Heritage-based Teaching and Learning: The Importance of History

Published on 3rd March 2020

Heritage-based teaching and learning means the main subject matter of our teaching and learning is firmly rooted in the things that make up our heritage. From an educational point of view, the curriculum at all levels of the formal education system must be populated with content from our African heritage.

We can give several examples from Zimbabwe’s colonially-inherited school curriculum to illustrate the discordance between our African heritage and the Euro-centric subject content.

In history, African children from a young age are taught about Marco Polo the traveller, Christopher Columbus the great discoverer, Vasco da Gama the Portuguese explorer, great military geniuses like Napoleon Bonaparte and great statesmen like Bismarck. 

The characters are romanticised. 

The texts never mention that these people were looking for resources such as food and goods to loot and that they readily killed and robbed those they encountered. 

European and world history dominates history syllabi while African history is given scant treatment, giving the impression that Africa had little contribution to world history. 

Great African statesmen and military geniuses are portrayed as murderous, cruel thugs who terrorised their people until ‘benevolent’ Europeans came to stop the ‘persecution.’

The historical narrative is heavily biased in favour of European ‘adventurers.’

As an example, Cecil John Rhodes is depicted in history texts for black pupils as a ‘liberator’ with the nickname “uRozi uMlamulankunzi”. 

This name implies that the local black populations were fighting each other and Rhodes came to create peace! This false narrative has been peddled in many historical texts to give the impression Africans were killing each other and the white man came to impose peace and tranquility.

The truth is that the whiteman never came to Africa to pacify Africans who were at each other’s throats! No, history tells otherwise! 

The degree of savagery meted on Africans by Europeans during colonisation is never described. When the Africans resisted colonisation they were mowed down with the ‘Maxim’ gun (remember Lalapansi). 

Those who hid in caves (‘ninga’) were dynamited into oblivion. 

Commanders of groups that continued to resist white occupation during the Second Chimurenga (1896-98) were tied to raised platforms under which fires were lit resulting in the victims dying a slow painful and most cruel death with their African fighters forced to watch to teach them a lesson ‘never to oppose a whiteman.’

This is the heritage content that must be taught as part of mental decolonisation of African youth. Jews teach their children about the holocaust from as early as two years of age! 

We all know what the European invaders did to the Red Indians in America and Canada. 

The Cherokee Indians of North Carolina in the United States were forced out of their native land in the middle of a freezing winter to travel on foot to Arizona. 

Most of them perished on the way that is now named ‘The Trail of Tears.’ 

The state government (legislature) of North Carolina passed a bill in 1986/7 to officially acknowledge and apologise to the Cherokee nation for the inhuman treatment meted on their ancestors.

African governments in collusion with academia have continued to sponsor historical tests that have been sanitised of the dark acts of cruelty meted on blacks by white invaders. 

This has produced a population of young Africans who romanticise slavery and the colonial plunder of Africa as innocent acts in history! 

We have African youth who dream that they are in a global village as equals with other races! But history shows that to be a false narrative. 

In the global village there are bullies who thrive on seizing and depriving the vulnerable of their valuables! That is the real experience of Africa!

The point to make here is that history syllabi based on a Euro-centric curriculum in African schools seeks to sanitise the horrendous iniquities and most diabolical actions of colonising regimes against Africans. 

A correct heritage-based syllabus should highlight the iniquities of the colonial experience so that the young generations are correctly informed on their historical narrative and remain alert to the real possibilities of recolonisation! 

Otherwise, as history is said to repeat itself, future generations may find themselves colonised by the same invaders again!

History texts have the correct heritage content when they focus on contemporary history such as on the lives and achievements of African liberation icons like Kwame Nkrumah, Herbert Chitepo, Samora Machel, Josiah Tongogara, Jason Ziyapapa Moyo and others. 

These great heroes must inspire today’s generation to aspire and work towards hire standards of living!

Great African pre-slavery history narratives of scientific achievements date back to the Great Pyramids of ancient Egypt, the cradle of African civilisation. 

The great African academic institutions like Timbuktu University speak to the academic prowess of Africans. 

The construction of the highly sophisticated Great Zimbabwe Monuments, smaller versions of which are scattered across the length and breadth of Zimbabwe speak to the architectural genius of our Zimbabwean forefathers. 

These and many other historical achievements of our ancestors must populate our school and college history textbooks so that our children grow up with confidence and pride of place borne out of knowing their African heritage.

By Professor Sheunesu Mpepereki

Chair, Department of Soil Science & Agricultural Engineering, University of Zimbabwe.

Courtesy: The Patriot

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