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Yesterday and Today

On-line version ISSN 2309-9003
Print version ISSN 2223-0386

Y&T  n.24 Vanderbijlpark Dec. 2020




Decolonial History teachers' charter: a praxis guide



1Ammaarah Dollie; Aalia Ramjain; Taskeen Varachia; Tsepo Mpho Maangoale; Tendani Tshipugu; Tijanna Laurence; Yaseera Laher; Aaliah Dabhelia; Muhammed Abba; Aamirah Karanie; Ayesha Mitha; Mbali Mbuli; Kananelo Mogane; Tebogo Montshioa; Amogelang Mamogobo; Mpho Sahula

Third or fourth year students, School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa





The below text is a practical charter which calls for history teachers, students, learners and then the provincial and national Departments of Basic and Higher Education to decolonise. Decolonisation is often talked about in the abstract, it is separated out into curricula, pedagogy, or university spaces. This charter takes the argument into schools and explores several aspects of decolonisation in a substantial and detailed way. The charter was developed as a collective exercise in a history methodology class by third and fourth year Bachelor of Education students training to be histori(an) teachers. The idea from the charter emanated from the students, and was initially, pre-Covid, guided by the lecturer (see footnote 1); however, once Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) began, the students took complete ownership of the project. The lecturer's only role was to make the charter an assignment, to give students impetus to carry on with the task. Students could work collectively on the Decolonial History Teacher's Charter, or work on and submit individual assignments. This is important because the desire, the heart, the intellectual work, and the collectivity all emanated from the students. The below document can serve, in our collective view, as an important guide to new and serving history teachers, students, learners, and scholars.

Keywords: History teachers; History students; History teaching; Decolonisation; Praxis.




"Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter" - Igbo/Ukwu Proverb.

We, as student-teachers of History, recognise that our world finds itself at an unprecedented moment in recent human history. As we attempt to come to terms with the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for the future of history education on a global, continental and local scale, we recognise that we have been presented with an opportunity to critically re-imagine the role that Historians ought to play in actively building a more just, empathetic and equitable world. We deliberately identify ourselves as Historians-in-action, based on our understanding of History as a discipline that involves the active construction, deconstruction and contestation of historical narratives.

We have a duty to decolonise2 the history curriculum and have history become a tool for the nurturing of agency i.e. our capacity as human beings to reflect critically on the historical conditions that have affected our experiences and to act decisively upon these reflections. To be historians-in-action, we need to expose and shed light on African perspectives of colonisation and its effects, such perspectives have a limited place in the dominant historical narratives to which we are exposed. Our teaching and learning of history glorifies Eurocentric actions and perspectives. These perspectives prevail in much of what has been written in our history textbooks. And it is that history that we continue to teach and learn today. We have subscribed to the "single story" for too long - an interpretation of history that has done little to disrupt unjust relations of power that continue to reproduce patterns of oppression, exploitation, and domination in our society.

If we are to move forward based on a more transformative conception of education, an education system that is rooted in the desire to empower and uplift our societies on a global, continental and local scale, then we need to dedicate ourselves to learning our true history and uncovering the truth of who we are. We recognise that this is a process that necessitates a critical acknowledgement of our strengths and our weaknesses. It is a process that requires us to take full advantage of the resources, skills and opportunities that we have at our disposal to make tomorrow better for ourselves and for future generations. Below we focus on calls to history teachers, history students and history learners with directed points to question the information we are given, to humanise each other, and to decolonise pedagogy as well as curriculum.


A call to History teachers

"Consider that for more than a century, Indigenous students have been part of a forced assimilation plan - their heritage and knowledge rejected and suppressed, and ignored by the education system" (Battiste, 2017:23).

We direct this section to history teachers, as teachers play a significant role in transforming and decolonising the education system. Each teacher's individual agency, approach, and influence, shapes students' views of the world and the extent to which they are involved in the upliftment of their communities. For better or worse, the influence and knowledge that history teachers bring into the classroom are significant.

The charter seeks to encourage and enable teachers to ground their pedagogical practices in Decolonial principles and to appreciate the far-reaching potential of such principles. The fundamental demand that we are making is that teachers should alter their pedagogical practices to undo colonising practices and to work towards achieving a more free, just, and independent way of being. They should empower history students and learners, and help them foster their own identities, as opposed to forcing identities upon them. They should allow students to value their culture and heritage and to practice it in the classroom.

Being a history teacher and working with history means having an opportunity to engage actively in the process of decolonisation - the process of dismantling a colonial system. It is a process that involves fostering a greater sense of independence while working to dismantle unjust systems of authority. This insinuates that we should urge history teachers to take risks where risks might pay off in the growth of learners. As history teachers, we can address such issues not just by the use of evidence or historical context but by our ability to ask the right questions and to navigate ourselves and our students through the answer (McCully & Kitson, 2005).

Schools should consider the teaching of emotive and controversial histories as a necessary step in empowering students with the capacity to navigate controversy effectively. History students and learners are bound to encounter controversy in its many forms throughout their lives, stemming from the range of conflicting opinions and influences with which students will be confronted with respect to any number of issues/historical interpretations. We thus have a responsibility to use the history classroom as a site within which the appropriate critical historical skills for negotiating ideas and controversy can be nurtured. Not only may this be of benefit to ourselves as historians-in-action and our learners in the long-term, but adopting such an attitude towards the teaching of controversial histories may enable history to be seen in a new light: as a subject through which the interests of social justice may be served. In other words, if schools take the time to allow history teachers to teach these topics, we may draw one step closer to the decolonisation of history, as learners will have to learn the nuances and complexities of what took place and how it influences the places and situations in which they find themselves today. Even though some history teachers may have reservations about approaching sensitive topics (such as the racialised, gendered, classed, and unequal experiences of learners), it has to be done to have a decolonised curriculum or space within which we may work effectively.

History teachers teach the CAPS - History curriculum(Department of Basic Education, 2011) and addressing this curriculum is a significant aspect of the decolonial project. If we were to refer to decolonisation in the educational context, this means that we should confront colonising practices that impacted education in the past and continue to have an impact in the present today. Wingfield (2017:2), states, "What's really important is that South African teachers, lecturers and professors must develop curricula that build on the best knowledge, skills, values, beliefs and habits from around the world. These cannot be limited to one country nor one continent - be it Africa or Europe".

We understand epistemic decolonisation to be a process decolonisation of the mind. We ground this understanding in the knowledge that we must wrestle our imaginations and capacity to imagine from our colonisers, or else we are doomed to repeat the colonial narrative. Biko (2002:102), puts it simply: "The most powerful tool in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed". History teachers need to be aware of this and make a conscious effort to facilitate a process of epistemic wilfulness within their classrooms. Africans continue to struggle with "decolonisation of the mind", to "seize back their creative initiative in history through a real control of all the means of communal self-definition in time and space" (wa Thiong'o, cited in Creary, 2012:1).

Creary (2012) asserts that the decolonisation battle remains inadequate and the fact that Africa is globally equated to chaos and disorder proves his case and the perception of Africa as being associated with chaos and disorder. It is tragic that Africans are considered subservient, where Western countries or nations who are viewed as transcendent. wa Thiong'o believes that decolonisation is not the end, but rather the dawn of an entirely new battle, which he refers to as a "liberating perspective" (wa Thiong'o, 1986:87). This refers to a perspective that can allow us "to see ourselves clearly in the relationship to ourselves and to other selves in the universe". In other words, while we may have been taught to see ourselves as South Africans, we first have to recognise the role that the colonial imposition of South Africa's borders played in informing how we define our own history, culture, knowledge, and skills in relation to the rest of the world. It is up to the history teachers to facilitate this conversion and to inculcate this mindset of liberation within classrooms.

Epistemic decolonisation also means a critical appraisal of our own sources of inspiration (Hountondji, 1996). Regarding African authors, there is a danger of taking what they say at face value because they are African. To be engaged in epistemic decolonisation (or epistemic revolt), teachers need to be skilled in evaluating multiple sources in the African context while tracking the genealogy of that thinking. This is not to say that we should turn away from ideas initiating from Europe: as Maldonado-Torres (2016) asserts that not all knowledge produced in Europe is inherently colonial. However we must rather be deliberate and intentional in how we engage our own work to circumvent the potential to replicate colonial/ modernity in our goal of liberation (Maldonado-Torres, 2016).

Because history teachers play such a vital role in the development and growth of learners and how they view themselves and their identities, this charter is intended to encourage history teachers to think outside the box and question how history has always been taught. It is intended to inspire them to teach history in a more open, real and inclusive manner which will help to restructure the entire education system. It is imperative that the oppressed of this country or any country that suffers from the effects of colonialism are exposed to learning that centres their identity, their history, their cultural practices. It only through the recentring of the oppressed that the South Africans can come together as one and the spirit of Ubuntu can be established, promoting unity and togetherness.


A call to History students and learners3

History students and learners are encouraged to take ownership of their place as creators and owners of knowledge. History students and learners need to understand the responsibility that comes with being able to work with historical evidence to create their own informed ideas. History students and learners need to use their knowledge from a historical perspective to engage in understanding the power of an unbiased (fact based, with a focus on marginalised knowledges) notion of teaching and learning. Students and learners need to use critical thinking skills and seize every opportunity to engage in controversial issues. The history classroom should be identified as a site in which controversy is engaged enthusiastically.

Independence in learning should be nurtured, whereby history students and learners do not solely rely on the educators for responses. Independence refers to students taking on the immense responsibility for their own knowledge and the process of their learning. Students tend to allow educators to cloud our judgement with their biased views and perspectives. It's important that students/learners take responsibility for their own learning and become constructors of knowledge rather than receivers of knowledge. This means that taking and accepting knowledge without further interrogating it be limited.

The charter emphasises the importance of self-sufficiency in history classrooms for students, as well as the ability to consult different sources. When engaging inAfrican history, learners often engage with predominantly European/Eurocentric evidence given. Thus, their views are often shaped by the evidence to which they've been exposed. It is imperative that they draw their interpretations and views from a more Africanised perspective, and through that, they should be tasked with finding their own sources that could be corroborated with sources provided in class. This can help with the aim of the charter of diversifying the sources with which we engage in class.

History students need to develop courage and have a say in the history they want to be taught. History students have been oppressed over a long period by various institutions and systems. They are forced into learning history that does not relate to their roots and culture. We have all been disconnected from our roots. Hence the need for courage development, which will be critical in challenging the various dominant structures with which students are confronted daily. It is imperative that students demand to have a voice in the development of a curriculum.

In the light of learners' experiences and perspectives, the charter does not serve as a voice for students but it insists on students having their own voice. One of the reasons why we are taught the history that we have in schools and at a university level is because we have also succumbed to being subordinate to ingrained colonial knowledge and power structures. Thus the aim of the charter is to dismantle any forces that have led to students feeling unworthy and unheard. Students should ask questions that spark inquiry and constructive arguments within the classroom. The overall aim of this section of the charter has been to strongly emphasise a call to students to be agents of change.


A call to the Departments of Basic and Higher Education, at both a provincial and national level

The starting point to decolonising the history curriculum is in the classroom, for what better way to decolonise the minds of the people than to start with the youth. Decolonisation of the curriculum is pertinent for establishing equity and justice within the society of South Africa.

Colonisation took place when white European colonists invaded and settled in our country. Their colonisation took many forms and laid the foundations of many of the structures that govern our lives today, such as; inequality, class, gender, language and race (Mignolo, 2011) .

Decolonising the history curriculum is a process of deconstruction and reconstruction. Essentially, we put forward that the curriculum needs to be dismantled to identify where information has been distorted and rewritten with balanced and critically thought out information and facts, which correctly fit the people it is intended for.

Part of decolonising the curriculum also includes the method of teaching. History earners need to be taught the important skills needed for having their own reasoned opinions while learning about the importance of empathy - increasingly so, in a world where it is so easy to be influenced. Our call to the Department of Education is that the department should allow, train and encourage policy and curriculum developers including writers of History textbooks to design history curricula that centralise African History content.

The content should equally expose learners to multiple historical perspectives and let learners make their own judgement of historical events based on their historical thinking. For example, our South African history textbooks - especially chapters covering apartheid - give learners one perspective of history. They highlight the importance of Nelson Mandela and the ANC as the only key role players in the fight against apartheid while failing to create a platform for other freedom fighters, communities, and political & ideological formations that contributed to the coming of democracy.

This takes us back to the aims and conceptions of Education, such as Plato's notion of the state control of education. This is to say the state controls education and the few elites - are the ones who get to decide which content is to be taught and which content is to be ignored. This was most apparent in countries that had just gained their independence: the first thing their governments did was to change the history curriculum and design a curriculum that serves the needs of the contemporary political structure of the country. This is because history curriculum controls the structure of the society and how the society views itself in relation to other nations. With society, you can create a framework (the history curriculum) that can positively shape an entire generation or negatively indoctrinate the society or learners.

It is for this reason that we call upon the Department of Education to decolonise the current CAPS History curriculum. History should serve the needs of society. It should provide a basis upon which social justice, healing and closure for the victims of inhuman systems of the past can be sought. This could be achieved by exposing learners to multiple historical perspectives - even of those with whom they may not agree. This will help history learners understand where certain behaviours, ideas and attitudes came from and why they keep repeating themselves. For example, the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a white police officer can demonstrate how racism and injustices are still taking place today. Learners can relate to these affairs because they have witnessed it and are aware of these issues in their everyday lives.

We call on the Department of Education to develop learner-centred approaches to our history curriculum, which open new avenues of thinking. In addition to involving learners in the process of curriculum development, this will also enable learners to form links by relating current issues to the past, for example; to reflect on the injustices and inequalities of apartheid and why those social injustices keep manifesting even today in a democratic state. A learner-centred history curriculum gives a learner agency to think like a historian.

It is also imperative that the history curriculum allow learners to study the culture, environment and history of their nation itself before studying Eurocentric histories and cultures to ensure decolonisation. It is important for learners to develop cognitive knowledge that further enhances their understanding of relevant history. This will allow learners to think consciously about ideas, giving them a sense of purpose and direction.

According to wa Thiong'o (1986:22): "... every language has its-own social and cultural basis, and these are instrumental in the formation of mental processes and value judgements". It is for this reason that we call for the Department of Education to re-look at its language policy. History is literature. It is a theory made up of language. It is a subject that can be taught in any language, the same way that it is taught in English. We call for the department of Education to include African/south African languages as part of languages of instruction, teaching and learning. History textbooks can be translated into African languages, so that learners have a choice in deciding which language they want to learn history in. This should create opportunities for learners to learn in the language of their choice. This call does not hinder any process of teaching and learning, but will build confidence and encourage learning for all races in South Africa. The status that the English language enjoys in history curriculum reflects the legacies of colonialism, apartheid and the constant celebrated achievements of white supremacy (Malema, 2014).

This is to say, the constant use of the English language, as the only central language of instruction, teaching and learning in our history curriculum when teaching black history students, is to perpetuate cultural alienation for African generations to come. This is because it is in languages where we define ourselves in relation to other nations. Therefore, by continually using English as the only central language of instruction, Black African learners will know and identify themselves through European and western methodologies (wa Thiong'o, 1986).

To fulfil this call, the DBE should add language studies as a compulsory requirement for history student-teachers. They should include all South African languages for student-teachers to choose the South African language in which they want to major. History teachers must be trained and equipped with necessary skills and methodologies that will enable them to teach history in the language of their choice. It might take time to achieve this goal, but victory is certain.

We call on the Department of Education to design a curriculum that will give teachers powers to teach history that has solutions. The study of history should express the purpose of "what to do now". It must be a curriculum that does not hesitate to tell what the results of study mean (Williams, 1992). For example, what would be the psychological effect of studying western or European History such as the Russian Revolution, Hitler, colonial conquest in African context? It should be a curriculum that does not only teach the history of Africans defeating Europeans, but a curriculum that also explicitly shows and teaches about Black people's contributions to the world's greatest civilizations. In addition, the history curriculum must provide factual data with no edited historical information. It must be a curriculum that leaves the work to students to evaluate it as they choose without the influence of teacher bias towards what the student perceives as relevant and reliable (Williams, 1992).

Our History curriculum must not be an instrument of colonial policy designed to educate Black African students into acceptance of their role as the former colonised, weak and inferior peoples of colour, but a curriculum that embraces the great satisfaction of knowing the decolonised historical truth which will subsequently restore dignity, respect as well as consciousness to historically marginalised African peoples. This would be a relevant history to an African child who still tries to find his or her true meaning of self as an African learning decolonised History in an African context. Not only the painful History but also a History that recognises the achievements, victories or strengths of African ancestors who successfully resisted colonialism and slavery (such as the cases of Ethiopia and Liberia) (Williams, 1992), South African history learners should be exposed to history from north, south, west and east of Africa. They should be exposed to multiple different perspectives and be assessed according to their historical reasoning and thinking capabilities (wa Thiong'o, 1986) We call on the Department of Education to appreciate the significance of this charter and to evaluate it accordingly.


A call to teacher education institutions

Mbembe (2016)speaks on the decolonisation of the university - in which he addresses the democratisation of access. He states that access to higher learning institutions ought to be easily attainable for all South African citizens, but for this to become a reality, the South African government needs to sufficiently provide for its universities and teachers.

Teacher training institutions have a major role to play in shaping not only the mindset of a teacher, but they also form a basis for teachers' pedagogical choices and how they think and act in relation to knowledge. They sculpt what we call the teacher and significantly impact the learning and teaching dynamic of a country. The country's teachers are as good as the institutions that train them. This then is why we believe that we cannot decolonise history education (and how we teach it) without dealing with one of the biggest contributors - the Teacher Training Universities. Speaking about who universities belong to in 2015 the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande cited in Business Tech, (Staff Writer, 2015) states that "to be Africanised means they must become universities capable of contributing in all respects (research, curriculum, etc.) to the developmental goals of our country. They must be conscious of both backward and forward linkages in the task of transforming themselves and our country."

University and school curricula have veered off into a direction whereby it is so internationalised that we have forgotten the context in which we find ourselves i.e. South Africa. Our curriculum in nature has adopted the ideology of the positivists who "believe that social behaviour is governed by discernible laws and if examined scientifically, they should be able to find universal generalizations that can govern accurately the development of human societies" (Feinberg & Soltis, 2009:82)This is opposed to the interpretivism ideology. Scott (2014)states that the world is constructed through the interaction of individuals, each with their own subjective unique and informed experiences. The training of South African teachers should aim to equip them for the context(s) that they are going to face. Although there are universal generalisations regarding the training of teachers and the extent to which teachers are trained to potentially operate within the international domain, most of the focus should be put into training history teachers rigorously with how they can cope within a South African context. How they can approach South African history, how they can be agents of decolonisation within the classrooms they enter. Contextual differences such as culture, beliefs, attitudes, and shared meanings and understanding inform people's perceptions and interpretations of the world around them, thus creating the possibility of difference in a similar situation (The Open University, 2014). We call out for teachers to be trained in context.


Some recommendations to teacher education institutions

Make use of teacher practicals to develop a broader understanding of the South African teaching dynamic. What normally happens is that the student teachers encounter challenges that are unique and could be of benefit to train others. But because there is no advanced and engaging feedback mechanism, they leave the teacher training space with valuable experience that could help others. It might be helpful to invest in studying such experiences, which sometimes can vary depending on where the institution is based. Addressing them and even having a module whereby you showcase these past difficulties and provide potential solutions that will be followed up by the next group of students to see whether they were effective remedies. If not, we may examine what went wrong and how can they be fixed now. There is a need for teacher training institutions to better their instruction in producing South African teachers equipped for the South African context. All this is an aim to better the quality of the teaching and learning within the South African context.

Teachers who adopt the role of an interpretivist researcher in their classrooms have the moral obligation to not allow educational research to be just a spectator sport, or a mere intellectual game or a way to make a good living, but rather to support the cry for a better education that encompasses all children, especially those marginalized by the curriculum (Gage, 1989). Immerse teachers in the art of researching from their undergrad studies. Some students will not venture into postgrad studies, but research is a major weapon in a teacher's arsenal. It not only equips the teacher with analytical skills but also enlightens them to realities that would elude the untrained eye. This is such an important tool even when teaching to have a "researching eye" which can be used to find out historical factors that are influencing their (current) history classroom. To be conscious of the environmental elements of the area they are teaching in and how it affects the classroom. To research the learners and what prejudices they might be bringing to the classroom that are imbued in them by where they come from. Teacher training institutions need to train teachers to have a "researching eye" for the betterment of the history classroom.

All knowledge is socially and collectively created through the interactive processes between individuals, groups, and the natural world (Sefa Dei, 2008:241) This principle is critical in enabling the paradigm shift needed to allow for local African knowledge to be recognised as knowledge. History students, learners and teachers would gain value being taught their own knowledges in a critical manner.

We urge the teacher training institutions to open up space for discussions between student teachers to speak about controversial issues (race, gender, xenophobia, class divisions). The aim is that through their discussions they might themselves be comfortable with addressing such issues, and thus when entering the classroom, they might not feel uneasy teaching them critically to learners. There is a need for emotive teaching within the history classroom. Teachers who will teach in this way are teachers who have been trained in how they deal with the teaching of controversial topics. These are teachers who may be empowered with the capacity to facilitate eye-opening discussions within the classroom in a way that is sensitive to the learners' feelings but also does not avoid the topics.

A last call to the teacher training institutions is that practice is better than theory. In this context, it means that students will learn better from you if you practice the theory you teach. The most effective way of learning is socialisation. We are calling for all teacher training institutions to adopt a student-based curriculum, which embraces the constructivists' ideology. This call is so that when teachers enter the classroom, they do not have to move from an outcome-based approach to teaching and learning - as experienced at the training institution - to an approach that advocates for a formative way of teaching. Use of inductive learning or inquiry learning "places a much stronger emphasis on the learners role in the learning process" (Killen, 2007:78) This is so that students can be active members in the deconstruction of their prejudices and stigma. The higher education space should be a place where student-teachers are pushed to a point of metacognition (thinking about how you think) in which they can deconstruct their own prejudices and stigmas first. With this example, we would see more teachers moving away from the traditional form of instruction to a more learner-centred approach. This would transform the history teaching space in a South African context. We are calling for a leading by example approach from all institutions who train teachers to teach them the way they expect them to teach.


Conclusion: A call for decolonial history teaching-in-action as praxis

We, as historians-in-action, hope that by undertaking to commit ourselves to the principles of this charter, we might work to build a broad-based movement for social transformation, starting in the history classroom. We aim to strengthen the bonds of solidarity between students who may come from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, who may not have all the answers regarding how to tackle the challenges we face, but who recognise that we have a vested interest in liberating ourselves from dehumanising structures of oppression. If you commit yourself to this project, know that you are committing yourself to building a more just world for future generations. You are aspiring to defend and nurture the beauty that lives within each one of us, despite deeply entrenched colonial ways of being which seek to train us otherwise, to fashion a new reality.



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Aasif Bulbulia




1 Facilitating Author: Sarah Godsell,, Lecturer, Wits School of Education.
2 Decolonisation definition: The process of untangling all threads of historical, socio-economic, and political hegemony; the end goal being to liberate the oppressed from the strands which, if left uncut, grow again into twists that tie around the neck. The process of disrupting coloniality, described by Nelson Maldonado-Torres (2016) as the "long-standing patterns of power that emerged as a result of colonialism, but that define culture, labour, intersubjective relations, and knowledge production well beyond the strict limits of colonial administrations. Thus, coloniality survives colonialism. It is maintained alive in books, in the criteria for academic performance, in cultural patterns, in common sense, in the self-image of peoples, in aspirations of self, and so many other aspects of our modern experience. In a way, as modern subjects we breathe coloniality all the time and every day" (Maldonado-Torres, 2016:243). In the context of education, the process of confronting and uprooting colonial pedagogical practices and processes of knowledge production that continue to have an impact on present-day methodologies and practices.
3 The South African system refers to high school pupils as learners and university attendees as students. We attempt to blur these hierarchical lines by grouping both together and using the terms interchangeably.

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