Africa and the Politics of Education

Published on 29th August 2017

About fifteen years ago, I had a debate in the Star newspaper with some white South African academics about the Africanness of ancient Egyptians and that ancient Egyptians were African and black. These white academics claimed that ancient Egyptians were not African and Black and relented only when I proffered irrefutable evidence.

According to western historiographical orthodoxy, ancient Egyptians were not  black and African. According to that orthodoxy, Africans also did not have a history of their own and “did not contribute anything to world civilisation.’ As some scholars have revealed, the canons of orthodoxy die hard.

Before the advent of western imperialism in the 1830’s, ancient Egyptian civilisation was an African civilisation authored by Black Africans. Dr Cheikh Anta Diop writes that “imperialism, like the prehistoric hunter, first killed the being spiritually and culturally, before trying to eliminate it physically. The negation of the history and intellectual accomplishments of Black Africans was cultural, mental murder, which preceded and paved the way for their genocide here and there in the world.” 

I once wrote an article in which I questioned, in passing, South Africa’s government policy makers who want to mess up this country's education system by banning the teaching of history from the school curriculum and making the teaching of Mathematics optional in schools. How can this be when ancient Egyptians taught Pythagoras and the Greeks what mathematics they knew?

I know that there are those who still question Africa's contribution in Mathematics, the sciences, medicine, philosophy, religion and the arts despite palpable evidence. Africa was not only the cradle of humanity but also of civilisation.

The painting above from K.R. Lepsius taken from the book Egypt Revisited edited by Professor Ivan Van Sertima demonstrates that ancient Egyptians depicted themselves as Black Africans without possible confusion with the other groups of people such as the Indo-Europeans or the Semites. When I write about ancient Egyptians, the builders of the pyramids and the authors of the Nile Valley civilisation, some people to the contrary think that I am referring to the Arabs who now inhabit Egypt and the northern parts of the continent. When the Arabs came to Egypt in the 6th Century in the Common Era (CE), all the elements of Egyptian civilisation were already in place.

To illustrate the distinction and differences between the ancient Egyptians and the Arabs who now inhabit Egypt is crucial. Arabic is classified as an Indo-European language while ancient Egyptian is an African language genetically and morphologically related to the other African languages spoken on the African continent such as, for example, Wolof spoken in Senegal. The Arabic script is different from ancient Egyptian forms of writing - hieroglyphs, hieratic or demotic. The Arabs came to Egypt and the other parts of North Africa as conquerors just like those who came before them such as the Hyksos, Persians and Romans.

There is also talk of decolonising the education system without changing the philosophy of education. South Africa has changed the curriculum four times since 1994. There was what is called Outcomes Based Education system then Curriculum 2005, National Curriculum Statement and Carriculum Assessment Policy Statement. The issue of the philosophy of education eludes our policy makers. Professor Emeritus Theophile Obenga says that changing the curriculum doesn't address the issue of the philosophy of education. Professor Obenga says the West can change their curriculum but does not change their philosophy of education. In my view, for South Africa to solve the problem of decolonising the education system they must change the philosophy of education. As Professor Obenga says, an appropriate philosophy of education will ensure that we produce the kind of students we want to produce with the right psyche. The philosophy of education addresses the mind-set of the system of education.

There are precedents to emulate such as the ancient Egyptian curriculum which Plato in his book titled Laws wrote that it made students more human and alert. In that book, Plato said the Greek education system was as if it was designed for pigs. It is also interesting to note that, Plato said the word 'sofia' was foreign to the Greek language which means the word ‘philosophy’ is not of Greek origin. Another interesting word that is of ancient Egyptian origin which many people think is of Greek origin is the word ‘pyramid.’

In his book Stolen Legacy published in 1954, George G.M. James wrote that, In combining their efforts, both races must not only preach and teach the truth that the Mystery system of the African Continent gave the world philosophy and religion, and the arts and sciences, but they must see to it that all false praise of the Greeks be removed from the textbooks of our schools and colleges: for this is the practice that has blind-folded the world, and has laid the foundations for the deplorable race relations of the modern world. The name of Pythagoras, for instance, should be deleted from our mathematical textbooks: in Geometry, where the theorem of the square on the hypotenuse of a right angled triangle is called the Pythagorean theorem, because this not true. We must point out to the world the deception in attaching the authorship of Socrates to the precept ‘man know thyself’; and in attaching the authorship of Plato to the four cardinal virtues; since Socrates obtained the self-knowledge precept from the Egyptian temples where it was used as an inscription; and Plato reduced the ten virtues to four.

An African American study reveals that the education of black people worldwide is underfunded and calls for an examination of the epistemological biases that continue to pervade our research and scholarship. The study also emphasises that people of Africa ancestry must keep in their consciousness that domination involves structures and systematic practices founded on ideology organised to suppress the history of the victims; destroy the practice of their culture; prevent the victims from coming to understand themselves as part of a cultural family; teach systematically the ideology of white supremacy; control the socialisation process; control the accumulation of wealth; and perform segregation or apartheid. 

This should not be difficult for policy makers to grasp unless they are white or westerners who want to maintain the status quo. The ANC government has been in "power" for twenty-three years and in all those years they barely scratched the surface on the thorny issue of education. What is uppermost in their minds is lining their pockets and looting state coffers. They are implementing the imperialist and colonialist agenda of miseducation of the African people. 

By Sam Ditshego

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