Fix his­tor­i­cal deficit to raise lead­ers

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Ab­dul­lah Ver­achia

TEXT­BOOKS are all well and good, but for to­day’s youth – for whom re­al­time, so­cial me­dia-in­spired, dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the norm – the lessons of his­tory are best im­parted in a deeply per­sonal and com­pelling way.

Re­cently, the Gor­don In­sti­tute of Busi­ness Science con­ducted a poll of Grade 11 and 12 young­sters at­tend­ing the GIBS Ca­reerExpo, which is hosted an­nu­ally in as­so­ci­a­tion with MTN.

The re­sults open up a win­dow into the world of these young adults and al­low us to gauge things like their op­ti­mism for the fu­ture (just 53% in­tend build­ing a fu­ture in South Africa, down from 80% in 2016) and their be­lief in po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment to ef­fect change in our na­tion (53%, down from 75% in 2015).

The lat­est sur­vey also tells us that South African youth don’t know their his­tory.

We asked three his­tory-fo­cused ques­tions this year, all of which high­lighted a lack of de­tailed his­tor­i­cal un­der­stand­ing by 16 to 17-year-olds. We asked which of the fol­low­ing heads of state – Nel­son Man­dela, Thabo Mbeki and Ja­cob Zuma – were not im­pris­oned on Robben Is­land, and 70% thought Zuma wasn’t im­pris­oned there.

We asked when the con­sti­tu­tion was adopted and 67% thought in 1994, not 1996.

We asked when South Africa was in a state of emer­gency. Only 15% said 1985, most said 1976 or 1991.

The pupils came from var­i­ous racial groups – 76% black; 5% In­dian; 5% coloured, 4% white – and pri­vate and public schools from across Gaut­eng.

It ap­pears that this his­tor­i­cal deficit is ev­i­dent in both priv­i­leged and un­der­priv­i­leged youth.

This tells us that the prob­lem is en­demic and the so­lu­tion may be found by tack­ling the way we en­gage with to­day’s hy­per-con­nected youth about our com­plex past.

We have so many re­sources at our fin­ger­stips to achieve this: books, ar­ti­cles, film, tele­vi­sion, mu­sic, the­atre. It’s time to use them all.

Next month, for ex­am­ple, a new South African film, Kro­toa, hits the lo­cal movie cir­cuit af­ter claim­ing a wealth of global ac­co­lades.

The pro­duc­tion, from film­maker Roberta Dur­rant, tells the tragic story of a Khoi woman, Kro­toa, who is caught be­tween two worlds: the Dutch colonis­ers and her Khoi her­itage.

His­tory tells us that Kro­toa was Jan van Riebeek’s chief in­ter­preter, but un­til this film, her story was seem­ingly lost to South African his­tory.

This film captures a mo­ment in South Africa’s com­plex his­tory. It doesn’t sugar-coat events, but cre­ates a win­dow of un­der­stand­ing. It hu­man­ises the strug­gle for equal­ity back in 1652. We need more of this sort of sto­ry­telling.

As South Africans, we should know these nu­ances of our his­tory in the same way that proud na­tions like the US, Aus­tralia or Rus­sia do.

In the past, we shied away from is­sues of race and dif­fi­cult dis­cus­sions, but as a na­tion we can no longer af­ford to do so.

GIBS is a firm be­liever in the power of ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ing to make these sorts of im­pact­ful break­throughs.

We could start by in­ter­ro­gat­ing, for ex­am­ple, how the con­sti­tu­tion in­flu­ences the lives of young peo­ple un­der 25, who make up 51.5% of our pop­u­la­tion.

The con­sti­tu­tion ap­plies to us all, but how much do young peo­ple un­der­stand about the years of real con­ver­sa­tion and com­pro­mise that went into cre­at­ing it?

I hear lots of per­spec­tives but I yearn for some real di­a­logue around the “so what”.

I long for the abil­ity to en­gage deeply on some of the most vex­ing is­sues and the abil­ity to bring to­gether the beau­ti­ful ta­pes­try of in­cred­i­ble minds that make up South Africa to find unique ways in which to ad­dress this.

We live in a pe­riod in which tech­nol­ogy al­lows us to con­nect quicker and faster than ever be­fore. This ex­cites me. Now is the chance for us to pos­i­tively im­pact the fu­ture lead­ers; young­sters who, ac­cord­ing to our sur­vey, are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dis­il­lu­sioned about their abil­ity to im­prove this coun­try. Di­rec­tor for Cen­tre of Lead­er­ship and Di­a­logue at the GIBS


MOULD­ING LEAD­ERS: Teacher Nokuthula Zulu giv­ing a re­vi­sion class for the exam on 40 Years Later, Af­ter June 16 1976. The writer is ap­palled by youths’ ig­no­rance of his­tory.

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