

[T]he world's indigenous populations belong to a network of peoples. They share experiences as peoples who have been subjected to the colonization of their lands and cultures, and the denial of their sovereignty, by a colonizing society that has come to dominate and determine the shape and quality of their lives, even after it has formally pulled out. (1999, 7)

She is sceptical of the arguments mounted by the descendants of colonisers, who claim indigeneity by right of birth but whose "linguistic and cultural homeland is somewhere else, [whose] cultural loyalty is to some other place" (1997, 7). Her argument, taken simplistically, would bar poetry written by South Africans of settler heritage from counting as indigenous. Such a view can seem to embrace an essentialist definition of indigeneity, reducing it to biology. In fact, by making the experience of coloniality an inextricable part of contemporary indigeneity, Tuhiwai Smith moves indigeneity onto what Nakata et al. call the cultural interface (2012, 130) and what Mignolo calls the border spaces (2000, 455). Nakata et al. see this interface as a space of contact between ongoing indigenous knowledge systems on the one hand, and, on the other, the multifarious forms of "Western knowledge presence" that reach every part of our globalised world. In this space, characterised by "the presence of both systems of thought and their history of entanglement and (con)fused practice", "contemporary Indigenous lifeworlds can now be understood and brought forward for analysis and innovative engagement and production" (Nakata et al. 2012, 26). Rather than an embodied essence, indigeneity then becomes a site of memory and of struggle, an ongoing commitment, a fluid performative identity under continual negotiation. Menezez de Sousa suggests thinking of this negotiation as happening at the level of "intra" (intra-national, intra-linguistic, and intra-cultural) rather than "inter" (international, inter-linguistic, inter-cultural) (2005, 75). In this understanding, "indigenous" poetry would include both traditional local forms and the products of ongoing creative engagement with local settler traditions and global influences. Working with this construction of indigeneity, what would matter in the poetry classroom then would be always choosing the preferential option for the indigenous, prioritising what Nakata et al. call "bringing forward" indigenous voices and viewpoints (2012, 26). This choice is an ongoing attitude that assumes different forms, depending on the positionality of the individual teacher and pupils, but which is always aware of the loci of enunciation (Mignolo 1999, 236) both in text and utterance. To speak of indigenous poetry in the classroom, therefore, is to speak of text and pedagogy as interlinked and inseparable, and always in the service of decolonisation. As Tuck and Yang starkly remind us, "decolonisation is not a metaphor": it means giving back the land, by which they mean submitting to, being beholden to the epistemology and cosmology of the first peoples (2012, 6). Ultimately, then, an indigenous pedagogy will need to be embodied in curricula through the choice of set works as well as the types of pedagogy and assessment prescribed.

Our definition of indigenous is not without problems, because what counts as indigenous and who has the right to police it are tricky questions, which we address in part in our discussion below. The definition does, however, imply a parallel definition of pedagogy that sees the classroom as a third space, to which learners and teachers alike bring their funds of knowledge (Moje et al. 2004).


Poetry in CAPS

In South Africa's CAPS, the teaching of poetry is addressed in terms that do not support indigenous poetry as we define it. On the one hand, the introductory section on "Approaches to teaching literature" does state that the personal response and interpretations of learners are absolutely necessary for studying literature, and that "[p]oetry should be taught, not poems" (DoE 2011, 12; italics in original), which could suggest drawing on learners' various poetic heritages in poetry teaching. The policy also states that "[c]reative writing should be closely attached to the study of any literary text", and urges teachers to "ensure that learners write poems as well" as reading them (2011, 12), which is the pedagogy used in our intervention. These points, which suggest openness to poetry as embedded in the lives and varied heritages of the learners, are, however, contradicted by the overall framing of poetry and poetry pedagogy in the curriculum statement. The introductory statement of the "Approaches" section reads:

The main reason for reading literature in the classroom is to develop in learners a sensitivity to a special use of language that is more refined, literary, figurative, symbolic, and deeply meaningful than much of what else they may read. (DoE 2011, 12)

This statement, which articulates only a partial truth about literature, talks of "a special use of language" in the singular, and so implies that literary language is unchanging across stylistic traditions, and cultural and linguistic contexts. The section on poetry is even more explicit about presenting poems as linguistic puzzles, meanings wrapped up in complicated language, saying "There are essentially only two questions a learner needs to ask of a poem: What is being said? How do I know?" The list of basic poetic techniques to be studied (DoE 2011, 23) is useful and not over-technical, but these devices are presented as "aspects" that will "enhance an understanding of the intended message" of the poem, again emphasising the poem as something dead on the page and to be dissected. At no point is poetry presented critically as embedded in cultural and literary traditions and entangled in real-world power imbalances. It is no wonder that many teachers fall back on a teacher-centred, line-by-line method of teaching and concentrate on set poems only, as Grace has found in her individual experience. In addition, as much as CAPS stipulates that there should be creativity in the literature classroom, the structure of the Annual Teaching Plan (ATP) makes such creativity almost impossible; the teacher is compelled to emphasise assessment, as this is the tool used by school management and subject facilitators to determine the work done in the classroom. Many teachers keep to a teacher-centred drilling of learners so that they fare well in the examinations.


Performance and Pedagogy

We draw here on Dimitriadis's notion of pedagogy as performance (2006). Dimitriadis looks to the "performative turn" in the social sciences, in which meaning is seen as contextualised performance, existing in the interactions between people and their social, material and cultural contexts (2006, 297). This "interactionist epistemology" leads to a specific understanding of pedagogy that decentres authoritative, static texts such as the curriculum and set works as guarantors of truth, and the privileged, delimited role of the teacher. In this view, "educators and students engage not in the 'pursuit of truths,' but in collaborative fictions-perpetually making and remaking world views and their tenuous positions within them" (Pineau 1994, 10 in Dimitriadis 2006, 305). When this "making and remaking" occurs in awareness of the cultural interface, and so brings forward indigenous knowledge and experience, it performs and sustains indigenous identities, and unbalances established colonial dynamics of power in the classroom.

The intervention we discuss in this article was an instance of this performative pedagogy. The teacher, working from her traditional privileged position and within the constraints of the highly prescriptive CAPS curriculum, defined the parameters of the group work project, so that the learners had freedom in creating and presenting their poems. The learners, working within these parameters, brought their varied knowledges and experiences to the task. At the intersection between these structures, the learners performed what Pineau calls "collaborative fictions", their lived understanding at that moment, as members of that classroom community, of what poetry is and who they are as poets. Herein lies the pedagogical opportunity for the teacher to witness indigenous identities being negotiated, to map the cultural interface on which these negotiations take place, and also to forward and sustain indigenous identities, poetry and practices. The teacher's own negotiations of indigeneity, whether from within indigenous heritage/s or from outside looking in, are included in this process.

We propose that the poems the learners produced, drawing on all the various genres with which they are familiar, are a type of personal narrative or "autoperformance": that is, a telling about and presenting of oneself. As Langellier and Peterson put it, this kind of narrative is "an elemental, ubiquitous and consequential part of daily life" (2006, 151), and it is more than just telling a story. As Bruner explains,

eventually the culturally shaped cognitive and linguistic processes that guide the self-telling of life narratives achieve the power to structure perceptual experience, to organize memory, to segment and purpose-build the very "events" of a life. In the end, we become the autobiographical narratives by which we "tell about" our lives. (2004, 694)

Because poetry mediates thought and experience into language in creative ways, it has an affinity for this kind of narrative (Wissman and Wiseman 2011). During the intervention, because the learners were given freedom to produce and perform their own original poems for their classmates and their teacher, we suggest they were given a particular kind of power, the "performative power ... to select or suppress certain aspects of human experiences, to prefer or downplay certain meanings, to give voice and body to certain identities" (Langellier and Peterson 2006, 152). These meanings included the learners' lived understandings of what poetry is and what it is for, as well as the identities of poet and performer, within the learners' embodied experience. The performance of the poems in this way is a site of interpersonal contact, where indigenous identities and meanings as we have defined them can appear and develop.

In any performance, a personal narrative is shaped by context, the material, social and cultural structures of meaning-including age, gender, class, "race", ethnicity, religion, and so on. These discourses provide both the raw materials for the performance, and the constraints within which it can function (Dimitriadis 2006; Langellier and Peterson 2006). In the poetry intervention, as will be discussed in more detail below, the learners drew on a wide range of cultural texts. The learners' performative power manifested in how they position themselves and others in terms of available discourses. In some instances, a telling can be conservative, re-presenting forms and conventions so as to stabilise social norms. In other instances, a performance is transgressive, defying cultural norms as unheard stories are told and domination resisted. This phenomenon is known as emergence, in which something that was unseen before comes into being (Conquergood 1998). This emergent potential means that performance can be political in the sense that it "ground\s] possibilities for action, agency, and resistance in the liminality of performance as it suspends, questions, plays with, and transforms social and cultural norms" (Langellier and Peterson 2006, 155). Our particular interest, in this article, is the decolonial potential of the intervention as it was performed by the teacher and learners, in the context of the poetry pedagogies that are overwhelmingly common in the South African public education system. By inviting the learners to bring their own compositions into the classroom, Grace opened the kind of liminal space that Langellier and Peterson describe. By explicitly addressing their preconception that "poetry" is only the written poetry prescribed at school, as we discuss further below, she opened the space to the indigenous, in the sense we defined earlier. In this space, the privileged status of written poetic texts in the Western tradition, and the "close-reading" style of analysis, can be destabilised, allowing the option of the indigenous as a real choice for both learners and teacher. The use the learners made of this space forms the findings section of this article.

Before the learners' poems can be examined, the context of their performances and the poetic repertoires at their disposal must be discussed. In keeping with our definition of indigenous, we begin with the local traditions of oral poetry. As Mignolo (2000) points out, historically under colonisation the coevalness of knowledge traditions (their equal ancientness and sophistication) was denied, and colonial regimes of knowledge and utterance were institutionalised through school curricula and practices. The teaching of indigenous voices in the South African poetry classroom begins with local oral traditions of poetry spoken or sung as part of the everyday life of indigenous peoples.


Traditions of Oral Poetry in South Africa

The poetic traditions of precolonial southern Africa, often referred to using the umbrella term "praise poetry", persist into the present in many diverging hybrid forms. As Groenewald puts it, "[i]f the praise poem is Africa's most characteristic form, it has gained this reputation by the sheer diversity of performance situations in which it occurs and its host of diverse types" (2001, 31). Praises can be spoken by men or women (Somniso 2008, 140), at occasions ranging from public gatherings (such as political rallies) and ritual events (such as weddings or initiation ceremonies), to private sexual encounters (Guma 2001, 275; Groenewald 2001, 31-32). They can praise chiefs (in IsiZulu, izibongozamaKhosi), private individuals (such as the dithoko recited by a young Basotho man after his initiation), animals or objects (as when a farmer praises his herd), young people (a mother's praises of her young children, izangelo in IsiZulu) or old ones (Gunner 1979; Gunner and Gwala 1991, 67, 79; Mtshali 1976, 200). In terms of form, all poetry distinguishes itself from other utterances by using language features that are accepted as poetic in a particular community. The features that mark praise poetry are not the rhyme and regular metrical structure that are often synonymous with Western poetry. Praise poetry is highly formulaic, and features repetition, parallelism, and highly figurative language, often with archaic vocabulary or words used only in poetry; as in poetry in other traditions, indirection rather than explicit statement of meaning is highly prized (Gunner 1979, 195; Kaschula 1995, 106). Gesture is important in the poetry's meaning (Gunner 1979, 239). In fact, praises are closely related to song, chant and dance (Gunner and Gwala 1991, 1; Mtshali 1976, 203). It is the function of praise poetry that distinguishes it most clearly from Western poetic traditions. The social practice of praising serves to mediate a person's individual and societal identities and define the individual in relation to the group or the community (McGiffin 2018). Praises in all their varied forms and occasions worked "to individualize, that is, to set the individual apart from all others, to build and maintain his or her austere character and position" (Groenewald 2001, 36), within the shared set of cultural meanings (Mulaudzi 2014, 91). An example of this mediation of the personal and the social is the chief s praise singer, who had a real political role in presenting and enhancing the chief s political image to the people (Groenewald 2001, 38), but also conveyed critique of the chief s actions back to him in a critically important form of "ritual license" to speak back to power. Kai Kresse writes: "Criticizing, as well as praising, is always linked to specific currently valid criteria which are rooted in social knowledge, marking what is laudable and what should be condemned" (1998, 172). The mediating function of praising is broad and complex.

These traditional functions of praise singing have shifted as the social contexts of performers and audiences have changed. Some practices survive in forms similar to precolonial tradition, as when children are taught their clan praises (izithakazelo in IsiZulu) as a form of social and cultural orientation (McGiffin 2018). Praises are also performed at functions such as weddings, funerals and presidential inaugurations, where their function can be mediatory in the traditional sense, but also purely "ceremonial", representing traditional culture as cultural capital and so marking the occasion as significant (Groenewald 2001, 38). Non-traditional forms of praise poetry, such as "worker poetry" performed at trade union gatherings, arose in the twentieth century (Kaschula 1995). Praise poetry certainly fed into the struggle poetry of the apartheid era, in English and other languages; as Kashula argues, the praise poet's role of criticising those in power made protest poetry a familiar genre (1995, 92). Struggle poets often collaborated with or were musicians themselves.

Praise poetry is only one type of poetry with which young people in today's Gauteng classrooms are familiar, to varying degrees. Another important form is found in popular culture, which in South Africa is highly influenced by American and, to a lesser degree, by European trends. In today's globalised world, TV and the Web give South African urban youth access to both whitestream colonial cultures and to what Nopece calls "[W]estern resistance identities and subcultures such as hip hop culture and music" (2018, 210). The learners' negotiations around whether and how they resist both global and local colonial culture are sites where indigenous identities and meanings, particularly in terms of poetry, are performed. The intervention classes taught by Grace aimed to open a space where these negotiations could become visible, and so the pedagogical pathways around indigenous poetry were also discernible.


The Intervention

This intervention is part of a larger study that explores the impact of including indigenous poetry in the English FAL classroom at Grade 11 level. Grace played a dual role, being simultaneously the teacher of the Grade 11 class chosen for the study and the lead researcher. Forty-three (45) learners in a single Grade 11 class participated in the study; they were aged between 16 and 19 years at the time the research was carried out. Their school is situated in Johannesburg South, Gauteng, and draws its 1 200 learners from the multilingual and multicultural township in which it is situated. Most (if not all) of the 11 official languages of South Africa are spoken in this community, but the school only offers three of them at home language level. These are IsiZulu, IsiXhosa and Sesotho for the Grade 11 class selected for this study. The learners take English as FAL (First Additional Language). Poetry is optional for Grade 11 according to CAPS, but the school selects this option. Once the school has opted to teach poetry, they use the poetry anthology that is prescribed by the Gauteng Department of Education, from which a selection of the poems is made by government course curriculum planners and passed on to the school.

The pedagogical intervention took place over five lessons in total, spread over several months. During the intervention, Grace took field notes of her observations. The intervention had three stages:


The learners were given an overview of the intervention and assured that the tasks involved were not summative assessments. Grace then led the learners through an introductory exercise, in which they had to think about their poetry experiences outside school and share their ideas and experiences. The learners at first did not classify izibongo as poetry; they believed that the term applies only to the prescribed poetry they studied in their English classes. They called praise singing "entertainment", explaining that at home it is tradition that at family gatherings someone who is good at clan praises will entertain everyone by performing. When Grace pressed them to explain more about why izibongo are entertaining, the learners cited the performers' use of gestures, which make the performance lively, and the proximity of the izibongo to their lives, their daily successes and challenges. The class consisted of 43 learners from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and Grace allowed them to work individually or in small groups as they chose.

First Round of Presentations: Personal Poetry

Learners then worked independently in their groups, at home or another chosen out-of-school space, to write or select a poem and prepare to present it for the class using the mode/s of their choice (an illustrated text, digital presentation, or live performance with optional artefacts). The learners were also told that they were free to use any language with which they felt comfortable. This freedom given to the learners was intended to support effective teaching and learning by building a culturally supported, learner-centred context, whereby the strengths students bring to school are identified, nurtured, and utilised to promote student achievement (Richards, Brown, and Forde 2007). The learners had four weeks to prepare their presentations. Over the course of two lessons, the groups presented their poems; all the groups, without exception, chose live performance as their mode of presentation. There were no set criteria for the order of presentation.

Second Round of Presentations: Prescribed Poetry

The learners worked in groups (6 groups of 6 learners and one group of 7) and Grace assigned each group one of two poems selected from the prescribed poems. One Western poem and one South African poem were chosen: "Composed upon Westminster Bridge" by William Wordsworth and "The Call" by Gabeba Baderoon. Three groups worked with the Wordsworth sonnet, while four groups worked with the Baderoon poem. The learners had to prepare a multimodal presentation as homework, and then present it as before, over the course of two lessons.



The texts produced by the learners and Grace's field notes and photographs were analysed, focusing on the indigenous poetic forms and practices, and wider constructions of indigenous identity, as performed by the learners. These are the landmarks of future pedagogical pathways that privilege indigenous tradition and expression and thus serve to decolonise classrooms.

Indigenous as Negotiated Performance

The learners' performances were sites of social interaction, in which the learners situated themselves as speakers relative to their immediate audience (teacher and classmates) and to wider implied audiences. The performances give insight into the identities from which and the communities to whom the learners are speaking, that is, the selves they are performing. We argue that the poems reveal some of the negotiations at what De Sousa (2005) calls the "intra" level of culture in terms of indigenous identity and experience.

As will also be discussed in the next section, the praise poetry tradition is present in the learners' repertoire. One boy who performed solo recited a long poem about his grandmother:


She wakes up early in the morning

Before the sun rise[s] to shine to work.

Work that she hates. But does she

Have a choice? No.

She does it for us

To sleep warm, full stomach.

But what do we do?

We don't appreciate.

The saddest part is when

She lost her eyesight.

After school I had to look after her

While other children are playing soccer

The thing I like. But did I

Have a choice? No.

For my grandmother to be happy

And to be taken care of.

I had to focus on my studies

And look after her. Nothing else.

I had to expect more

Than to rest.

One day she told me that

I will be rich

Because I suffered a lot

In my childhood.

The poem is in English, yet is reminiscent of praise poetry in its recounting of the subject's deeds, and its use of parallelism ("But does she / Have a choice? No" and then "But did I / Have a choice? No"). The poem also performs the traditional function of mediating social and individual identity, as the speaker works through his struggle to reconcile his duty to his family and his individual desires.

The boy's poem is a negotiation of indigenous poetic tradition through the lenses of colonial language and contemporary experience of home life in the township. A teacher needs intimate knowledge of such ongoing, daily negotiations, if s/he is to privilege indigenous knowledge and identities in the classroom. Other poetic traditions are clearly evident in the class's performances also. Two groups wrote poems with the simple diction, stanza structure and rhyme characteristic of pop song lyrics. Both these poems expressed motivational messages, with lines such as "Before you see the rainbow / Reach your goals" (group 4) and "Life is an opportunity, benefit from it" (group 6). These poems suggest the strong presence of Western popular culture in the learners' imaginations and identities, contributing both conventional, even trite, imagery and poetic form. Group 6's song is titled "Life", which it describes using highly conventional terms such as "dream", "struggle", and "adventure", but also in places manages to convey a young person's difficulty with understanding the world in language that is simultaneously evocative and inarticulate: "Let yourself be drowned by the strange / Be able to put up with the pain / Push harder than yesterday."

Several individual performances (by 3 boys and 1 girl, respectively) were love poems. This is not surprising, since the participants are at an age to be interested in romantic relationships. The girl who performed a love poem brought as her artefact a bracelet of Zulu beadwork (see Figure 1). Such beads were traditionally used to craft love letters that a young woman would give to a young man if she liked him. Traditionally it was seen as indecent for a young woman to speak her feelings towards a young man, a belief that is still widely held. If the young man returned her feelings, he would ask the young woman what the design with its various shapes and colours meant. In most cases the meaning would be shared only between the two people in the courtship relationship or marriage.



The learner's choice to bring beads to support her performance of a love poem suggests that among some Zulu people the practice is still meaningful. She was able to use an indigenous literacy practice, which employs a traditional multimodal textual form, the beads, to express hidden emotions. In this way, the intervention created an opportunity for indigenous literacies to enter the classroom space as valued knowledge. Yet the meaning and function of these literacies have changed, since the girl presents her beaded bracelet but then also recites a poem in a verbal expression of love that would be unacceptable from a girl in strict tradition. This is an example of the "intra-cultural" negotiations that Menenez de Souza describes.

Another love poem, recited by a boy, provides a further example of these intra-cultural negotiations. His poem depends more obviously on Western popular culture than on traditional practices. It features strong parallelism as is characteristic of izibongo, although also found in Western poetic tradition. The poem reads like the lyrics of a song:

I just close my eyes

Because I might see

Your beautiful face.

I just close my mouth

Because I might talk about you

I close my ear

Because I might hear your beautiful voice

But I can't close my heart

Because I love you.

The speaker is clearly in love, but seems uncertain as to whether his feelings are reciprocated. He wishes to keep his love secret to avoid embarrassment if the beloved does not love him in return. Though the poetic means on which he draws are in the linguistic mode and more clearly influenced by global popular culture, and so are different to the material and visual modes used by the girl with the beads, the social and personal experience they are negotiating, informed by cultural norms, is the same. Such intra-cultural negotiations, which the learners are making unconsciously every day, provide an opportunity for the teacher to guide the class in discussing the value and relevance of indigenous cultural knowledge. Such discussions, although they are a necessary component of any decolonial pedagogy, will not be simple or easy, because they raise the questions of what counts as indigenous and who can decide this. Involving elder members of the local indigenous communities who are indigenous knowledge holders and practitioners is probably necessary, for example in poetry workshops at school and ultimately in developing teaching materials and curriculum policy, to supply the depth of memory the young learners may lack. A decolonial pedagogy can at least ensure that learners engage in their fluid negotiation of indigenous meanings on the cultural interface with some critical awareness.

Indigenous as Political

The freedom the intervention created allowed the learners to move away from the constraints of the prescribed curriculum, and perhaps even ideas of what counts as "poetry". As discussed above, when the liminality of performance comes to the forefront, a personal narrative becomes a "political act" (Langellier and Peterson 2006, 155) in which the speaker tells him/herself as an agent who is capable of action. Several groups of learners, in their performances, situated themselves as active commentators on the difficult conditions of their lives as they play with the poetic discourses available to them. The first group to perform their own poem is an example. This was a group of boys who sang a song of their own composition in two lines:

Ubani onendaba ukhuti kwakusihlwa i phutu noshukela, (Who cares even if we eat thick porridge and sugar for dinner,)

Sivala iminyango nama fasitela akeko umuntu uzosibona ukuthi siyahlupheka. (We close our doors and windows so that no one sees that we are struggling.)

The boys accompanied their singing with a soft beat on a traditional drum (Figure 2) and danced as they sang, moving slowly and coordinating their hand gestures with the rhythm of the song. They composed the song themselves and called it "rap music". Rap is popular with the learners in the school and in the surrounding community, and this song shares the commitment to social commentary that is central to the genre. The boys defiantly name the reality of poverty, which shapes the experience of so many in their community, through a complex tapestry of elements drawn from different poetic traditions. The first line evokes poverty indirectly in the image of an evening meal of maize porridge with sugar or salt in the absence of any meat or relish. The second line of the poem is rooted in local discourses around reputation and shame, since it is an African custom to conceal it when there is trouble in the house. A complex social reality is expressed metaphorically in the image of closing the doors and windows of the home. The boys' use of a drum references the ubiquitous presence of this instrument in traditions across Africa as a means of communication, part of religious and ritual ceremonies and festivities, and as accompaniment to izibongo. The boys drew no specific attention to the drum: it simply meshed with their performance of themselves as makers of song and poetry, while at the same time they obviously did not see any incongruity in simultaneously claiming the identity of "rappers". In their confident mixing of local and global, the boys claim their right to tell of their lives on the cultural interface.



Other groups' performances were more normative in their treatment of political figures, and they also performed their understandings of what poetry is. Three separate groups produced what could be called contemporary izibongozamaKhosi in poems praising former South African president Nelson Mandela. The community around the school was the site of violent anti-government protests during apartheid and, in Grace's experience, the elders of the community still talk about how Mandela personally intervened to restore peace in 1993 when local resident and struggle hero Chris Hani was assassinated. A trio of boys performed their poem in English, using "The Shield", a metaphorical praise name for Mandela, as the title. The two other groups were all female, one of two girls and the other a larger group of eight. Like the first group discussed above, these groups' performances embodied the close relationship between poetry, dance and song in local oral tradition. The larger group first sang a song from the musical Sarafina and then one participant recited their poem while the others hummed in the background. Both groups used movements and gestures as they performed, notably lifting clenched fists in the black power salute that is familiar in South Africa's political history. The girls in the larger group drew a picture of Mandela in which he also raises his fist in the salute. Written above his head is the traditional call Amandla (Power); with the gesture both in the image and in the performed poem, this call immediately evokes the traditional response, Ngawethu (It is ours), and so casts the viewer of the girls' multimedia performance in the role of co-performer.

These poems, in their subject matter, form, and the gestures accompanying them, draw in more straightforwardly recognisable ways on praise-poetry traditions of political commentary and identity building. Both these praise poems and the "rap" song that preceded them, however, demonstrate an indigenous identity that is concerned with the power dynamics that define indigenous lifeworlds in South Africa: one speaks against the unequal socio-economic structures inherited from colonisation and apartheid, and the others perform the memory of a moment when unequal power structures seemed to shift. A concern with the political is a necessary element of any indigenous pedagogy, since in the logic of our understanding of indigeneity, such a pedagogy is always also committed to decolonisation. This political engagement is easier in South African classes such as Grace's, since such engagement is already integral to the praise-poetry tradition, on which teacher and learners can build together.

Indigenous as Embodied

All the poems, without exception, used a direct voice rather than creating a persona or telling a story. Langellier and Peterson emphasise that performance implies embodiment, in that the learners reproduce in their embodied performances, and on their own terms, the other genres and poetry texts they have heard (2006). This embodiment, in which the learners' voice sounds freely in the classroom, is in striking contrast with the kinds of poetry classes often observed in South African classrooms, where the written text of a canonical poem remains an inert object to be parsed by the teacher while the learners, taking notes, remain silent and invisible. After the first two intervention lessons, there were already some noticeable changes in the way learners received poetry. They started reciting poems daily before the beginning of a lesson. This joy was definitely emergent from the performative nature of the intervention classes. The prescribed poems, which were authoritative because they are required in the curriculum and because of their importance in the final assessments, were pushed aside for the moment. As Dimitriadis says, "decentering texts through the performative became a key way to open up new spaces for interrogating their roles and functions" (2006, 301). This decentering is an opportunity, again, for critical decolonial pedagogy.

It is a truism that learners respond better to poems that reflect lifeworlds with which they are familiar. Understanding the dynamics of the engagement, so that it can be more actively fostered and guided towards the indigenous, is more difficult. The second stage of the intervention, in which learners chose how to present a prescribed poem, suggests some answers. Once again, all the groups chose performance as their mode of presentation. The poem "The Call" (Baderoon 2005) addresses migration, a reality with which the learners are familiar. The speaker describes receiving a phone call from her mother far away in her home country. The learners responded to this poem in performances that depended on embodiment in different ways. First, one group dramatised the poem. Three group members took the parts of the mother, the daughter and the flatmate, and the three others acted as spectators. The actors used gestures and facial expressions with great intensity to convey the fraught emotional situation and the words remaining unsaid between mother and daughter. One of the girls presented with tears rolling down her cheeks. The rest of the class watched in a silence that spoke eloquently of the emotion raised by the performance. This reverberates with Lazar's assertion (1993) that poetry can stimulate the imagination of learners and increase their emotional awareness. By embodying the poem, drawing the gestures and looks needed to bring the words to life in the classroom, the learners translated the poem into meanings drawn from the repertoire of their lifeworlds. In this way they took a poem in English and found its resonance with their local, indigenous experience.

Another group did this transculturation even more richly. They began their presentation by singing a well-known song that mixes languages, titled "Here Come Our Mothers". The song was originally sung by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and has also been widely publicised by the world music artist Daria. The presenters danced excitedly while chanting "Ngcibo" in IsiZulu: a nonce phrase that intensifies the meaning of surrounding words:

Here come our mothers bringing us presents

Ngcibo! Ngcibo! Nampayanomame! / (Sesotho: Nice treats/small gifts from mommy)

We can see apples, we can see bananas

Ngcibo! Ngcibo! Nampayanomame!

We can see cookies, we can see sweet things

Ngcibo! Ngcibo! Nampayanomame!

The whole class joined in the singing. After the song, two group members recited "The Call", while the others hummed in the background. The song about mothers, a familiar text, acted as a bridge to the prescribed poem. The learners created a genre somewhere between poetry and song and opened a shared space that was both intertextual and intermodal, in which they and their classmates could explore the meaning of the poem empathetically. The group then presented the poem translated into IsiZulu (see Figure 3).



This is an example of translanguaging, which Canagarajah (2011) and Makalela (2015) define as a shuttling between languages with learners using their home languages to understand the additional language content. Learners became innovative and extra careful, as they had to come up with words that could help them not to distort the original meaning of the poem. Their linguistic competence in their home language became a resource to help them in their creative decisions in crafting their translations. Grace's acceptance of multilingualism in the English FAL classroom enabled learners to realise that English is just a language like any of the languages they speak, which is the beginning of a freedom to critique linguistic coloniality.

Though the learners did show some enthusiasm for "The Call", they were not as free as when they presented their own poems, and this restriction was even more apparent with Wordsworth's "Composed upon Westminster Bridge". As had been the case with "The Call", the learners depended strongly on information discussed by Grace in class before preparing their performances. One group brought pictures of the real bridge that they showed the class, and this seemed to help the class, who all nodded their heads to show some understanding of the poem. Then the group played a video they had found on YouTube of the poem set to music and accompanied by visuals (Darling 2016). The whole class was excited and started dancing to the song, although it was not clear whether they were enjoying the poem or the music. The use of multiple modes, which the learners accessed on the internet using their phones, did seem to help them make meaning without the teacher's interference. But at the end of the presentations, the whole class started singing "Here Come Our Mothers" again; they seemed eager to return to familiar forms of poetry. Learners interacted with the two prescribed poems in different ways from the way they performed their own poems. With the prescribed poems, learners were trying to be more formal and conservative, but with their own poems, they were innovative and showed that they were in control of the information.

The contrast with the effortlessness of the learners' engagement with multimodal, embodied poetry, whether performing or interpreting it, suggests what Tuck and Yang (2012) call the incommensurability of decolonisation and the Western liberal tradition. When the learners' experience of poetry at school and their assessment depend on poems that are so foreign, as revealed in their struggle to perform them, they have to try to speak in a voice that is not theirs, that is colonial. There is a fundamental discord between the body speaking and the voice it is trying to speak in. A pedagogy that brings forward the indigenous should ultimately strive towards decolonising the curriculum, as well as classroom practice.

Indigenous as "Africanness"

The learners seemed aware of indigenous identity as rooted in the land. Two of the learners' poems were concerned with negotiating their identities as "African" and "South African". One group of boys presented a call and response poem titled "Africa", and as their artefact the participants had the South African flag (see Figure 4).



The text of the poem allows insight into these learners' sense of a communal identity, which lies somewhere between an indigenous rootedness to the land and a sense of Westernised national identity:

Africa you are so beautiful

You even have a flag

That represent[s]you, in my own understanding ...

Red stands for landmarks

Black stands for buildings

Blue stands for water

White stands for purity

Green stands for green plants and ...

Yellow stands for sunrise

The colours of the flag represent the logos of the three major political groups (the African National Congress, Inkatha Freedom Party and National Party) who came together to form the Government of National Unity in 1994. The participants reinterpret the flag, rooting their sense of South Africanness in the physical and natural world. Their creative freedom suggests a sense of identity that is more amorphous than allegiance to a particular party, or even a particular country, since they conflate Africa and South Africa in their poem. They invoke the land, but in terms that do not bring out any characteristic features that make the South African landscape unique. Many precolonial indigenous knowledge systems are relational in the sense that they emphasise "relationships between all life forms that exist within the natural world" (Kovach 2009, 34), and perhaps the boys' poem suggests a network of relationships that include history (the troubled "red" of the "landmarks"), the human world ("buildings") and nature (the "yellow" and "green"). The place of human beings in this network is not clear, however, and the speakers do not claim indigenous ownership of land, and all that implies in Tuck and Yang's sense. Their conception of indigeneity in these terms remains vestigial.

The second poem, titled "I Am an African", was performed by two girls, who sat cross-legged on a traditional reed mat (see Figure 5). Across southern Africa, mats often function as sitting places, especially for women and children in the home, and used to be used as beds. Izangoma (traditional healers) often sit on such mats during consultations.



This group' s multimodal performance using the mat suggests a more active negotiation of indigenous identity than the previous example, as they claim and embody an "African" identity characterised by objects and practices drawn from precolonial tradition. They claim this identity joyfully, ending their poem with the line "I am proud to say I am an African". The girls seem to be purposefully situating themselves as indigenous in the sense developed by Tuhiwai Smith, since their artefact is deliberately non-Western. Like the boys' group who performed before them, these learners seem aware of widely prevalent Pan-African discourses, which locate a "consciousness of belonging to Africa" in "collective historical experiences and memories of marginalization and socio-cultural and racial affinities" (Adogamhe 2008, 10). How the claims of different indigenous epistemologies and cosmologies on the vast African continent can be reconciled with such discourses is not clear, and would have to be negotiated in any indigenous pedagogy.

The Ethics of Pedagogy on the Cultural Interface

A performance pedagogy places the teacher, whether of indigenous or settler heritage/s, in a risky space, imbued with more fluidity than they may be accustomed to. In a classroom, the teacher is conventionally seen as more knowledgeable and has authority to guide the lessons. However, in Grace's classroom, she opened the classroom to learners' knowledge and experiences: in other words, she destabilised the traditional role of the teacher (Dimitriadis 2006) and took a risk that opened the Western, colonial curriculum and classroom dynamics to decolonial knowledge-making. This risk-taking had a complex effect on Grace as a teacher. First, her experience of the intervention highlighted the stress caused by the incommensurability of the poetry curriculum and the learners' lifeworlds. During the intervention, she found classroom management much easier, as the learners' motivation was high because they loved what they were doing. As a teacher in a highly stressful environment in the public education system, Grace found these poetry classes profoundly refreshing. The learners also experienced the curriculum as constraining; after the intervention, they insisted on performing at least one poem at the beginning of every English FAL lesson, which meant Grace had to sacrifice other classroom activities while still following the Annual Teaching Plan to ensure that learners were well-prepared for assessments.

Second, privileging the indigenous requires personal decolonial work for the teacher, whose positionality becomes significant: as a teacher of Zimbabwean Shona heritage, Grace became more aware of her cultural and linguistic repertoire and her own negotiations as an indigenous person. Occupying the role of adult and teacher in a class of young learners, she could not avoid having power over their performances, her ability to meet their poems with a "so what?" (Langellier and Peterson 2006, 159). Any indigenous pedagogy requires that the teacher be extremely aware of his/her power to decide what counts as indigenous in the classroom, which is a great ethical responsibility. All too often, in English classes in South African schools, the learners have experienced the epistemic violence of their indigenous cultures being silenced. If the teacher does not recognise or validate their stories, this can lead to further trauma and further silencing of the learners (Wissman and Wiseman 2011). The teacher's role is to accompany and guide the class as they make the negotiations between ongoing precolonial heritage on the one hand and global Westernised culture on the other: the teacher must maintain his/her self-awareness as s/he continually makes these negotiations.



Growing into an indigenous poetry pedagogy, which is necessarily a decolonial pedagogy, is an ongoing process for any teacher. It is also a pathway that is not clearly marked, because indigenous meanings and identities are under continual evolution. Our findings suggest the continued resilience of the praise poetry tradition in the learners' poetic repertoires, but also the strong presence of popular culture, and a way has to be plotted between them if ongoing indigenous poetic traditions are to survive. The first salient landmark on the pathway is the paradoxical role of the teacher, whose ethical commitment to bringing forward indigenous poetry, practices and identities cannot flag, even while his/her authoritative role must be abandoned to allow the learners' indigeneity its ongoing emergence in the classroom. At the same time, the learners' increased engagement and joy in poetry classes can support and rejuvenate the teacher's efforts. Going forward, the teacher could use similarities between izibongo and some forms in prescribed Western poems to help learners understand what other poets are doing when they write. The second guiding landmark is the decolonial political commitment that goes with any effort to bring forward the indigenous. Valuing and promoting indigenous poetry in the classroom must be accompanied by critique of the ongoing inequalities caused by coloniality, whether in the English FAL curriculum, the education system or the country more broadly.



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"That's Schoolified!" How Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment Shape the Educational Potential of Poetry in Subject English for Black High School Learners



Adam Cooper

Human Sciences Research Council and Stellenbosch University, South Africa.;




This article explores the teaching of English poetry in two Gauteng high schools, one a suburban, former Model C school and another in Soweto. Both schools are attended predominantly by Black learners for whom English is not their first language. Nine in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with educators at the two schools. The choice of poems, pedagogy and assessment emerged as important themes in making poetry relevant and educational in South African schools. Writers from similar backgrounds, with common "race" or class-based identities, helped make poetry relevant, but were no guarantee that learners would relate to these poets. Teaching poetry was described as an intimidating experience both for learners and educators, resulting in many teachers retreating to the safe space of a defined set of teaching practices focused on figures of speech, literary devices and a line-byline analysis of the poems. While some intentions existed to teach poetry in a way that encouraged a range of interpretations and possible answers to assessment questions, the standardised matric examination shaped pedagogical practices, as educators wanted to support learners to excel. These findings are interpreted in a post/decolonial context where a range of disparate "Englishes", identities, learners and histories exist, and neoliberal education policies and practices increasingly standardise assessment processes, with implications for the teaching and learning of poetry.

Keywords: poetry; curriculum; poetry teaching; poetry curriculum; South African schools



Language is a tool for thought and communication. It is also a cultural and aesthetic means commonly shared among a people to make better sense of the world they live in. Learning to use language effectively enables learners to acquire knowledge, to express their identity, feelings and ideas, to interact with others ... . It also provides learners with a rich, powerful and deeply rooted set of images and ideas that can be used to make their world other than it is. (Department of Basic Education [DBE] 2011, 8)



The Educational Potential of Poetry

The epigraph is taken from the South African Department of Basic Education's Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS). It outlines the purposes of language education for secondary school learners, including sharpening their thinking and improving communication. Languages can expose learners to new ideas, expanding their worlds, inducting them into cultural and aesthetic forms that are shared among groups, including their own social groups, and in the process helping them to express their identities. The CAPS proceeds:

The main reason for reading literature in the classroom is to develop in learners a sensitivity to a special use of language that is more refined, literary, figurative, symbolic, and deeply meaningful ... . [It is] an added method of revealing, reinforcing, and highlighting their ideas. (DBE 2011, 10)

Literature is intended to expose learners to creative techniques used to enhance the ways in which ideas are shared. In this article I engage with the inclusion of one literary form-poetry-exploring how it may contribute to the objectives outlined in the CAPS statement. Research was conducted with educators at two high schools in Johannesburg: one a suburban former Model C2 school and another in Soweto, Johannesburg's largest township. There were no white learners at either school. Nine in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with educators: five at the former Model C school and four at the township school. All the educators interviewed at the former Model C school were white. Each school's English department contained eight educators in total, meaning that approximately half the English educators at the two schools participated in the study. The research with educators explored the following question: How do the curriculum, pedagogy and assessment practices shape the educational potential of poetry in subject English for Black high school learners in Johannesburg?

By "educational potential" I mean the capacity to aid the processes mentioned in the CAPS: to sharpen thinking and the ability to articulate and communicate ideas effectively, as well as to induct learners into cultural and aesthetic forms shared among groups, including their own social groups. Poetry should help to build learners' identities and help them learn about others. International and South African research on teaching poetry at schools has shown that the educational potential of poetry is not always realised.

International and South African Research on Teaching Poetry

Some international research on teaching poetry found it a difficult and alienating literary form, while other work suggests that it can helpfully bridge learners' everyday and school worlds and foster their cognitive and emotional development (Benton 1999; Doug 2011; Dykmore 2012; Linaberger 2005; Wilson 2013). In terms of negative findings, poetry's language, diction and imagery have been experienced as unfamiliar and intimidating (Benton 1984). Educators describe insecurities around analysing and interpreting poetry (Benton 1999; Linaberger 2005). Poetry is often seen as elitist; British educators reported that students complained that poetry was "posh" (Doug 2011). These class-based divisions could be even more pronounced in South Africa, where class intersects with "race", meaning that English poetry could be culturally unfamiliar and alienating.

Other research has found that educators endorse poetry as important, with its educational potential linked to emotional resonance and real-life topics. Educators in some studies said poetry was relevant to life, and that it allowed students to engage through emotional responses, rather than pure rationality (Benton 1999; Wilson 2013). Poetry catalyses imaginative inquiry, cross-pollinating more rational and scientific school subjects and tasks (Young 2016). Poetry enables personal and emotional links with poems, an unusual interaction between students and the texts they generally encounter in classrooms (Doug 2011). Poetry also encourages forms of multimodal learning, combining the written word, audible voice and bodily movement (Archer and Newfield 2014; Simecek and Rumbold 2016). It has the potential to enhance both students' classroom based and real-life literacies (Dykmoke 2012). The educational potential of poetry is therefore linked to its ability to connect with learners' emotions, as well as their lives outside the classroom. The traumatic experiences that many Black South African learners face in relation to a violent society plagued by poverty and inequality may result in poetry being an important cathartic outlet. Poetry could provide a medium through which students make sense of their daily lives, in the context of a divided and confusingly fractured society, resulting in its fertile educational potential.

While little research has been conducted on poetry teaching in South African classrooms, some work indicates that poetry may hold potential if it draws on existing cultural forms, such as praise poetry and popular culture, for example hip hop (Cooper 2016; Newfield and D'Abdon 2015; Newfield and Maungedzo 2006). Promoting multimodality is important in this regard, which means not privileging written forms over oral, visual, bodily or other forms of meaning-making. Engaging with poetry outside South African classrooms has demonstrated rich potential for learning, with multimodal classroom poetry producing similar results (Newfield and Maungedzo 2006).

Some research finds poetry to be alienating, unfamiliar and irrelevant, yet other studies indicate the opposite: that poetry may catalyse connections to learners' lives outside the classroom and tap into their emotional worlds. These paradoxical findings indicate that it may be the curriculum and pedagogy-the poems chosen and the ways they are taught-that determine the educational potential of poetry.

Culturally Relevant Pedagogy

While English poetry may be alienating because it is not taught in the mother tongue of the majority of South African learners, research on Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (CRP) hints that English poetry may still have educational potential for Black South African learners. Poetry has the ability to make links with learners' everyday lifeworlds, a central focus of research on CRP. Under the banner of CRP or asset-based pedagogies, research in the United States of America has shown that meaningful classroom learning and improved academic outcomes can be attained by resonating with students' funds of knowledge (Moll et al. 1992): their cultural resources, values, worldviews and experiences. This approach refutes marginalised students' cultural resources as deficient or a hindrance to learning (Gonzalez and Moll 2002; Lee 2007; Moll et al. 1992). Instead, links between students' out of school resources and discipline-specific school learning are encouraged in efforts to enhance the education of marginalised and minority youth (Ladson-Billings 1995; Lee 2007; Moll et al. 1992). CRP aspires to integrate the values, practices and experiences of marginalised groups into the pedagogical process, drawing connections between reference points that students bring to classrooms and the knowledges and practices that they encounter at school (Moll et al. 1992; Ladson-Billings 2009). This has been shown to improve their self-esteem, interest in academic work and relationships with educators (Gay 2000; Howard 2001; Leonard and Hill 2008). Common themes in poems, such as apartheid, as well as the origins of the poets and the contexts they write about, have close connections to the real lifeworlds of Black South African learners, implying that teaching poetry may be highly relevant and beneficial.

Exploring forms of CRP through poetry could be a timely intervention in South Africa, as poetry teaching has shown rich promise for Africanising and decolonising curricula, which is sorely needed (D'Abdon 2016). Nationwide student protests at South African universities in 2015 and 2016 critiqued the colonial, irrelevant nature of university curricula. Black students felt that universities remain dominated by lingering colonial practices and knowledges, resulting in alienating and uncomfortable educational experiences. The protests have sparked research in multiple academic disciplines into what it means and takes to "decolonise" a curriculum. These protests raise the question of whether high school curricula, pedagogies and institutions are similarly plagued by forms of coloniality. While poetry may be considered a foreign genre with colonial connotations, linked to its classic forms as practised in Europe, a large body of local poetry exists, including poems by Black South Africans, indicating that it could be used to decolonise curricula.

South African poetry could be considered a form of indigenous knowledge with rich educational potential. This notion of indigeneity links knowledge forms and practices to the places where they are produced, rather than advocating for a form of essentialism. African poetry as indigenous knowledge is place-based and Africa-centred, historically forged but fluid and changing (D'Abdon et al. forthcoming). Poetry as indigenous knowledge draws on a range of linguistic and stylistic traditions and choices, with both local and global connections (D'Abdon et al. forthcoming). As a body of work, South African poetry is forged in the settler-colonial, apartheid and post-apartheid experiences, calcifying droplets of knowledge through poetry, a living archive of these interactions (D'Abdon et al. forthcoming). Here I explore the relationship between poetry, place and notions of indigeneity, asking how learners' perceptions of poems, poets and place shape what and how they learn from poetry.

To sum up, poetry holds rich educational potential to connect with learners' everyday lives in meaningful ways and to engage them by transcending purely rational and cognitive forms of inquiry, delving into emotional domains through multimodal methods of teaching and learning. This is particularly relevant in a society with traumatic circumstances and histories, such as South Africa. Despite this fertile potential, some research has found that educators struggle to teach poetry and learners experience it as elitist, unfamiliar and alienating. Connections between poetry and forms of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy highlight the potential to link learners' lifeworlds to the classroom, simultaneously prioritising their academic success and socio-political consciousness. This may be particularly useful in South Africa, where university students have recently dismissed curricula and teaching as underpinned by colonialism, rather than familiar cultural reference points. I explore how this may be achieved by delving into poetry curricula choices as well as educators' teaching and assessment practices in two high schools in Johannesburg.


Producing Poetic Data: Research Contexts, Interviews with Educators and Analysis

As mentioned, the research formed part of a broader project led by the South African Poetry Project (ZAPP), a collective of poetry practitioners, scholars and educators. Some educators have been drawn into the ZAPP network through their postgraduate studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, where they met academics involved in the network. A group of these educators, along with poets and academics, attend ZAPP meetings. During one of these meetings, educators from two schools volunteered their schools as research sites. The educators then introduced the research team to school management and staff and facilitated interviews with their colleagues in the English departments, as well as interactions with learners who were participating in extracurricular poetry activities.

The large, former Model C school is located in a suburb approximately 20km from central Johannesburg. It had an all-white student body in 1994, but is now attended exclusively by Black students. The Soweto school is also located approximately 20km from central Johannesburg and is attended mainly by isiXhosa-speaking and, to a lesser extent, SeSotho-speaking learners. While few of the learners at either school came from English-speaking households, learners at the former Model C school had greater English resources at their disposal and were more affluent, relatively speaking, than learners who attended the school in Soweto.

The research project was described to educators at the two schools at an English department meeting and educators were then requested to volunteer if they were prepared to participate in an individual interview. The nine in-depth, semi-structured interviews took place in empty classrooms after school, lasting approximately one hour each. Interviews were fairly open-ended, allowing the participants to interpret the questions on their own terms (Burman 1994). An interview schedule was roughly followed, probing a range of areas related to the teaching of poetry in classrooms. Interview questions explored where they have studied, heard and read poetry (inside and outside formal tuition spaces), which poems they find rewarding, challenging or unpleasant to teach, their aims, experiences and methods in teaching poetry and which poems they believe students enjoy the most.

The interviews were transcribed in full and a thematic analysis was conducted, identifying key themes in the transcripts, guided by Braun and Clarke's (2012) approach. This involved becoming familiar with the dataset as a whole and an initial generation of codes, used as the basis for identifying key themes. Interpretations were then made, assessing the relevance of these themes in relation to the dataset as a whole, the research question and contexts (Braun and Clarke 2012). A descriptive account of the findings was produced, with the key themes of the curriculum, teaching methods and assessment standing out from the initial analysis. These themes were then interpreted using relevant theoretical and analytical concepts and frameworks. The research project was approved by the ethics committee of the relevant institution and the confidentiality of all participants was maintained.


Findings from the Research

Theme 1: "The Moment There Is Something They Can Relate to It Opens up the Conversation": Curriculum Choices and the Relevance of Poetry

The first issue that shaped whether poetry resonated with learners at both schools was the difficulty of the language contained in the poems. An educator at the township school said:

It's a language issue. Low English. Most of the poems in the syllabus, yoh they're hard; they completely turn them off poetry, which is terrible. Kids with higher English do well. Even them, if you not thinking, writing, being creative in English every day, even English first language kids are turned off ... . [It's a] way of thinking and expressing they're not familiar with ... . If it's clearly a love poem or a self-affirmation poem that's the genre and the language is clear, then kids can really connect with that.

As this educator explained, even mother tongue English-speaking learners regularly struggle with language used in poetry, so non-native speakers are not likely to be enticed to explore these cultural artefacts and students at township schools really battle to understand the poetry set in the curriculum. Not only is the vocabulary often difficult, poetry contains a "way of thinking and expressing" that is unfamiliar to township learners. Educators at the former Model C school expressed similar sentiments:

"Eating poetry" [a poem by Mark Strand], they don't have a flipping clue. It's on a different level. They don't relate to it. "London" by William Wordsworth goes right over their heads. Not relevant to our learners. So you spend the entire hour explaining content to them and never get to that point where you can actually enjoy poetry. I actually think we should incorporate some of their musicians.

The language used, the genre of poetry, the poets and their contexts, such as Wordsworth in London, contribute to learners' inability to "relate" to the poem. Educators spend the vast majority of their time explaining what individual words mean and providing learners with information on the cultural context, inhibiting pleasure in poetry. This educator indicated that connecting with learners' cultural resources, "their musicians", may help to alleviate this discord. The concept of relevance appeared regularly in the interviews. One educator described relevance as follows:

I would have poetry that deals with issues more relevant to young people; they respond to those poems better. It comes back to their frame of reference. . But we cannot just expose them to that. I suppose that's why we still do Shakespeare. ... I would keep the mixture of poetry but would change the balance. More South African and African writers and poetry. They respond so much better. So much more participation and questions.

This educator grappled with the issue of relevance, explaining that the poetry curriculum should address familiar topics, but that learners also need to be exposed to issues that may be beyond their immediate reference points. Her mention of Shakespeare is probably due to the assumption that he engages with universal and timeless themes such as love, justice and betrayal. In the interview she realised through reflection that the same themes can be found in African texts and that these local texts are less difficult for learners to comprehend than Shakespeare. She concluded that a balance of local and international authors should be included in the curriculum and that the weighting is currently skewed in favour of authors from elsewhere. Her experiences of teaching African and South African poetry led to her view that students relate better to local poetry, with increased participation and greater willingness to engage in dialogue through questions. Relevance is therefore both related to individual poems connecting with the challenges learners face, as well as a broader issue related to the composition of the curriculum as a whole and the overall flavour of its content. She highlighted that relevance requires both familiar authors and topics, but also new ideas. Relevance was often complicated:

For poetry to be interesting they need to read poets from similar backgrounds to them. Role models in their types of communities. [But] just to say we need more African poets or more Black poets, it's not getting to the complexity of the issue. Cause you bring like Koleka Putuma poem and it's amazing ... that type of poet, like Model C school bam nails it, but here that English level and way of speaking and even some of the issues, they're not the same issues, they may be connected ... but just because a person's Black and has a history of being oppressed by white people, it doesn't mean that people are experiencing that in the same way.

This township school educator explained that poets who originate from similar backgrounds to learners help to promote poetry and make poetry relevant. However, prominent poets who grew up in the townships usually progress in their education beyond the levels reached by most township children; their knowledge of English develops exponentially and they are exposed to new contexts due to their professional success. Simply matching township schools with poets who began life in the township is therefore no guarantee that learners will relate to the work these poets ultimately produce. This educator therefore felt that, as these poets become more middle class and cosmopolitan, their work is more likely to resonate with learners at former Model C schools. Township learners will not necessarily relate to their poetry, even if they share a "racial identity".

Further insights into poetry's relevance are illuminated by one poem that educators believed learners loved and another that they felt learners disliked intensely:

I did a poem by Lebo Mashile "Tomorrow's Daughters" ... that thing. We spent 4 periods; we were meant to spend two. I try to have flexibility when it' s touching the kids. The moment there is something they can relate to it opens up the conversation. A lot of the SA poems they get it, but like the English poets, we have to do sonnets, they are tested on the Italian and the Shakespearian sonnets and that kind of poetry they battle with. I also have to research those poems a lot. I teach African and South African; we teach Achebe. I relate better to that kind of poetry, so I teach it better.

Lebo Mashile's "Tomorrow's Daughters" was described by three of the five educators at the former Model C school as a poem that formed part of the curriculum and excited learners. Unlike Shakespearean sonnets, "the language, the concepts, the ideas, the themes" of this poem are accessible to learners. It also offers a rich reservoir of meaning in terms of the themes alluded to in its figurative language, its politics and cross-references to other poets. The educator mentioned Achebe as another author whom she enjoyed teaching, illustrating the relevance of African authors in these South African classrooms.

The choice of poems also needs to be considered in relation to the curriculum as a body of work:

Next year I'm in charge of Grade 10 so I'll do it a bit differently. Because of the poems that were chosen, it's either political or extremely depressing. Whereas when they choose something by Keats, Byron, Wordsworth, they go for something about love, nature. Which I think does both of them an injustice, I don't think it gives a complete or nutshell picture.

Caricaturing African and South African poetry as only engaging with politics, while Western poetry addresses the themes of beauty, nature and love, misrepresents the entirety of these bodies of work. It also problematically insinuates that while Western poets deal with universal themes of nature, love and beauty, Africans only engage with local political conflicts such as apartheid.

There was evidence that educators found international poems that could stimulate "relevance":

Interviewer: Can you name a difficult poem to teach?

Interviewee: "London, 1802." He writes about Milton and I really struggled to get them to turn on because it was so removed from their political culture. Removed from their time. ... Then we did "Next, Please", but they responded to it better because the abstract theme in it was something they could identify with. The language in "London" was high but that wasn't the problem and they didn't do too badly on it in the test, they just studied the poem like a parrot. . I wish I could have done something with them that was a bit more relevant. And by relevant I don't mean more modern or even South African necessarily, just relevant to them.

Poetic relevance is not necessarily tied to place of origin or the identity of the author. This educator explained that Larkin's "Next, Please" was popular among the learners because they could relate to the universal theme and the language was accessible. However, Wordsworth's "London, 1802" required a great deal of contextualisation in terms of the changing values the poet felt were being eroded with the emergence of industrial society. The context in which that poem was written and the themes that it spoke to had little connection to Black high school learners in post-apartheid South Africa. Another difficult issue that further complicates the teaching of poetry, explored more substantially in the next section, is that good teaching takes time. The issue of morals and values is timeless, but to make "London, 1802" relevant would require detailed history lessons and an understanding of the poet's context. In this sense "relating to their own lives" is not simply about the themes being the same, such as morality, but the ways in which these themes play out in their particular historical context. The fact that "Next, Please" by Larkin was relevant to learners implies that relevance is not only about place or the origins of the poet, but is also linked to the pedagogy used and how educators help learners to find relevance as they navigate the distance between their own time and place and that of the poet.

Relevance was a complex issue related both to individual poems and to the corpus of poetry that was presented to learners as a whole. The accessibility of the language clearly impacted on relevance, as second- or third-language speakers not comprehending the vocabulary of the poem resulted in alienation. Writers from similar backgrounds, with common "race"-based or class-based identities, helped make the poetry relevant, but were no guarantees that learners would relate to these poets: the poets may have left the township, or may no longer focus on its cultural reference points. Educators were aware that African and South African poetry was more likely to resonate with learners, but stressed that it was good for them to experience other cultures and perspectives. Educators were reticent to perpetuate stereotypes of Western poetry dealing with universal issues and African poetry only addressing politics. It became clear in the research that relevance was not related to curriculum choices alone, but was forged in the relationship between curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.

Theme 2: Grasping at Figures of Speech: Poetry Pedagogy

Most of the participant educators said that they used a structured process to teach poetry, including a focus on poetic devices and figures of speech, as well as line-by-line analysis. One educator explained:

If they don't know figures of speech it's going to be difficult for them to engage ... . Poetic devices and figures of speech we do at Grade 8. So as they reach Grade 12 it's easier to understand. Then we go to the lines in the poem; what is the implication, what is the message, what is the poet trying to teach us. Then the learners get interest cause they compare it to their life situation. Cause once they get interested it's easier. But if you make it difficult, they won't like poetry.

Difficult vocabulary and an alien literary and cultural form led this educator to believe that breaking the process down into a number of constituent parts can enable learners to understand poetry better, generating interest. He stated that this method prepares learners for a high school experience in which poetry is an annual event, meaning that poetic devices and figures of speech provide scaffolding that can be reused and built upon as learners progress in their secondary schooling. Other educators stated that the use of these devices was for the benefit of the educators, rather than the learners:

I find it easier to teach those kinds of structures in that poetry. They're easier for teaching. That's what I feel.

Another educator agreed that the use of this highly structured teaching style helped with her insecurity around teaching poetry:

They have to number their lines. I read through the poem or one of them reads through it first. Then we'll do the structure of the poem, what is the line structure what is the stanza structure. We have a little structure bubble. Some of them come to class with their numbered lines and little structure bubbles. We discuss the vocabulary. Then we do a line-by-line breakdown. Line 1 what figures of speech, literary techniques. Then I ask them so what do you guys think this poem is about, but we don't discuss it in too much depth. I think I'm a bit insecure of teaching, I didn't do a 4-year B.Ed. So I constantly check with other educators and kids.

One of the difficulties of teaching poetry is that it is an interpretive, fairly abstract literary form, without a linear format and a singular, clear piece of knowledge that can easily be conveyed to learners. This means that the educator easily loses control of the pedagogical process in poetry teaching: they are unaccustomed to teaching this genre and it provokes anxiety. This is particularly the case for educators who feel they have not had adequate training, such as the educator above. One way of countering this insecurity is to construct a structured method for teaching poetry, a set of practices that can easily be replicated and repeated and which ensures that, at a minimum, the learners leave with a set of notes that provide evidence that teaching has taken place. Learners' written work can be used to demonstrate to school management and education department personnel that the educator is performing efficiently.

One of the problems with this approach is that poetry becomes characterised by attempts to identify correctly whether a figure of speech is, for example, a metaphor or a simile, rather than a focus on interpreting the meaning of the poem. An educator said:

I show them that our perceptions of the poem will be different and also the different figures of speech might be different ... for example the same line could be personification, can be metaphor, or hyperbole and all of us are right. So the whole point of that is that I want us to approach the poem from our own perspective and we must try analyse it. ... I'll ask them to pick up that metaphor but there will always be a child who picks up the personification so we'll have that discussion and as long as they can justify it then I welcome conflicting views.

While the educator above does indicate that she encourages different interpretations of the poem, her description indicates that the lesson centres on interpretations of the figures of speech. The purpose of the poem, the intentions of the poet and the ways in which he or she uses these devices become peripheral to the exercise; the priority shifts to breaking the poem down into its constituent parts, so that it becomes manageable and "teachable". The focus is transferred to the parts-in this case the figures of speech- rather than the meaning of the whole poem, with the primary concern being to identify and classify these correctly. Rather than using the figures of speech to help understand the poem, the figures of speech become the focus of concern in and of themselves. Poetry becomes a technical exercise to identify forms of language, rather than fulfil the aims of the CAPS, which state that poetry should aim to develop learners' identities, learners should learn about others and be exposed to new ways of expressing their ideas. One educator expressed his frustration with this state of affairs:

Interviewee: Using poems to explain figures of speech . is not a poem. It's a tickable term that's going to be tested in the exam. Who the hell writes a poem for great examples of metaphors? The way we study in a very theoretical, disconnected nature in school and make it a real thing. Poetry is an artistic expression, is a social behaviour, social event. It is a social practice, it's creative.

Interviewer: Why is it that way in school?

Interviewee: Because of the way the education system is in a long history that comes from a different tradition of poetry really. Or a tradition that favoured the written poetry as opposed to performed poetry. At some point people decided . English educators in schools decided that poetry was a good thing to have in it. But so few of those people have ever been exposed or interested in real poetry, or been to poetry recitals or heard poets speak. So they don't know actually poetry is that. You'll often hear teachers say we need to know the figures of speech. That's like you make a system into it. That's schoolified. School needs to take things in the world and like make points on them. . The irony is you just learn the constituent parts, but you don't put them into the whole again.

Part of this participant's frustration with teaching poetry at school is that what he calls "a real thing"-an active event or process-becomes transformed and divorced from its original context. In the process poetry changes from something that is alive- performed, and embodied-to dead words on a page. The reasons for "killing" poetry in this way are multiple, including some already alluded to, such as breaking poetry up into parts and focusing on specific devices that help to interpret lines of the poem, but not necessarily understand its overall meaning. Through this process, poetry teaching is based on strategies to pass tests, rather than, in line with the ambitions of the CAPS, to build learners' identities and help them to find creative and novel ways to express their thoughts.

One of the difficulties described in this process is that a necessary change of context occurs when poetry is transferred from the poet's studio, a performance space or reading room and placed in the school context. At school a certain amount of standardisation is required across the system; schools operate in rule-governed environments and they are controlled by the auspices of the state, all of which stifle and repress creativity, spontaneity and individuality. The process of "schoolifying" poetry operates to homogenise the process, in direct contradiction to the logic and purpose of poetry. Repeated readings of a poem are never identical and do not aspire to be so. However, the school system works to make things the same, uniform, with textbooks and memoranda that educators use to mark assignments. The ever-looming spectre of assessment had a considerable impact on how poetry was taught at the two schools.

Teaching poetry was described as an intimidating experience both for learners and educators. Confronted with this challenge, many educators retreated to the safe space of a defined set of teaching practices focused on figures of speech, literary devices and a line-by-line analysis of the poems. While some educators said that this made learning easier and that they could build on this knowledge in the future, these practices clearly also aided them. One educator was particularly vocal in his critique of poetry teaching at school, describing it as similar to other school learning processes that extract a practice and knowledge from its natural context, decontextualising and breaking it up into pieces, standardising it so that it is unrecognisable from its original form.

Theme 3: "There Are Some Teachers Who Won't Teach If They Don't Have a Memo": Assessment

In South Africa, secondary school culminates with the matric examinations, the most important set of assessment tasks that determine whether or not learners may continue with tertiary studies. Preparing learners for poetry in the matric examinations was described by one educator as follows:

Interviewee: With the matrics you have to prepare them for the final exam, so it's out of our control, although we know more or less what they will ask. That's also something I try not to do.

Interviewer: Teach to the test?

Interviewee: You do that with your matriculants. You know what questions they're going to ask. There won't be questions outside of the parameters of the study guide. We make copies of the important notes.

This educator admitted that although she tried to avoid "teaching to the test" in general, this is largely not possible for the matric learners. A lot is at stake in matric and many educators feel they will be doing their learners a disservice if they do not utilise practices that are likely to improve learners' results, even if these are anti-educational, such as reproducing and disseminating study guides. A fairly standardised, consistent set of questions is posed in these examinations, issues that are outlined in the above-mentioned "study guide". Educators can transcribe notes and ensure that all the learners have access to these "answers" prior to the exam. Standardised answers for poetry assessment questions were also evident in the fact that a number of educators mentioned "the memo" or memorandum, a document constructed and shared between educators that details acceptable answers to examination questions. Memos are constructed by English department educators to act as standardised, acceptable answers for tests and are then used across multiple classes. In the case of matric, memos from past examinations are distributed to schools, as educators revealed:

There are some teachers who won't teach if they don't have a memo. So they going to want to have a feeling of what the answers would be to the questions, obviously so that they can go through them for their classes. But that depends on your experience and approach to poetry. I see poetry as open to interpretation and that's how I introduce it to the Grade 11s, how poetry can change perspectives. Whereas there are other teachers who want to know that this can only be a metaphor and if it can be anything else then that must also be on the memo. It comes down to experience and it comes down to just level of knowledge you have with regard to genre, that type of poetry, and that poet.


And then we have a memo meeting and I'll say this is also another way of looking at it and the child has responded. Very often we can't accept that second answer. So if we gonna teach the children "be open minded, it' s open to your interpretation", then we need to include that in the memo. In our memo discussions, we are a bit too rigid in terms of what we expect.

There was evidence in the research that educators often had good intentions to teach in an open-minded way and accept a range of interpretations for examination questions, but in practice this was made difficult by the construction of memoranda with prescribed examination answers. Many educators then worked backwards, using these memos in future classes to ensure that learners had access to the "correct" answers, inhibiting the possibility of teaching poetry in a more dynamic, interpretive, multimodal and experiential manner. The educator above indicated that this pedagogical method was due to anxiety and a lack of experience, rather than a belief that this is the only acceptable method. The fact that educators explained to the learners that, as readers of poetry, they need to be open-minded, indicates that a will existed to teach in an alternative manner. However, the reality of school life, including the pressures of examinations, the desire to be fair to all learners by having standardised answers and the fact that educators have different levels of experience, all mean that "the memo" is often retained as an invaluable tool that structures the teaching of poetry. This resulted in the subject of English being perceived in a certain light:

It's as if the English curriculum is structured around teaching them the facts. English has become a study subject like history. You get the poem; you get the notes. You study those notes, write the test. You study notes from the textbook and go and write on what you studied. Instead of feeling the language on your mouth and watching it on paper and becoming comfortable in that skin or in that tongue, to speak in that tongue. So no, I don't think they express themselves.

Similar to the educator who critiqued how poetry becomes "schoolified", this educator described how poetry is learnt on paper rather than on the tongue; it is a disembodied and uncomfortable experience, one that is largely alienating for the learner. This means that learners do not express themselves in poetry, or English for that matter, as they are reduced to automatons that are simply required to memorise and repeat what they are given in the notes and the textbook. One educator lamented how this teaching and learning process compared with her own university education, expressing disappointment in school education:

I struggle. I really really struggle. One thing I enjoyed about varsity is that I felt like this is for you and the world. It was enrichment. If you want to pass, tell me why it's a good poem. Not tell me ABC.

What does it mean that poetry is "for you and the world"? It implies that, rather than its purpose being to demonstrate that a learner can memorise certain answers and recite them, the process is designed to give learners agency, to encourage them to build a relationship with the poetry and the poems and create their own answers.

While some intentions existed to teach poetry in a way that encourages a range of interpretations and answers to assessment questions, the standardised matric examination shaped pedagogical practices around this event, as educators wanted to support learners to excel in this ordeal. Participant educators indicated that standardised assessment procedures went beyond the matric examination, as it appeared that a "memorandum" was created for school tests and examinations. Desired answers were pre-recorded on this document as the only acceptable responses, limiting learner agency and the freedom to produce alternative interpretations of the poems.


Discussion: Finding the "Poetry of Poetry" in a Neoliberal Education System

Research with educators teaching Black learners in Johannesburg found that the choice of poets and poems, combined with teaching and assessment methods, significantly shaped the educational potential of poetry. It highlighted that the curriculum, pedagogy and assessment need to be focused on collectively if the teaching of poetry is to become a form of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. Choosing empowering poems will not be effective if they are taught and assessed in ways that do not elicit connections with the lives of learners. Similarly, methods of teaching and assessment require a body of poems that speak to the issues and worlds inhabited by learners.

While English poetry clearly has the educational potential to make connections to learners' everyday lives, stimulating interest and classroom-based discussion, this finding was not always true across the poetry curriculum or for both schools in the study. The teaching of certain poets and poems was described as unintelligible, irrelevant and boring for learners. The accessibility and the relevance of poetry were first and foremost related to the language used in the poems and the difficulty of the vocabulary for learners studying in a language that they do not speak at home, despite it being their language of instruction at school. This intersected with the topics and contexts that the poems engaged with and the origins of the authors, as certain poems were experienced as radically unfamiliar and difficult for students to understand. Writers from similar backgrounds to learners helped make the poetry teaching more relevant but did not guarantee that the poetry would resonate with learners. Similarly, the fact that a poet originated from an unfamiliar context would not necessarily occlude the relevance of their work for South African learners. Educators felt that it was important for learners to be exposed to international poets, highlighting perspectives from elsewhere. A feeling existed that a balance was required from the curriculum, with a substantial body of South African and African poetry needed to make the material relevant for learners. That said, educators warned against creating a binary between foreign poetry that engaged with "universal issues" and South African poetry that spoke to "local politics". The issue of "relevance" was central to these debates in the eyes of educators, who believed that it was tied to the contexts, authors and themes dealt with in the poetry.

The poetry of certain South African poets provided a fertile space for promoting a form of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. Lebo Mashile's "Tomorrow's Daughters" clearly struck a chord and inspired learners, connecting classroom learning to relevant issues in their lives. "Tomorrow's Daughters" was written by a young Black South African woman and addresses the issue of young Black women becoming poets, delving into issues of racism, sexism, norms about bodies, who speaks and who is recognised. The poem exemplifies for learners that people like them can become creators of knowledge used in school textbooks and that poets can highlight issues that are relevant to their lives, including racism, social norms pertaining to bodies and the silencing of certain voices. The poem is intended to provoke socio-political consciousness, an integral component of CRP and forms of critical pedagogy that aim to explore how teaching and learning can be used to validate the experiences and perspectives of learners who are marginalised in their daily symbolic and material interactions (Giroux and Simon 1989; Ladson-Billings 2014). But the poem also makes links to other contexts, namely Emily Dickinson in nineteenth-century America. CRP is therefore not necessarily insular; it does not only address learners' cultural practices and reference points. It also holds the potential to expand their worlds and transport them to new places.

Curriculum choices that impact on the educational potential of poetry cannot be analysed independently from teaching and assessment methods. Many educators did not feel confident teaching poetry. To deal with their lack of trust in themselves, they sought refuge in the more comfortable mode of breaking poems down into manageable pieces, identifying figures of speech and helping learners to understand individual lines rather than poems as a whole. Educators were honest that these practices were not only for the benefit of learners, but also for themselves. It was acknowledged that teaching underpinned by study guides and assessment dominated by memoranda are problematic and anti-educational, but educators feared that they would leave their students at a disadvantage if they did not provide them with access to these resources that apparently helped distribute the "knowledge" needed to pass examinations.

The centrality of high stakes testing is indicative of the infiltration of neoliberal ideology and values3 into education systems in South Africa and elsewhere, presenting considerable challenges to teaching poetry in a way that is meaningful and empowering for learners. Regular inspections of workbooks by education department officials, the high stakes of standardised tests and the practice of producing memoranda with official answers further illuminate the negative effects of neoliberal policies and practices on poetry teaching. Similar findings have been observed elsewhere. Increasingly standardised assessment regimes in the United Kingdom (UK) and New Zealand have restricted the space for the teaching of poetry (Dymoke 2012). A follow up to an earlier study of poetry teaching in the UK found that educator concerns about examinations, syllabus content and time pressures were far more pronounced 16 years later, indicating that neoliberal policies and practices have had a negative effect on poetry teaching (Benton 1999).

Neoliberalism is not solely to blame for this state of affairs, as educators' insecurities about poetry teaching impacted on their practices, as demonstrated in the current study by their focus on "line-by-line" analysis and the concern with teaching figures of speech. Xerri (2013) argues that while students and educators blame assessment for the problematic way that poetry is taught in the classroom, they collude in the process. They do so by continuing to imagine poetry as an obscure literary form and by employing conventional analytical methods based on the search for hidden meaning rather than experiencing "the poetry of poetry". In Xerri's (2013) opinion, breaking poems down into individual lines destroys these literary artefacts. Neoliberalism has impacted on pedagogy and assessment practices, with negative effects on learning areas like poetry, which relies on emergent processes that lead to a range of different interpretations. However, educators collude in these processes, not necessarily because they lack effort, but due to insecurities around teaching poetry and their fears that they will not prepare students adequately.

The combination of curricula choices, pedagogy and assessment practices influenced learners' experiences of poetry in the classroom and its relevance to their lives, including their educations. If poetry is to become a form of CRP and fulfil the objectives of the CAPS, these three aspects-that form part of a unified educational process-need to be focused on collectively. Poems with great potential to engage and stimulate learners will have little effect if they are only taught by analysing figures of speech in a "line-by-line" fashion. Similarly, methods of teaching that allow learners to experience "the poetry of poetry", while also generating insights into the techniques used by poets, are unlikely to engage learners if the poems chosen for analysis are irrelevant to their worlds. If the sole intention of educators is to prepare learners for standardised examinations, it is also unlikely that the educational potential of poetry will be realised. This is not to say that examinations are irrelevant to learners, as they form an integral part of successful social mobility. It is to advocate for poems and methods of teaching that expose learners to the poetry of poetry, help build their identities, give them tools to express their ideas creatively and aid in their academic success. All of these are integral theoretical tenets of CRP and the South African curriculum outlined in the CAPS documents. This should be done while being mindful of the local and broader, global contexts in which education systems play out.



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1 In this article, the term "Black" denotes not an essentialised racial category, but a social construct that has relevance for learners whose families were marginalised under apartheid. For the vast majority of these learners English is not their first language. I use the term to refer to learners whose families were classified as "Black African" under apartheid, rather than the more inclusive term popularised by Steve Biko.
2 While the term "Model C" technically refers to a particular model of school governance for public schools in South Africa, it has become shorthand for former "whites-only" public schools.
3 These values coerce non-commercial spheres such as schools to operate "more like a business".

^rND^sBenton^nP^rND^sBenton^nP^rND^sBraun^nV.^rND^nV.^sClarke^rND^sD'Abdon^nR^rND^sDoug^nR^rND^sDymoke^nS^rND^sGonzález^nN.^rND^nL. C.^sMoll^rND^sHoward^nT. C.^rND^sLadson-Billings^nG^rND^sLadson-Billings^nG^rND^sLeonard^nJ.^rND^nM. L.^sHill^rND^sLinaberger^nM.^rND^sMoll^nL. C.^rND^nC.^sAmanti^rND^nD.^sNeff^rND^nN.^sGonzalez^rND^sNewfield^nD.^rND^nR.^sd'Abdon^rND^sNewfield^nD.^rND^nR.^sMaungedzo^rND^sSimecek^nK.^rND^nK.^sRumbold^rND^sWilson^nA.^rND^sXerri^nD.^rND^1A01^nTrésor Musasa^sKabamba^rND^1A01^nTrésor Musasa^sKabamba^rND^1A01^nTrésor Musasa^sKabamba






Trésor Musasa Kabamba

University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.



Native born yet imported

but I'm still important.

Got documents and files

still might be stabbed with a file.

Borders sketched on maps by false white masters,

yet drawn in blood by our African masses.

We torment persecute and murder our own:

Xenophobes, are you loyal to your skin: like Jesus or Judas?

Our black skin is the cross borne by us

Under the weight, our vertebrae are ground to dust.

Still, our blood: beloved own, strip us bare,

and whip gashes in our backs like our skin don't tear.

Fading masters left with keys to our resources,

left knives for black throats and police forces

Slavery was the first, xenophobia the sequel

Did the Word not say we're all made equal?




Decolonisation through Poetry: Building First Nations' Voice and Promoting Truth-Telling



Catherine ManathungaI; Paul WilliamsII; Tracey BundaIII; Sue StantonIV; Shelley DavidowV; Kathryn GilbeyVI; Maria RacitiVII

IUniversity of the Sunshine Coast, Australia.;
IIUniversity of the Sunshine Coast, Australia.;
IIIUniversity of Queensland, Australia.;
IVBatchelor Institute, Australia.;
VUniversity of the Sunshine Coast, Australia.;
VIBatchelor Institute, Australia.;
VIIUniversity of the Sunshine Coast, Australia.;




The impetus to decolonise high schools and universities has been gaining momentum in Southern locations such as South Africa and Australia. In this article, we use a polyvocal approach, juxtaposing different creative and scholarly voices, to argue that poetry offers a range of generative possibilities for the decolonisation of high school and university curricula. Australian First Nations' poetry has been at the forefront of the Indigenous political protest movement for land rights, recognition, justice and Treaty since the British settlement/invasion. Poetry has provided Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with a powerful vehicle for speaking back to colonial power. In this article, a team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers argue that poetry can be a powerful vehicle for Indigenous voices and Knowledges. We suggest that poetry can create spaces for deep listening (dadirri), and that listening with the heart can promote truth-telling and build connections between First Nations and white settler communities. These decolonising efforts underpin the "Wandiny (gathering together)-Listen with the Heart: Uniting Nations through Poetry" research that we discuss in this article. We model our call-and-response methodology by including the poetry of our co-author and Aboriginal Elder of the Kungarakan people in the Northern Territory, Aunty Sue Stanton, with poetic responses by some of her co-authors.

Keywords: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; Indigenous Knowledges; poetry; decolonisation; truth-telling; call-and-response methodologies





I heard the whispering through the trees

It was the whispers of old women

It was concern.

I heard the shouting

above me, around me, in me.

It was the shouting of old men, young men

It was fear.

I heard the sighing

floating, hanging in the air.

It was the sighing of young women

It was despair.

I heard the crying of the children

girls and boys.

It was the crying that comes with destruction It was the cry of war.

If you walk through this country



You will hear those sounds,

if you care.1

(Sue Jean Stanton)

I wrote the poem "Pinjarra" after one particular visit to Western Australia and when my Gurindji cousin David Cusack was living at Mandurah. He was a teacher at Mandurah Primary School. One day we decided to drive around that region surrounding Mandurah as he wanted me to see some of the beautiful trees and the general landscape of the area-away from town.

As we were driving through a particular area, wind softly blowing, grasses swaying, trees, even the lower-branched ones, standing like guards, or maybe signposts, or even memorials, watched us, stood aside for us. At first, I wanted to stop the car and take in the serene scene, but we were being beckoned further along that road. There was no other traffic or people with us in that area. As we drove further along the road, trees suddenly enveloped us, almost like forming joined arms around us, wanting to tell us something, to share a secret, give us a message-remind us.

My first feeling was sadness, it enveloped me. I felt tears come to my eyes and at first I could not understand why. And I did not understand that sudden sadness until after we drove away, and I questioned my cousin-asking what he knew about this place. He knew nothing. I could not get the location nor the feeling out of my mind or out of my heart. I visited the area again and I heard the sounds again, I felt the sadness again. I was ready for the messages. I wrote the words I felt in my heart-they were heavy, sad words. They told me I must not forget.

I researched some of the history of that region and it was only then that I knew that I had visited a killing ground-a place where many people suffered and died-a place where their voices remained-within the rocks, the soil, the water, the trees and in the breeze. The voices told me "Do not forget us-we are still here". I have since conducted a lot of research on the area and what has been documented as the Pinjarra massacre, when approximately 100 Pindjarup/Bindjareb women, men and children were ambushed and murdered near the Murray River, WA-approximately 10 km south-east of Mandurah. Mundurah is located in the Peel district of WA-named after Thomas Peel, one of the leaders of the massacre, along with Governor James Stirling.

In the last few years I made contact with Professor Len Collard, Whadjuck/Balardong Nyungar TO and Nyungar historian, and shared with him and the Nyungar people, especially of the Nyungar boodjar (country) of the place and people massacred in the south-west of Western Australia, this poem I have written titled "Pinjarra". It is a poem for Pindjarup/Bindjareb women, men and children: I will not forget them.

In recent times, high schools and universities, particularly those located in the Global South, have begun to respond to calls to decolonise education. This has involved seeking to overturn the ongoing domination of Eurocentric, Northern, scientific knowledge production and seeking to Indigenise2 the curriculum (Connell 2007; Santos 2014; 2018). Poetry, in all its written, spoken and performance-based approaches, has emerged as a key creative form that enables Indigenous or First Nations voices to be heard. Poetry involves many of the features of oral knowledge production evident in Indigenous cultures and cosmologies, and echoes ancient forms of knowledge dissemination (Moreton 2006). Poetry also enables the subversion of conventional English language syntax and grammar (Hopfer 2002). As a result, poetry embodies a creative form that is particularly well-suited to decolonisation and the transformation of postcolonial curricula and societies.

In this article, we seek to investigate the deconstructive possibilities for the decolonisation of high school and university curricula evident in Australian First Nations' poetry. Inspired by the poetry of our Aboriginal Elder author, Aunty Sue Stanton, we begin with her poem, "Pinjarra", and her story behind writing the poem which illustrates the ways in which colonialism continues to whisper its deadly impact through the Australian landscape. We then carefully outline our various cultural and political standpoints as a transcultural team of First Nations and white settler researchers seeking to work together through poetry to decolonise education and create vibrant spaces for Indigenous Knowledges. We provide a brief overview of what decolonisation means to us in the Australian context drawing on the work of Smith (1999) and Andreotti and colleagues (2015). We demonstrate how First Nations poetry has been at the core of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander political protest movement for land rights, recognition, justice and Treaty since the British settlement/invasion, and how First Nations life stories and creativity shape contemporary Australian Indigenous poetry in new ways (Walker/Noonuccal 1964; Webley 2002; Whittaker 2020). Our Aboriginal authors reflect on the ways poetry has enabled processes of "Wangelanginy / Speaking ourselves back together again" in the words of Noongar author Kim Scott's (2002, 99) powerful poem. Having explored poetic pedagogical strategies we have used in university curricula, we outline the "Wandinyy3-Listen with the Heart: Uniting Nations through Poetry" research that we are engaging with on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, which is designed to decolonise Australian high school and university curricula. We then make a case for the ways in which poetry can act as a vehicle for decolonisation and for the preservation, revitalisation and ongoing growth of Indigenous Knowledges. We seek to demonstrate how our call-and-response (Sale 1992) methodology enables deep listening or listening with the heart (dadirri) (Ungunmerr-Bauman 2002) that promotes truth-telling and builds connections between First Nations and white settler communities in Australia.

Working on decolonisation requires a high level of reflexivity, self-critique, generosity and openness. It also involves carefully interrogating our own entangled histories, geographies, cultural knowledge and standpoints, as feminist scientist Sandra Harding (2004) and Torres Strait Islander scholar Martin Nakata (2007) have argued. We are a team of First Nations Australian and transcultural Australian and South African writers, who have been inspired by the work of the transcultural South African Poetry Project (ZAPP) team (Byrne 2014; Genis 2019; Newfield and Bozalek 2018; Newfield and d'Abdon 2015; Newfield and Maungedzo 2006). The ZAPP project prompted Catherine to bring together a team of First Nations and non-Indigenous colleagues from diverse disciplines and from other Australian universities to begin working on an Indigenous Australian poetry project. Catherine is an Irish-Australian woman who has a transcultural family and has used her research on doctoral education, academic identities and university history to explore her responsibilities as a settler-invader scholar. Shelley is a Jewish South African creative-writing author of 45 books and an immigrant to Australia who grew up during the apartheid era in a family of black and white people. Her scholarly work in Education and Creative Writing explores the impacts of colonisation and transgenerational trauma. Paul is a British-Italian former Zimbabwean immigrant to Australia, whose novels and critical work explore postcolonial Africa and creative writing as a decolonial discourse. Kathryn is an Alyawarre (Northern Territory) First Nations Aboriginal woman and an education researcher, who specialises in First Nations knowledges, inclusive education and critical race theories. Tracey is a Ngugi/Wakka Wakka (Southeast Queensland) senior First Nations Aboriginal woman who researches Indigenous women, decolonisation of patriarchal white institutional power and Indigenous Knowledge systems. Maria is a Kalkadoon-Thaniquith/Bwgcolman First Nations Aboriginal (Queensland) woman and social market researcher, who uses marketing tools and techniques to bring about social justice and behaviour change. Aunty Sue Stanton is a Kungarakan Traditional Owner-Custodian from Batchelor in the Northern Territory, who is an Elder Executive Advisor in Academic and Cultural Leadership and poet.

Our writing process has been to form small teams to work on sections of this article where we have expertise to offer. We then wove these sections together in order to generate our arguments about the role of poetry as a powerful vehicle for decolonisation, Indigenous Knowledges and truth-telling. We have used a polyvocal approach, where different creative and scholarly voices are deliberately juxtaposed in order to build momentum for our argument. In some sections, we felt it was important to privilege the First Nations voices among us in order to recognise the sovereignty of First Nations peoples on the lands that we inhabit. This was the case for the section inspired by the Australian First Nations poem, "Wangelanginy" ("speaking ourselves back together again") by Kim Scott (2002). We have also modelled our call-and-response methodology in this piece by beginning the article with a poem by one of our authors, Aunty Sue Stanton. Her beautiful and haunting poem, "Pinjarra", and her story of writing this poem provides us with a provocative and powerful call to care about the shocking impact of colonisation in Australia, which continues to echo through the land, if we listen hard enough. We provide some of the authors' responses to "Pinjarra" in the sections on "speaking ourselves back together again" (Scott 2002) and poetry as truth-telling.


Decolonisation in the Australian Context

The need to decolonise education has gained increasing momentum around the globe in recent years. Decolonial theory refers to a range of positions that argue that colonial operations of power remain present in the contemporary world despite formal independence being achieved in former colonies and that ongoing efforts need to be made to challenge and overcome these forms of power (Smith 1999). Postcolonial/decolonial theories take as their central premise the argument that "colonialism did not end with the end of historical colonialism based on foreign territorial occupation. Only its form changed" (Santos 2018, 109). As a result, there can be "no global social justice without global cognitive justice" (Santos 2014, 42). Cognitive justice involves the full and equal recognition of all of the world's knowledge systems, languages and cultural practices, not only Northern science. This is a particularly urgent issue given that it is becoming very clear that Eurocentric Northern science may have contributed to some of the challenging global environmental conditions that we are now experiencing (Cutter 2008), such as the unprecedented bushfires of the 2019 Australian summer. Decolonisation does not only refer to postcolonial societies-countries and peoples that had once been colonies. Importantly, it includes European countries (the former colonial powers), who need to examine their own cultural beliefs and practices, acknowledging the ways in which they have been unconsciously shaped by structural inequalities between cultures, classes, genders and so on inherent in European Enlightenment thinking (Smith 1999).

As Andreotti and colleagues (2015, 21) argue, decolonisation, one of the major "responses to the violences of modernity", is a complex term that encompasses a whole spectrum of different definitions and approaches. They propose a social cartography of decolonisation that incorporates a range of philosophies, desires, contradictions and tensions. They chart the spectrum of decolonial approaches as ranging from "soft-reform, radical reform and beyond reform spaces" (Andreotti et al. 2015, 25). While the soft reform space proposes that "everyone can win once we all know the rules" and emphasises "dialogue, consensus and entrepreneurship", the radical reform space argues that "the game is rigged so if we want to win we need to change the rules" and involves "antagonistic conflict". The beyond reform space suggests that the "game is harmful and makes us immature but we're stuck playing" and focuses on "agonistic conflict", while alternative spaces argue that "playing the game does not make sense" (Andreotti et al. 2015, 25). Our work on decolonisation in this article sits across the radical reform and beyond reform spaces and has a "high investment in liminality, self-implication and pluriversality" (Andreotti et al. 2015, 25).

Writing in the Australian context, Deborah Bird Rose (2004, 214) suggests that decolonisation involves "the unmaking of regimes of violence that promote the disconnection of moral accountability from time and place". So too, Australian Aboriginal poet Peter Minter (2013, 158) characterises decolonisation as "essentially attempts at ... reimagining and re-presenting place and space from an historically alert and ethically revivified sensibility". Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land was never ceded, and no Treaty was originally signed with any First Nations groups in Australia (although work on treaties is currently under way in various states, such as Victoria). Despite the overturning of terra nullius (land belonging to no one) with the Mabo decision in 1992 in Australia, the introduction of Native Title legislation in 1993 and mounting evidence that First Nations peoples carefully cultivated, farmed and managed the land prior to British invasion (Gammage 2011; Pascoe 2018), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignties remain an unfinished business. While there have been royal commissions into the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families (the Stolen Generation) and into a range of legal and justice issues (such as Aboriginal Deaths in Custody), there has never been a truth and reconciliation commission (unlike in South Africa and Timor Leste) to address the many wrongs that continue to be perpetrated by the Australian state against First Nations peoples.

In 2017, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Referendum Convention, held near Uluru in Central Australia, issued the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which called for the establishment of a First Nations voice in the Constitution and in Parliament, and a Makarrata (the coming together after a struggle) Commission to "supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history" (2017, 1). The conservative Liberal/National Coalition government dismissed these proposals with disinterest and, some might say, contempt.


Australian First Nations Poetry

First Nations peoples around the globe have used rhythms of sounds and words to form the basis of oral information transmission for thousands of years. The use of text patterns and repetitions tied to geographical landmarks and land forms the underpinning of the oldest education system in the world (Moreton 2006). In modern times, poetry, in written, spoken and song form, enables the centring of First Nations voices. First Nations performance poetry gains its power through the spoken word, which creates a visceral, felt impact on the audience. Slam poetry provides contemporary platforms for First Nations voices in Australia. The cadence and movement of performance poetry are akin to histories of oral communication and storytelling. The Australian Poetry Slam has showcased works from First Nations poets Steven Oliver (2014) and Melanie Mununggurr-Williams (2018).

Poetry also converges into rap in Baker Boy's (2017) artistic performances ( Danzal Baker and, before him, the band Yothu Yindi were the first Australian Indigenous artists to have mainstream success in lyricising their Yolngu Matha language. Baker sees hip-hop as a means of reuniting First Nations youth with their heritages, cultures, histories and geographies (Israel 2017). Slam, rap, hip-hop and all forms of performance poetry build upon visual literacy, including body language and movement, which invites audiences to "read" stories and experiences through dance. The enactment of story in dance is being promoted by Torres Strait Islander group Move It Mob Style. An example of their art, including witness poetic devices of repetition, rhythm, refrain and personification can be seen at Through poetry, English language structures are subverted and replaced with First Nations' rhythmic, ceremonial syntax, circular notions of deep time and "a singing and dancing spirit" (Hopfer 2002, 55).

First Nations literatures often meld narrative voices together in collective dialogue (Pascal 2004). Colonial/Western narratives typically offer a succession of individual voices, whereas First Nations narratives provide pluralistic perspectives of being and belonging (for example, Kim Scott's "True Country" [2000]) (Phillips and Bunda 2018). Values of connection to family and Country pervade First Nations literature as self-esteem and self-concept stem from collective belonging rather than individualism, as perpetuated by Western cultures (Bodkin-Andrews and Craven 2013; Kickett-Tucker 2009).


"Speaking Ourselves Back Together Again"

Kim Scott (2002, 99), Aboriginal poet and novelist, writes in his poem "Wangelanginy" that poetry enables an opportunity of "Speaking ourselves back together again". In this section, our First Nations authors, Kathryn, Tracey and Maria respond with poetry and reflections on the ways Kim Scott's and Aunty Sue Stanton's poetry provides to "speak ourselves back together again".


I know my bush, I love my bush

I know other people's bush too

Some that I know intimately some

Just on the surface

Those moments of disorientation as a child

That make me realise that I know more

More than I thought I did.

Getting lost, in the Nullarbour

a panic set in, my eye

looks for detail, for subtle differences

heightened senses means I listen

I remember, I could die here I tell myself

But then I stop and I really look

And I orient myself and I really listen

And I talk out loud to that old country

And I feel it inside, and I know

And I steer the old Bedford truck

Back to the camp and jump out

And I am surprised because nobody knows

Nobody can tell the harrowing experience I just had

I could of got lost Dad

Yeah but you didn't

(Gilbey 2020)

In response to Dr Sue Stanton's poem the layers of truth and truth-telling struck me, through her words she highlights the colonial violence but also the capacity to hear and listen. Our truths and these moments are layered and I wanted to celebrate the reality of wise old Aboriginal women who know how to feel on a deeper level. Sometimes we don't celebrate our differences but get stuck in this place of needing affirmation through sameness; my heart breaks when she says I will remember them and I just wanted to say I see you old lady, as you talk to the trees.


A heart full of love and spirit sown

Contends with unspeakable violence grown

Return to eunoia, for country, for people

Speak the words-First Nations, undeniable, seen, known

(Bunda 2020)

I take the poetic technique of quatrain to respond to Aboriginal poets and authors, Aunty Sue Stanton and Kim Scott, whose wisdoms are savoured in the framing of our collective writing. Sue asks us to listen to the sounds of country, to the spirit voices that lie within, if we care. In the constant of white noise modernity, colonisation vibrates out a monotonous bass/base rhythm to beat down on our First Nations' skin, a relentless dull throb, throb, throb penetrating deep into our bones, taking an enormous conviction to stay focused, and more to find relief. Oh, we hear the sounds of colonisation, we know them well. Oh, we know the sounds of colonisation, we hear them well. Travelling in the genes and across generations, it is a relentless pathogen. Am I calling back to colonisation with this response? Am I staging antagonistic conflict because the "colonialist" game has got me stuck? How do I see and hear and speak myself back together again as Kim Scott desires? Perhaps this is not the question to ask. Perhaps it is best to boomerang back to the first note of the colonialist riff and ask why can't the uninitiated settler invader hear and feel their own sound making? Let the coloniser occupy the liminal space and transition to a score of melodic sounds for the colonised ear to hear. For once let us hear the sounds of peace. Speak the words-First Nations, Undeniable, Seen, Known.


Bricolage Murri Self

The next generation trying to fit in

some detached from their skin.

The social script that makes them feel like

an interloper, an imposter within.

Unable to escape wicked fault lines from the past.

Resist, reject, ignore, discard.

Young Aboriginal hero,

weave the loose threads that you have collected over time

into self-stories that self-define

(Raciti 2020)

My response poem focuses on the unfolding of the "colonial project" for Aboriginal people over time, with its toxicity percolating through generations. The poem accentuates the plight of many Aboriginal youths in the 21st-century experiencing intersectionality, fluid intercultural identity and their challenge to find their place in the world. We grow into our Aboriginality and that growth is often punctuated by disapproval of self and the cloaking of many of our identities to placate the fragility of some, to feed the romanticism of others and to steel us to face the ignorance of many. The advice for our young, Aboriginal heroes is to dismiss the social script imposed upon them by others and to unapologetically forge their own path.

The last sentence of Aunty Sue Jean Stanton's "Pinjarra" poem, "You will hear those sounds, if you care", is where my thoughts linger. The shadow side of speaking our stories is the sense of being heard. It is by, with and through the listeners that the transformative, poetic power also resides. The intertwining of a poem's enchanted beholder and the poet's narrative is where sideways and seismic shifts perch. Deep, respectful listening or listening with intent by those outside of the frame-being those either consciously or unconsciously curating limited or negative narratives about Aboriginal people-is my pain point. This non-listening speaks volumes, it shouts of the epistemology of ignorance and, in effect, of a passive-aggressive disallowing of Aboriginal truths. So, while speaking ourselves back together again gives voice to our Aboriginal experiences, healing through powerful poetic moments needs listeners who hear the sounds.

Through poetry, speaking to ourselves and an audience of listeners who care has immeasurable value. Leveraging our speaking to new, open and willing listeners will enable Aboriginal truths to fully unfold, be retold and begin to be encoded into the ways of knowing and being of Australian society. There is no doubt that such a paradigm shift poses a significant challenge as the colonial project has quietened at best and extinguished at worst many dimensions of Aboriginal cultures. But despite colonial projects' best efforts, Aboriginal resilience remains. Indeed, for me, resistance and decolonisation are the manifestation of a fortified and emboldened Aboriginal resilience. Resilience inculcates hope and with hope dreams of the improbable can become the possible. For me, Aboriginal hope has not abated. As our ethnic mosaic incrementally shifts from generation to generation, the 21st-century is a canvas for change with opportunity for those who speak and those who listen.


Poetic Pedagogies in Schools and Universities

Poetry evokes meaning through an oral, performative discourse and therefore offers a range of generative possibilities for the decolonisation of high school and university curricula, offering a way to address the issues of the "null curriculum" (Gobby and Walker 2017) in Australian classrooms, the relative silence around First Nations' experiences and history, and the reluctance of non-Indigenous teachers in schools and university classrooms to allow non-Indigenous students opportunities to engage with Indigenous ways of being and knowing for fear of "doing things wrong".

A decolonised educational approach allows for a space in which marginal voices are positioned centrally. Colonial power relations are shifted in literature classrooms when Indigenous voices and perspectives are foregrounded. This demonstration of respect towards Indigenous students is vital for engagement in learning (Donovan 2015). Using poetry that is heard, lived, felt, and enacted, the approach asks students to respond to Indigenous poetry creatively rather than critically or analytically. The shift is towards an egalitarian, biographical experience of student participation through the writing of poetry, thus inhabiting a discourse that evokes new knowledge, new perceptions, and enables the "subjectness" of each writer/student to come into being in relationship to the text or work being heard/read/experienced.

In the higher education sector, pre-service teachers were introduced to a First Nations performer who shared her experiences of her own education, of racism, of her daughters being bullied, here and now in Queensland, through a performance poem. In response, here is an example of a poem written by a university student, Ashwita Venkatesh, using a paraphrased line from Gert Biesta, as well as a line from the "Closing the Gap" document ( as "found poetry".

Learn something, for a reason, from someone!

Behind a desk in a classroom?

Or by the trees, watching the fish school?

How do we teach our children?

Equality in education they say!

But halve the gap for Indigenous children,

So what does that say about equality?

Are they not a united part of society?

Learn something, for a reason, from someone.

Is that someone you?

Halve the gap for Indigenous children.

Where is the equality?

(Venkatesh 2020; used with permission)

In both secondary and tertiary contexts, therefore, decolonisation is the aim of the content and pedagogy, and it underpins the approach to this research project, in which we acknowledge the pervasive intrusion of colonial paradigms in the way we think, speak and act, and then seek to use poetry to challenge this hegemonic discourse. Such a decolonial approach to "studying" poetry, "throws syntax out" and "subverts", liberating and transporting participants as both listeners and makers in "collaborative storying", an extended storying approach used by Bishop and Berryman (2006) in their work with Maori school students and teachers in the Aotearoa/New Zealand context.

The aim, then, is that Indigenous poets "transport their readers into engagement with new experience through their talent, their passion and play, their originality in language and structure" (Webley 2002, 64). And participants respond creatively.

Wandiny (Gathering Together)-Listen with the Heart: Uniting Nations through Poetry: A Future Event

These histories and poetic pedagogies form the basis of our plan to hold a creative gathering on Kabi Kabi land (in the Sunshine Coast) for First Nations Aboriginal poets and Elders, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal academics, university students, schoolteachers and school learners. We have called this creative gathering "Wandiny- Listen with the Heart: Uniting Nations through Poetry". Wandiny is a Kabi Kabi word meaning "gathering together" that our Project Reference Group of Kabi Kabi in the Sunshine Coast, Wakka Wakka in Ipswich and Koa in Winton Aboriginal Elders and First Nations school teachers have given us permission to use.

The aims of this creative poetry project are to:

1. build understanding of the significance of Country, history, place and culture and connection on Kabi Kabi land;

2. support the flourishing of Indigenous poetry and languages on Kabi Kabi land;

3. build cultural and knowledge exchanges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities on Kabi Kabi land.

It is hoped that a significant potential outcome of the project will be to build links between Kabi Kabi and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and university and school staff and students. The stories of Elders and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander poets will be presented as a "call" for sharing knowledge about Country to prioritise dadirri (Ungunmerr-Bauman 2002) or deep listening. A "response" from the transgenerational, Indigenous and non-Indigenous audience in the form of poetry writing will be gathered. This process is at once methodology for ceremony (Wilson 2008) but re-inscribes the African "call-and-response" approach (Sale 1992) within Kabi Kabi knowledge frames. We are not seeking to appropriate African approaches here, but, as Indian scholar Ananta Giri suggests, we seek to cross borders as

an act of creation rather than one of violation ... . Border crossing yields what W.E.B. Du Bois calls "double vision"-it expands our field of vision without being expansionist; it includes without consuming; it appreciates without appropriating and it seeks to temper politics with ethics. (Giri 2002, 104)

This project blends the African call-and-response theory of art with the dadirri or deep listening/listening with the heart (Ungunmerr-Bauman 2002) approaches of Aboriginal Knowledge production. We use the term dadirri with the permission of the MiriamRose Foundation. Dadirri means "deep listening, building community, be whole again, peace, silent awareness, be still and wait" (Ungunmerr-Baumann 2002). This (creative) ceremony on Country takes account of multiple cultural differences that acknowledge and make space for other voices (e.g. Aboriginal peoples who are not Kabi Kabi, Torres Strait Islander peoples, international Indigenous nations and black peoples). In this article, we have sought to model our planned approach in the Wandiny event to poetic call-and-response methodologies and dadirri in our responses to Aunty Sue Stanton's poem, "Pinjarra".

This project, therefore, is designed to be interactive, process-oriented, and innovative (Sale 1992). Such methods are propelled by audience improvisation and contribute to art being collectively meaningful to community (Sale 1992). The project addresses the following research questions:

1. What value can poetry provide as a vehicle for sharing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges, stories, histories and languages about Country?

2. What can Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander poetry regarding Country tell us about poetry as a vehicle for strengthening/reinforcing cultural identity?

The ceremony of poetry, reinvigorated as a contemporary creative tradition of Aboriginal communities, will respectfully be incorporated within the Kabi Kabi traditions of being called to Country. Elder knowledge is pivotal to leading and advising the project and the participating community/communities and individuals. Practices for being on Country will determine what can be considered as ethical conduct for being on Country and the nature and shape of relationships that evolve.

The project will also build upon the strategies used in ZAPP (the South African Poetry Project) and related research (Byrne 2014; Newfield and Maungedzo 2006; Newfield and d'Abdon 2015; Newfield and Bozalek 2018). The ZAPP project design was formed around the establishment of a transcultural project team of researchers, poets, schoolteachers and school students who sought to create spaces in the high school curriculum for poetry writing. Learning from the difficulties experienced in South Africa in generating time in the over-crowded school curriculum for poetry writing, our project team has decided upon the format of a community-based creative gathering that will produce academic and creative-writing articles and a poetry anthology.

The Wandiny approach is based upon First Nations knowledge approaches that foreground the agency of Country, the power of Story and the iterative, intergenerational and intercultural features of Indigenous Knowledge production (Manathunga et al. forthcoming; Moreton 2006; Phillips and Bunda 2018; Williams et al. 2018). We begin with a fundamental insistence that the lands we work on have agency within the project (Rose 1996; Styres et al. 2013). Aboriginal Knowledge systems are the conduit through which people are tied to Country. This approach does not limit the use of land to contemporary understanding of place-based learning, or pedagogy of place, but involves emotion, intelligence, and spiritual elements. One of the themes the Wandiny will explore will be "Country as Home". Similar to the Australian Aboriginal conception of Country, Styres, Haig-Brown, and Blimkie (2013) consider the land as sentient. Rose (1996, 7) explains:

People talk about country in the same way that they would talk about a person; they speak to country, sing to country, visit country, worry about country, grieve for country and long for country. People say that country knows, hears, smells, takes notice, takes care, is sorry or happy. Country is a living entity with a yesterday, today and tomorrow, with consciousness and action, and a will towards life.

Second, the project builds upon the transformative power of Telling Stories, which is central to First Nations knowledge systems and cosmologies (Dion 2009; Moreton 2016; Phillips and Bunda 2018). Speaking the truth of our lives is a moment of embodying the power of old cultures and sharing this with a contemporary audience. A (re)storying, narrative methodology will be adopted that builds on the approach developed by Phillips and Bunda (2018) combining First Nations storying approaches (Arbon 2008; Donovan 2015; King 2005; Pascal 2004) with Connelly and Clandinin's work (1990). As Connelly and Clandinin (1990, 2) argue, "people by nature lead storied lives and tell stories of those lives, whereas narrative researchers describe such lives, collect and tell stories of them, and write narratives of the experience." Phillips and Bunda (2018) and Donovan (2015) emphasise the profound significance of storying to Indigenous cultures around the globe, illustrating how Aboriginal stories are "embodied acts of intertextualised, transgenerational law and life spoken across and through time and place" (Phillips and Bunda 2018, 8). Collaborative storying (Bishop and Berryman 2006) will form an important part of our facilitation of "response" poetry during the Wandiny. Martiniello (2002, 93) emphasises how her poetry is "[s]tory without end"- "I am his [my father's] story, and his father's story, and many others besides; as I am my own, and my children' s and my grandchildren' s. This is Dreaming. It is Tjukurrpa."

The research design foregrounds First Nations approaches to knowledge production that are iterative, intergenerational and intercultural. The act of speaking and re-speaking a truth and the (re)telling of untold stories acts as a gift to the next seven generations (Dion 2009; Pawu-Kurlpurne et al. 2008). The reiteration of stories and the acts of speaking, listening, hearing and remembering are central to First Nations' knowledge creation (Dion 2009; Moreton 2016; Phillips and Bunda 2018). Knowledge production in First Nations cultures is always intergenerational and multidirectional across time and space. Knowledge builds across and between generations and interweaves the past, present and future into an intergenerational "infinite present" (Moreton 2006, 276). Intergenerational learning occurs iteratively and both ways across generations and disciplines, where First Nations and transcultural knowledges become living, community-based, and future-oriented.

Approaches to First Nations' knowledge production have always been changing and dynamic and open to shared possibilities. It is estimated that there were over 400 (maybe 700) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations, approximately 260 distinct language groups and 500 dialects prior to invasion. Australian First Nations peoples also had important trading and knowledge exchange links with peoples from Southeast Asia. It is also likely that some of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander poets, Elders and Indigenous and non-Indigenous audience members may have intercultural, hybrid personal backgrounds that transcend normative cultural groupings. Intercultural or transcultural knowledge construction is not an externally imposed agenda for First Nations and transcultural peoples but rather an everyday way of being and knowing (Casinader and Manathunga 2019).


Poetry as Truth-Telling

Engaging in practices of dadirri through call-and-response poetry may be able to promote truth-telling with the long-term aim of working through trauma caused by ongoing injustice (Aitkinson 2000). It is vital for the future of the Australian nation that truth-telling about our histories since the British invasion and treaty-making that addresses the sovereign rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are fully enacted. Our Wandiny approach to poetry gatherings is designed to contribute to the process of "Makarrata ... the coming together after a struggle" that was called for in the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart but has yet to be addressed. If Australia is to move forward as a vibrant and inclusive culture, then it must urgently redress this history of colonisation and move towards a strong relationship between First Nations peoples and other Australians based upon justice, self-determination and full recognition of the special place First Nations people occupy in our nation. We offer our First Nations authors' responses to the idea of poetry as truth-telling first as a gesture that recognises the sovereignties Kathryn, Tracey and Maria have in Australia.


I was in Adelaide in my mother's lounge room when I heard Romaine Moreton's poem "Don't Let It Make You Over" put to music and spoken on ABC radio as "Doin Time". It was one of those moments for me, that I will remember, like when Lady Di died or the Berlin Wall came down. Because when she said

If you were doin' time like a

Fine wine, brother,

You would make a beautiful bouquet.

I thought immediately of my big cousin in Townsville Prison and his fun-loving nature, his playfulness and I thought, my brother you are doin' time like a fine wine because you are a beautiful bouquet, no matter how long they lock you up for, you come out, you. And I was grateful for those spoken words that made me smile and think of him. But the weight of lengthy prison sentences incommensurate to the crimes, the sheer injustice of incarceration rates and child removals of Aboriginal people weighed there, in the background, in the foreground. Those three short sentences spoke of hope and freedom as they did of racial inequality in this country.

There is an immediacy that comes from being present; it is felt and visceral, this is why we want to have gatherings on old country, with traditional owners informing the conversations, with poets who come to share, what they have known and experienced. Because, as Aboriginal people, when we tell our truths, when we are heard, the world changes just a little bit. Surrounded by negative narratives, despair, hopelessness, a constant needing to be saved or changed, the power of the spoken and written word, to show another reality, one born in strength and knowledge. Dr Sue and her poem "Pinjarra" speaks truth to a hidden reality of shockingly brutal colonial violence. But it also shows a layer of knowledge and skill, those that can listen to country, that talk to the trees and the wind, those that can hear, what they are being told and those that through poetry communicate that to the next generations and the generations after that. So that truth is known and talked about here, because if not us then who will speak our truths to power, to a society that actively works to deny our truths, to hide them, to cover up? So we say Always was always will be Aboriginal land and we are here and we have survived, and unlike this contribution we do it concisely with a minimum of words and mountain full of strength through poetry.


A call for truth-telling. A nation needs to respond if there is to be healing-to allow a speaking ourselves back together again, for all peoples. The truth of the impacts of colonisation are hard to hold in the ear of the settler invader yet, in the absence of deep listening, where do these truths reside? In the cracks and crevices of purposefully forgotten histories, in the complicated folding of carefully constructed images of a sunburnt country, a land for the young and free? The bodies and countries of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples hold the evidence of coloniser crimes, secrets and violences. This is what Sue Stanton heard in her poem "Pinjarra". In holding these violences, there is consequential un-wellness, de-stablisation, a fracturing for the whole of the nation. A call for truth-telling? Respond by telling the truth-that our lands were not terra nullius, that we were not "discovered", that our sovereignties exist. These truths speak us back together again and cannot be spoken by us alone for true healing will come when settler invaders speak, know and embody these truths.


The call-and-response poetic conversation for me reminds me of one of my Mother's sayings: "you're telling the story; I'm just turning the pages." We would sit outside, and with a cigarette in her hand, she would let me talk (and talk and talk), asking me enough questions to keep my soliloquy going but in ways that I knew she was listening. She didn't offer solutions, just let me figure it out for myself through my chatter.

Today, in a society bathed in the blue light of screens, we are alone together. People I encounter don't feel heard, their experiences filtered out, talked over or talked at but not talked to. Giving a poetic form to truth-telling, and knowing it has been heard, helps the poet's healing journey. The listener receives with their heart the poet's pain, then the roles are reversed, and a state of singularity transpires. The "rules" of language do not apply and through raw expression words try to give shape to unheard or unresolved experiences. The poetic conversation of a call-and-response method nurtures an intense, human connection-Speak, I hear you-among those with similar or dissimilar experiences. Such empathetic synchronicity releases untruths.

For the non-Indigenous team members in particular, writing response poetry was an attempt to decolonise their perspectives by acknowledging the colonial histories that continue to reverberate through the landscape and demonstrating their willingness to listen to and grapple with these terrible whisperings of time. In the following two poems, Shelley and Catherine respond to "Pinjarra":

After the Rain

Sometimes, after the rain, the lake


Turns blood red

They say, the stain of the tea-tree leaves

Blown in, soaked in saline waters

Mixing with iron oxide of the earth

Surprised that they kept the name Murdering Creek

That Creek

That leads into the lake

Blood's iron oxide flows, a red reminder.

There are no plaques to mention the massacre-

But the wind through the pines whispers

In a language too soft to understand

I feel the weight of red

The heavy echo in my heart

I'm listening

Don't die, don't disappear

(Davidow 2012/2020)

Whisperings of the Beach

Slowly, I walk up the beach.

I put my feet

into the other footprints


along the sand.

My hair is

whipped around by the wind.

My face

feels the sting

of blowing sand.

The wind howls with the horror

of agonising concern,

of heart-freezing fear.

Despair sighs just below

the level of sound.

The cries of the children

echo through my heart.

My breath catches

As history's terrible record

Breaks through the shadows of Time.

What terrors took place

on this beach

as colonialism's

fracturing force

stole across Aboriginal land?

What shocking histories

Lie beneath shifting layers of sand?

Whose blood was spilled here?

Were men, women and children

forced into foaming seas?

I open my ears

to listen

to the whisperings

of the beach

because, I care.

(Manathunga 2020)


Decolonisation through Poetry: Building First Nations' Voices and Promoting Truth-Telling

We suggest in this article that poetry offers generative possibilities for the decolonisation of high school and university curricula. Poetry offers opportunities for First Nations voices to be heard above the throbbing, relentless white noise of colonisation that continues to reverberate in postcolonial countries such as Australia, as Tracey emphasises. Poetry captures the diversity of First Nations' lives and the challenges of intersectionality, fluid intercultural identities and cultural location, which are experienced by many Aboriginal young people, as Maria outlines. Poetry has also played a significant role in Australian and global First Nations resistance movements, which have always fought against colonisation and which are gaining strength and momentum through spoken words, prayers, chants, songs and stories (Walker/Noonuccal 1964; Webley 2002; Whittaker 2020). Spoken-word stories of strength and survival honour ancient cultural traditions as well as the ongoing cultural dynamism of Indigenous Knowledges, and they speak back to power (Moreton 2006). Australian First Nations poetry, slam, rap and hip-hop provide evocative, powerful ways to voice the truth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' grief, anger, resistance and strength. Building upon the poetic pedagogies we have used in high school and at university, inspiration from the ZAPP team in South Africa and in close collaboration with Kabi Kabi, Wakka Wakka and Koa Aboriginal Elders and First Nations schoolteachers, we have developed the Wandiny approach. This brings together First Nations poets, Elders, university staff and students and schoolteachers and school learners in a creative poetry gathering. Our Wandiny approach to poetry call-and-response is designed to open up spaces for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander poets and Elders to "speak themselves back together again" (Scott 2002).

We also believe that our Wandiny approach will illustrate how poetry is a powerful vehicle for First Nations knowledges. Writing in Australian and a number of global contexts, scholars have foregrounded the importance of poetry as a significant vehicle for the retrieval, revitalisation and ongoing growth of Indigenous Knowledges (e.g. Byrne 2014; Genis 2019; Martiniello 2002; Newfield and Bozalek 2018; Newfield and Maungedzo 2006). Genis (2019, 60) proposes the use of "a pedagogy of poetic memory, or epipoetics" in history classrooms, which incorporates "the dynamic interplay of language (including indigenous poetry), the body (both physical and psychological remembering of the past) and the socio-cultural and physical environments in memory construction". Poetry facilitates Indigenous approaches to knowledge production, which emphasise the agency of Country, the power of story-telling and the iterative, intergenerational and intercultural nature of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Knowledges (Manathunga et al. forthcoming; Moreton 2006; Phillips and Bunda 2018; Williams et al. 2018).

We have also argued that poetry gatherings such as our planned Wandiny will promote truth-telling, which is urgently needed if Australia is to move beyond the pain and injustices of colonisation. Aunty Sue Stanton's poem "Pinjarra" and her story of how she came to write this poem illustrates how the histories of terrible massacres, which often remain unacknowledged, echo through the whisperings of the Australian landscape and must be remembered. Through the processes that will be used in our Wandiny, these shocking truths will be retold to settler Australians who have learned to engage in dadirri or listening deeply with their hearts, as Shelley's and Catherine's response poetry has sought to demonstrate.

We also suggest that adopting this Wandiny approach to poetry gatherings will help to build dialogue, knowledge-sharing and connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The poetry gatherings will be used to explore urgent and challenging topics such as the significance of Country, history, culture, connection, land rights, recognition, justice and Treaty, which are crucial to the Australian nation's sustainable and harmonious future. Creative poetry gatherings are a timely decolonial strategy to address the need for Australian truth-telling and treaty-making, given that there has never been a truth and reconciliation commission and that Aboriginal sovereignty has never been ceded. These Wandiny could contribute to the process of "Makarrata . the coming together after a struggle" that was called for in the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, which "captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination" (Uluru Statement from the Heart 2017). Our team of First Nations and settler Australians hope that the Wandiny gatherings will mark new beginnings, galvanising hopes, inspiring and imagining what might be. Wandiny, whatever their intent-to soothe, release, disrupt and inspire-bridge what was, what is and what could be.



We would like to acknowledge the early contributions of our colleagues Aunty Judi Wickes and Alison Willis. Aunty Judi pulled out of the project due to workload and family issues, while Alison withdrew because of the extra challenges produced by the COVID-19 crisis.



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1 Permission to reprint this poem by one of the authors has been sought from the periodical Southerly, which originally published this poem in 2011 (vol. 71, issue 2, p. 195).
2 We are writing within an Australian context where a capital "I" is generally used for the term Indigenous, so this is the approach taken in this article.
3 Kabi Kabi word for gathering together.

^rND^sAndreotti^nV.^rND^nS.^sStein^rND^nC.^sAhenakew^rND^nD.^sHunt^rND^sByrne^nD.^rND^sCasinader^nN.^rND^nC.^sManathunga^rND^sConnelly^nF. M.^rND^nD. J.^sClandinin^rND^sCutter^nS.^rND^sDonovan^nM. J.^rND^sGenis^nG^rND^sHopfer^nS.^rND^sKickett-Tucker^nC. S.^rND^sMartiniello^nJ^rND^sMinter^nP.^rND^sNakata^nM.^rND^sNewfield^nD.^rND^nR.^sd' Abdon^rND^sNewfield^nD.^rND^nR.^sMaungedzo^rND^sPascal^nR^rND^sSale^nM.^rND^sScott^nK.^rND^sStanton^nS.^rND^sStyres^nS.^rND^nC.^sHaig-Brown^rND^nM.^sBlimkie^rND^sWebley^nI^rND^sWilliams^nL.^rND^nT.^sBunda^rND^nN.^sClaxton^rND^nI.^sMacKinnon^rND^1A01^nNkwana Joshua^sSerutle^rND^1A01^nNkwana Joshua^sSerutle^rND^1A01^nNkwana Joshua^sSerutle






Nkwana Joshua Serutle

University of South Africa.



every time someone passes on in the family

our elders command us to wear black clothes for the funeral

to mourn the corpse in the morning

to capture a memory of one of us in a coffin

to wear a feeling of a dead body inside a coffin

and when the coffin sinks

the choir hums hymns like deflated bodies

they remind us of emptiness and loneliness

of how to make a song live without a voice

of how to make a home inside a black hole

of how to stay strong within a quaking body

our elders command us not to shed tears

not to turn our bodies into tornadoes

I wish to tell them I'm cold enough to fit inside a grave

that I've been dead ever since the funeral announcement

that my body knows how breathless the grave is

I wish to tell them how dead I am

but I' m afraid to in debt their hearts with so much loss

^rND^1A01^nMalika Lueen^sNdlovu^rND^1A01^nMalika Lueen^sNdlovu^rND^1A01^nMalika Lueen^sNdlovu



Dancing with Mountains



Malika Lueen Ndlovu

Arts in Psychosocial Support CoP, South Africa.




Poetry informed by indigenous knowledge systems, whether written, spoken or heard, offers ideal pathways for healing and transformation. Being "medicine" in the broadest non-clinical sense, it is deeply restorative as activism, as caregiving practice and as balm in the face of relentless assaults on our bodies and beings. This I exemplify in my own work alongside a range of South African poets and poetry educators, authors, healers and (arts and/or education) activists with the hope of inspiring further research and documentation of such work.

Keywords: poetry as healing/medicine; applied poetry; decolonial poetry education




Layers and Lenses

My transdisciplinary approach in this article is a weaving of personal narrative, poetic analysis, poetry and applied-arts thinking in a dance with bodies of work that speak to decolonisation and transformation. I propose that poetry is a substantially effective methodology for decolonial activism, particularly in the educational domain, and that poetry itself can be a profoundly rich expression of decoloniality. It must be stated that poetry is used in this article to allow poetry to speak for itself and centralise the art form as equal to academic analysis in terms of sense and meaning-making. It is a form of enquiry and not merely creative embroidery around left-brain ideas and concepts. Is poetry not by its very nature r-evolutionary in shifting the ways we see, feel or consider the world around us, each other, as well as the unseen, the not yet manifest, the dream-sphere?

The world we want is one where many worlds fit. (Zapatistas)2

As an arts activist coming of age during South Africa's transition from apartheid state to democracy, I found intimate resonance with Hazel Carby's3 account:

I found the process of actually writing [the book] to be an excavation of sorts. I found myself thinking of terms like "archaeologist". I had the feeling of moving through layers, not just of history, but the layers of being and becoming in the world that have accrued to us over time and that need to be peeled away level by level. (2020)

This article, like much of my writing, may turn out to be another dig into a terrain that has so much hidden, buried and forgotten within it. Yet each time I write and speak in my own voice against a mammoth and traumatic South African past, I am progressing on the liberation journey. I believe it is so for many of us as descendants of the oppressed, marginalised, erased or silenced. To advance this initial tilling of the soil on the subject of "Decoloniality in/and Poetry", I offer an extract from my archaeological and ancestral poem, "Lydia in the Wind":4

(Sung) If we do not know-are we free?

How can we be?

She is held captive once again

this time by a broken chain of events

our degrees of amnesia

the root of her dis-ease

Her feet are bleeding

from this haunting dance of grief

she will only know relief

when all our ghosts are put to rest

when their stories are re-collected

returned to their place of honour

recorded in our history

embedded in our memory

(Sung) Bring in the light of consciousness

Who was she?

Who were they?

Who are we?

And with this unveiling

we see the true dimensions

to this family

we are unearthing the path

of recovery

And in the questioning

comes the who am I

out of the listening

comes through you am I

through you am I

I have structured the article into two encompassing themes. The first, Digging Close to Home, reflects upon a personal and wider socio-political past, surfaces current scenarios, accomplishments and areas of redress within the contemporary poetry domain towards transforming or enriching poetry education in South Africa. The second theme, Poetry as Homecoming and Healing, zones in on what has unfolded in recent times with regard to poetry as decolonial and therapeutic practice, as well as motivating for further research and promotion of this applied-arts form.


Digging Close to Home

uGogo Grace Lee Boggs5 states: "transform yourself to transform the world". To me, this means that, in order to engage effectively in decolonial work in South Africa and the world, we must also conduct inward decolonial work, decolonising ourselves. Acclaimed South African poet Phillippa Yaa de Villiers's poem, "Come Back Afrika", expresses how intimate and unsettling yet liberating such excavation can be.

My ancestors were fishermen and fishwives,

on my father's side

loud-mouthed, big-bottomed Ghanaians.

When I asked my father about our culture,

I wanted to know

the beats that would lead my feet

in the ways of our people and he said:

culture? Well, your grandfather played the violin

and the harpsichord.

When I asked my father

why why why did they let go of

all that rich history that Afrika gave us?

He said:

my dear

we are Africans.

Anyone looking at us can see how black we are,

why do we have to be going on and on about it?

Like Kwame Nkrumah

I am freedom's child

and my pride

is in every molecule of my being.

I am not oppressed.

Why sing that song when I have broken those chains

and stand before you as a free man?

He's deep, my father.

Maybe deep

in denial.

But maybe

Afrika is dreaming

like the world is dreaming,

and Afrika is bluesing

like the world is bluesing,

and it's beautiful

live as a runaway chicken,

as a newborn goat trying out its new knees,

Afrika is the whole world's starving child

and the universe's wise grandmother,

Afrikans are dressing up in fantasies

and walking out of the villages and into

the cities and out of the cities

and back to the villages, via the

cave and the beach and the mountain

and the moon.

There is no limit.

There is no boundary.

(de Villiers 2008, 72-73)

The expansive last stanza and concluding two lines of this poem speak to how decolonial efforts require the resources of courageous vulnerability and recognition of the limitless ways we can think. Breaking away from our oppressive and brainwashing past, this involves consciously freeing and daring ourselves to join the dots and stitch together the visionary thought tapestries we want to see manifest as change, in our lives, our country and beyond. At the heart of this article is poetry and alongside it, the learning resource and transformative power of personal story.

Shaping Influences

I grew up in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), not-so-fondly known as "the last outpost of the British Empire". Central to my mixed ancestry was a Xhosa maternal grandmother from Kokstad in the Eastern Cape and a maternal grandfather born around 1920 in Mangete, Zululand. He was a direct descendant of King Cetshwayo's Scottish military advisor, "the great" John Dunn, with his many (mostly nameless) Zulu wives. I was born under apartheid in 1971; classified Coloured; English was my first language. At the primary school in my Coloured neighbourhood under the 1950 Group Areas Act, poetry was taught to me by Coloured teachers who saw a good grasp of the English language and an aspirant British accent, not only as a sign of intelligence, but social status. They were not at all critical of (or free to criticise) the colonial curriculum being taught. In Grade 4 (then called Standard 2) I was a 10-year-old brown girl with minimal awareness of my African-ness; I had consistently straightened hair and I was surrounded by a light-wealthy-and-white-aspirant mentality, paired with a shaming or denial of blackness by almost everyone around me. The religious literature I was being raised on included Helen Steiner-Rice greeting card poetry, narrative gospel music, the lyrics of 1960s and 1970s international musicians and bands my parents listened to (on 8-track tapes and vinyl LPs): this was my early literary diet and inspiration. Alongside the constant encouragement to read, these sources cultivated my early love affair with words and storytelling through poetry and song. In my teens these mostly Western "foreign" cultural influences were replaced by late 1980s American R&B and pop music, impacting my teen romantic and lyrical notions. The philosophical themes I was drawn to were heavily influenced by my Catholic biblical upbringing and typically adolescent questioning of the meaning of life, including religion or God's place and role in all of it. My high school poetry diet was made richer by my bursary-funded migration, aged 16 in Grade 10, to a private all-girls convent school. It was a transformative learning environment, with a building perched on a green hill overlooking the Durban harbour in a white middle-class suburb and it attempted multi- (not yet non-) racial education.

The well-worn poetry "bible" at the time was New Inscapes, first published in 1969 by Oxford University Press in South Africa and designed for South African senior high school students. This publication and a scattering of individual collections from the school library provided my heaviest infusion of English poetry, from dense classics such as Chaucer, John Donne, T.S. Eliot, Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare, Pope, Shelley, Keats, Frost and Wordsworth to modern poetry by acknowledged "masters" such as Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and e e cummings. These three rule-breaking poets, with their dark moods, were the type I found most attractive. They matched my teenage existential-depressive state and spurred my first poems emulating their style, bearing an emotional gravity that I only dared share with a few, lest anyone try to "save me". I believe this is my first experience of writing (poetry and journalling) as therapeutic practice. Finally I had a place for my "identity crisis" questions. Finally I had found an outlet for my heavy-hearted responses to the bizarre contradiction of life under apartheid, growing more vividly violent to me with the State of Emergency imposed in the 1980s. My life still seemed privileged and relatively untouched by the realities that my peers were experiencing in "distant" townships like Kwa Mashu, nearby Cato Manor or Claremont on the Durban South Coast, let alone compared to youth on the Cape Flats. I, as one of the quota of brown girls in a newly "multi-racial" private school, could express my guilt, shame and unbelonging, as well as the anxiety at outgrowing places where I once felt at home. Through poetry I could also expel the less obvious pain of what we would today call micro-aggressions and even fantasise about suicide as the ultimate liberation from the world's woes.

I started a Performing Arts diploma at the then Natal Technikon (now Durban University of Technology-Biko Campus) in 1991. I was feasting on protest poetry now and the tide of South African voices, including Mongane Wally Serote, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Mazisi Kunene, Gcina Mhlope, Pascal Mafika Gwala, Breyten Breytenbach, Alan Paton, Antjie Krog, Ingrid De Kok, Ari Sitas and Shabbir Banoobhai. My mostly British childhood influences took a quantum leap towards African-American voices such as Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. This initial injection of black women's voices would later lead me to performative styles such as that of Ntozake Shange, the lyricism, scathing wit and social commentary of Caribbean writers Lorna Goodison and Linton Kwesi Johnson. I was exposed decades later to Dionne Brand and the legendary Audre Lorde.

In 1998, having relocated to Cape Town, where another exponential leap in my growth as a writer and poet was to unfold, I was invited back to my hometown for the biggest international poetry event in the country: Poetry Africa. In the festival line-up, as had been the case on several stages before I left Durban, I was the only woman of colour (Coloured poets were even rarer). I would share the stage with Gabeba Baderoon6 only in 2005 when I returned to the festival. At that point in my mid- to late twenties, on my journey with poetry, I had never read the work of a Coloured poet, besides a handful of poems by Adam Small, Arthur Nortje and James Matthews in school curricula. Only more than a decade later would I realise how diminished these legends had been when I first encountered their work under apartheid schooling. I had never met a Coloured woman poet, let alone one of my generation, until I moved to the Western Cape in late 1996. On most professional poetry platforms prior to this move, I felt viscerally like an anomaly, as my poem "born in africa but" concisely unpacks:

Every story knows its teller

Every story has its time

born in africa but

breastfed another mother tongue

put to sleep on foreign lullabies

praying for a jesus-heaven

when i die

born in africa but

into a designated cultivated patch

flung far from the indigenous tree

strategy for carving out my destiny

born in africa but

mixed equals inferior,

rearrange that exterior

scorned for the secret

exposed by my skin

enslaving beliefs

this child was bathed in

born in africa but

i have died to

the hiding


fearful deciding

of what i am

who i should be

born in africa but

a self made prisoner

i release captivity

i am free to unfold the sacred map

no other will dictate my individual destiny

born in africa but

living before and beyond

a universe awakens in me

(Ndlovu 2000, 11)

Liberating Our Tongues and Ourselves

My years of engagement with fellow Black writers and poets across the country bear pain-filled resonances relating to our formative years. The Eurocentric and Western canon as our first introduction to what poetry looks and sounds like, presented as ultimate and superior, left its lingering impact on entire generations of Black South Africans, including those historically classified Coloured and Indian. My sense of self, identity and political education evolved with further exposure to the oceans of Black poets and poetry on the continent and its diaspora. Living in the Western Cape and studying in the Netherlands, on excursions to the United States of America (USA) and other countries, I consciously embraced Black Consciousness. I dumped the painful and cumbersome label "Coloured" as relevant to me personally, although I still accept and respect it as a historical part of my identity and early conditioning. I value its resonances with the complexities of people of mixed descent all over the world and I know this is an ongoing healing and self-dis/recovery process for many. Those who have lived it know the trauma and psychological struggle located more deeply than superficial shifts in political alliances.

In an essay "Searching for Women Like Me: Coloured Identity, Afrikaans, Poetry and Performance", Tereska Muishond decribes the time of forming a collective known as !Bushwomen:

We combined poetry with song and dance and were well received by our audiences. I noticed, however, that I was the only one speaking on Coloured identity. It certainly didn't help matters that the oppressor's language was my mother tongue. I felt like an alien in my own country and was in desperate need of a place of belonging. (2019, 143- 44)

She goes on to expound on her evolving identity and the psycho-emotional release of poetry: here, though, I want to highlight her relationship with Afrikaans. In an extract from a poem written in 1998, she expresses another layer of colonial violence by the Dutch and the Afrikaner, who tried to erase enslaved and indigenous Khoi and San peoples' contributions to this South African language:

My mother speaks a "borrowed" tongue

Its intonations and inflections I suckled from her breast

My father speaks the tongue of a proud Griqua man

Rich with wisdom and humility

But neither xi nor xê

But I speak an alien tongue

Beautiful to hear

Its sovereignty bragging in my ear

Ashamed to speak my own

Afraid to make myself known

Despite feeling disjointed


(Muishond 2019, 148)

The assumption that all people historically classified as Coloured share an oversimplified and homogeneous racial identity ("black and white makes brown") and speak Afrikaans as a mother tongue is pervasive, offensive and simply not true. Yet it would be a glaring omission if I did not mention language here. It would also overlook the extraordinary healing and decolonial work that poets as cultural activists have done and continue to do through and beyond their use of poetry, often in multimodal forms incorporating performance, music and visual art. They have been reclaiming and preserving indigenous cultural practices, and language is a central part of these. This topic deserves in-depth commentary, but within the scope of this article, I only have space to honour a few poets, such as Tereska Muishond, who make a substantial difference to "affected" communities and address toxic national narratives that perpetuate silencing, erasure and inferiority around Colouredness. I have learnt much in this regard from the work of longtime arts activists Emile Jansen of Black Noise; Jethro Louw, Garth Erasmus and Glen Arendse of Khoi Khonnexion; Nama Xam, Zenzile Khoisan, Collin "the Bushman" Meyer, Quintin "Jitsvinger" Goliath, Janine "Blaq Pearl" Van Rooi; also, those who gave birth to the Afrikaaps! production and educational programme: Adrian "Diff" Van Wyk (co-founder of InZync Poetry Sessions); the well-known Khadija Tracey Heeger; our national treasure Diana Ferrus; as well as more recent potent voices such as Shermoney Rhode and Jolyn Phillips. To conclude this focus on language and identity as part of "digging close to home", I have brought two poetry extracts into conversation with each other. The extracts come from Xhosa poet Ongezwa Mbele's poem, "Colonization: Twisting of the Tongue" (2018, 41) and Soweto-born Mandi "Poefficient" Vundla's poem "Bloody Alphabet" (2018):


In this new school, we will learn to

twist and twang and coil

Our tongues to utter and clutter the


And no one will tell us

how the English language

invaded our land

invaded the unfamiliar bend of our


Speaking English will require us

to breathe from our noses

as if our living and progress

depended on it

It will be like exercising in a boot


the English will scrap the Xhosa

from my palate

and be in battle with the Zulu

warriors of






We will be the sacrificial lambs

to the acrobatics of linguistics

of bilingualism

of trilingualism

of code switching

while the English speak only speak

and learn their English

and pass their English with


(Mbele 2018, 41)


When you preserve your language

Do you remember there is blood in

your alphabet?

Do you wipe your mouth when you


Do you need a noose to make the letters

'o' and 'p'

Because 'd' has always been for us


The power of white chalk on black


Turns our pain into silent letters

You don't pronounce it

But you see it is there

When I was learning to speak like them

My teacher said 'm' is for monkey

I never knew that monkey was for me

That 'o' is for an ocean tied with a


That classrooms are a lesson on


When they do not teach you to swim

In your language in pre-school

(Vundla 2018)

Through my own poetry and the work of other poets, it is possible to detect the ways in which the colonial agenda, through language, has shaped many of us in harmful ways we dare to name, confront, and heal from. Voicing these wounds and truths is a courageous self-liberation and recovery of ourselves, and who we truly are cannot be reduced to melanin, geographical location or exclusive ancestry. Neither can we be pinned down to purist or supremacist notions of language and static culture or suffocated by the narrow and violent politics of othering. Having exposed the colonial institutions and curricula that fundamentally shaped my relationship with poetry, my personal story also illustrated how I inherited the English language as a mother tongue. English may be my first language, but poetry is my mother tongue. Poetry is my home language- the language in which I feel most at home, in my skin and in my spirit.

Surfacing Poetry Histories and Witnessing the Shifts

From historical poetry schooling and publishing movements as old as, for example, COSAW'7 and CWLP's8 worker-centred activism, a plethora of writing workshops and retreats for local writers enabled tides of poetry to unfurl that spoke of a liberated future (not yet manifest in the 1980s). With independent publishing houses, such as iconic activist and poet James Matthews's BLAC (Black Literature, Art and Culture) in the late 1970s, Ravan Press's South African literary and arts magazine Staffrider, published from 1978 to 1993, and the famous Drum magazine, our future imagineers found expression and gave life-saving inspiration to many. Fast-forwarding and building on such legacies, historically Black universities hosted numerous events on campuses across the country that combined political mobilisation, public speaking, struggle debate and strategy. More often than not, these were also cultural events where poetry had a vital role to play in rallying activism, strategic transformation and offering a promotional platform to poets who would otherwise have remained invisible and silenced.

Then came the 1990s wave of efforts, with progressive educators in government schools exposing learners to "extracurricular" materials and local poetry by Black writers, whose work was generally not prescribed in schools or banned by the oppressive state as "propaganda". They began inviting poets and writers into school halls and classrooms to read and perform their poetry, to run creative writing workshops and youth poetry competitions. Some were elders (living archives9) and some were fiery young role models. While the celebrated and widely published South African poets of the time remained predominantly white, male and of English descent, the crosscurrents of change could not be stopped. They gave birth to many poetry groups, with the steady rise of Black voices and Black women's voices in particular. WEAVE (Women's Education and Artistic Voice Expression), rooted in Cape Town, and later Johannesburg-based Feelah Sista! were female-led poetry collectives and game-changers of the era. Established publishing houses were recognising the gap in the market for Black voices to be included in South African anthologies, with younger voices finding visibility here and growing audiences for live poetry events at arts and poetry festivals, both within and beyond the country's borders. There were also many independent publishing initiatives during the late 1990s and early 2000s, an increasing number of self-publishing poets, who could not wait for historically colonial and apartheid publishing houses to embrace their offerings. Many poets used self-publishing as an act of defiance and agency, for example WEAVE's Ink@Boiling Point: A 21st Century Selection of Black Women's Writing from the Southern Tip of Africa,10 which was published by the collective in 2000 and sold over 1 000 copies. Black women poets used poetry readings, stage productions, and culture, heritage and education events to promote and distribute their work and to encourage women to claim their voices by writing. In Our Words, Our Worlds: Writing on Black South African Women Poets, 2000-2018, editor and poet Makhosazana Xaba also significantly points out:

Black women conceptualized- and -led publishing initiatives are the most recent trajectory in the publishing industry, one that challenges patriarchy and racism at the broad political levels. Through their publishing houses these women are changing the texture of the publishing industry. (2019, 50)

Xaba mentions Rose Francis's African Perspectives Publishing, Diana Ferrus Publishers, Ntateko Masinga's Nsuku Publishing Consultancy, Vangi Gantsho and Sarah Godsell's Impepho Press, JahRose's PeoPress, Flow Wellington's Poetree Publications, duduzile zamantungwa mabaso's Poetry Potion (now including podcasts) and Tembeka Mbobo's Women in Writing. The works published by these publishing houses are evidence of indigenous poetry content being purchased and digested in print or digital format, as part of an informal curriculum: not just recreational reading. South Africa's poetry publishing history is an entire body of work that cannot be summarised here. It suffices to say that the most popular and skilled young professional poets, writers and poetry educators of this democratic era are standing on the shoulders of many. Whether they know or explicitly honour the poets whose legacies they are building upon, and what access they have to documentation and publication of these works, is hidden by the shadows of erosion and erasure. This remains an area of urgent redress. The preservation of this archive and support of intergenerational cultural heritage transfer, arts education and mentorship between generations are vital.

The post-2010 Black independent publishers, spoken-word poetry event curators and breadth of festivals over the past decade are driven by a confident, educated, social justice-oriented and/or feminist generation. They are comfortable and skilled in social media, marketing and technology, exemplifying this leap from the past towards a new future; they operate with freedom to write and say what they need to, in the ways they want to use. They occupy a multitude of platforms and print media is sometimes at risk of being the proverbial "baby that is being thrown out with the water". There are significant poetry education initiatives such as ZAPP (the South African Poetry Project), the youth-focused school poetry recitation competition Poetry for Life, numerous workshops and events attached to all the major literary festivals. Poetry Africa, the Open Book Festival's Poetica, the Abantu Book Festival, the South African Book Festival, Word n Sound, Hear My Voice, the Lingua Franca Spoken Word Poetry Movement, the Naked Word Poetry Festival and many campus-based poetry collectives and events across the country own their literary turf while enriching this soil for everyone, with an unprecedented diversity of poets and poetic forms. They continue exposing new tides of South African publications, voices and hosting courageous, interrogative decolonial conversations. They are doing rigorous decolonial work in the domains of literature education and publishing via the literature, with poetry holding a central space. Multilingualism in these spaces is more the norm than exception and age-old izimbongi11traditions are being kept alive by young bloods, slotting in comfortably on event line-ups of spoken-word events, either those with an American flavour or locally curated. This is decolonial expression embodied; it enacts what the Basotho phrase thupelo implies ("teaching by example"). They own their voices, choice of language and mediums of expression with pride and purpose. D'Abdon observes that

[t]he number of academics who are taking South African spoken word poetry seriously is growing by the day (Baderoon, Boswell, Byrne, Newfield, Gqola, Bashonga, Kaschula), and South African urban centres offer several poetry communities where writers, and attentive, passionate audiences have the opportunity to share words and experiences in an atmosphere of mutual respect, support and acknowledgment. (2016, 53)

There is a rapid, unstoppable flow of poetry around the globe via the internet and social media platforms. Since the establishment of the Africa Centre's Badilisha Poetry X-Change in 2011, anyone who is interested in poetry from Africa can savour a decolonial feast of over 550 pan-African poets from 32 different countries. From emerging to established poets, all are reviewed and showcased on the same cyber-stage in their chosen language, with text and/or translation alongside the audio format. This first Africa-focused poetry podcasting platform offers a major educational resource for South African poets across generations, for researchers and for educators wanting to enrich their curricula. These kinds of free digital archives and media platforms are collapsing the historical hierarchies of access to literary resources.


Poetry as Healing and Homecoming<