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Source: Department of Education
Title: K Asmal: Ten-year celebration of freedom
ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR KADER ASMAL, MP, MINISTER OF EDUCATION,
KEEPING MEMORY ALIVE, SHAPING OUR FUTURE: THE TEN-YEAR CELEBRATION
OF FREEDOM, Centre for the Book, Cape Town, 31 March 2004
My friends, colleagues, and comrades -my brothers and sisters -
tonight is a very special occasion. Tonight we celebrate. We
celebrate ten years of freedom and democracy. We celebrate ten
years of transformation. We celebrate ten years of making history
in education-achieving things that would have been beyond our
wildest dreams a decade ago.
Tonight, as we keep memory alive, we must remember the
revolutionary integrity of the great African freedom fighter,
Amilcar Cabral: "Tell no lies. Claim no easy victories." But truly
we can say, in all honesty, that we have won substantial victories
in education over the past ten years.
We inherited an educational system that had caused serious damage
to our people. In the imposition of Christian National Education,
the system contributed to the militarisation and polarisation of
our society. In the imposition of Bantu Education, the system
sought to disable our people by denying so many of us any
opportunity in our society. This we must remember.
We inherited an educational system that was embedded in the most
divided social geography in the world. Nowhere else in the world
was such a distorted social geography enforced by law. Our people,
separated on basis of race, were prevented from freely living,
working and being together. In education, they were prevented from
learning together. This we must remember.
We inherited an educational system in which what passed as
"knowledge", especially in science, religion, and history, was
deviously manipulated as an instrument of control over our people.
In the claustrophobic education of the past, students were choked
by rote learning. Their heads were stuffed with what they were told
were "facts". So, they were unable to breathe life-giving air of
critical thinking and creative imagination. This we must
As we keep memory alive, we must always remember the vision,
dedication and hard work that led us out of the morass of apartheid
education. In the early 1990s, the National Education Policy
Investigation brought together our best minds to work on existing
challenges and possible solutions for education. By 1994, we had
the ANC policy document for education; the Yellow Book that has
been our guiding light over the past ten years of educational
Over the past ten years, we have all witnessed this remarkable
transformation. Once, education was a source of our despair. Now,
education is a repository of our hope.
I know I am sometimes accused of being an optimist. If an optimist
is someone who is blind to our reality, then I am certainly not an
optimist. As Minister of Education, I am not cloistered in an ivory
tower. I am out in the world. I visit schools. I meet people. I
talk with students and teachers. I talk with parents and
administrators. You should hear what I hear.
Often, I hear good news. Last Saturday, when I took an hour off to
walk through St. George's Mall in Cape Town-not campaigning, just
walking-I was truly moved by how much people seemed to enjoy seeing
me. We shook hands, we took pictures, and we talked. So many people
said encouraging things.
But part of the greatness of our democracy is that people now feel
free to tell their Minister of Education the bad news. They feel
free to talk about their frustrations and their pain. So, I know
that there are aspects of our current educational system that are
creating difficulties for our people.
My dear friend, the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney, says that when
he was a child, growing up in a poor farming community, farmers
would see him coming home from school with his books and they would
call out to him: "Hey Seamus, learning is a light load to
We owe it to parents, who every day invest in our future, to
lighten the burden of education. As we work together over the next
ten years, we will continue seeing our plan for education becoming
a reality by making learning a light load to carry. As we work,
everyday, to shape our future, we can never forget our past. We
must always be engaged, in the familiar phrase of the novelist,
Milan Kundera, in the struggle of memory against forgetting.
During the early 1940s, one of the founding members of the ANC
Youth League, Anton Lembede, who was, in many respects, its
intellectual catalyst, a colleague in those days of such youthful
activists as Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, and Nelson Mandela,
argued that forging our future required remembering our past. "One
who wants to create the future," Anton Lembede said, "must not
forget the past."
Significantly, Anton Lembede was quoting from the "Political
Testament" of the Boer leader, Paul Kruger, who had said that
whoever "dares to create a future must not forget the past."
What kind of memory of the past do we need in our ongoing work of
building a new South Africa?
We need an inclusive memory, a memory that can find a home for both
the Boer nationalist Paul Kruger and the African nationalist Anton
Lembede. After all, Anton Lembede himself included Paul Kruger, by
quoting him, in his own understanding of history.
In our inclusive memory of the South African past, the legacy of
leaders such as Paul Kruger or Anton Lembede belong to all of us.
They cannot be owned by any exclusive or sectional interests in our
society. They cannot be used to divide us. As our colleague, the
Chilean Jose Zalaquett, observed when we were establishing our
Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a "society cannot reconcile
itself on the grounds of a divided memory. Since memory is
identity, this would result in divided memory." So, we need an
inclusive memory of the past for a unified South Africa.
But we also need a critical memory, a memory of the past that is
informed by the critical disciplines of history, archaeology,
anthropology, sociology, and other academic disciplines. As an
integral part of our Values in Education Initiative, we have
undertaken to revitalise teaching and learning about history.
As I look back over my five years as Minister of Education, I see
our efforts to instil values in education as our most important
contribution to fulfilling our constitutional mandate. Working
together, with broad consultation, we have developed new policies
and programmes for identifying values, nurturing life-skills,
addressing racism, promoting multilingualism, removing barriers to
learning, restoring history, and understanding the role of religion
in our schools. My greatest hope is that the Department of
Education will continue to embrace this initiative and continue to
implement it as its own initiative in the future.
Revitalising history, as I have said, has been an important part of
this multifaceted initiative. We are serious in this commitment to
history as an academic discipline. We know we are talking about
Historical research demands highest standards of integrity in the
use of evidence; it requires skill in critical analysis of sources
and their interpretation; and it depends upon a talent for making
connections and developing explanations that will enable us to make
sense out of events and processes of the past.
Such hard work, however, can also be enjoyable. It can even be fun.
These skills in reading, writing and making history, which we can
develop and claim as our own, can open new worlds for our
Tonight, as we celebrate memory, the Ministry of Education and the
Department of Education are offering-as a gift to our country, as a
gift to ourselves-new resources for teaching and learning about
history. Tonight, we find ourselves surrounded by books.
We might feel a bit overwhelmed by the wealth of materials that
have been produced under the auspices of the South African History
Project and with the involvement of so many collaborators.
You will find a new book for high school students and
teachers-Every Step of the Way: The Story of South Africa's
Freedom-that is an excellent, beautifully written, and richly
illustrated account of our history, with special attention to the
last ten years. This book is published by HSRC Press.
You will find a set of six short books-"Turning Points in South
African History"-that engage crucial issues in South African
history, from colonialism through apartheid, also for high school
students and teachers. These books are published by STE Press and
the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.
You will find the UNESCO General History of Africa, all eight
volumes, with an updated volume-Africa Since 1990-by South African
Scholars and an Educator's Guide. All of these books will be placed
in our high schools. These books are published by New Africa
You will find an exciting new collection of essays, Toward New
Histories in South Africa, which will be an important volume for
reflecting on new opportunities for historical research and
education in public. This book is published by Juta Gariep.
You will find an engaging and vividly illustrated book for
children-From Darkness to Light: Before and After Freedom-that
tells the story of our life before and after democracy. This book
is published by Advanced Design Group.
You will find many other things-maps, calendars, posters, and other
learning materials-that will be new resources for revitalising
history. Unfortunately, I cannot thank everyone personally, but you
must know that your contributions are already inscribed in our
public record of heroic contributions to the struggle of memory
We cannot forget. But, again, I ask: How do we remember? We must
remember the words of another great African patriot, Patrice
Lumumba, just before his death in 1961, when he said:
History will one day have its say, but it will not be history that
Brussels, Paris, Washington or United Nations will teach, but that
which they will teach in countries emancipated from colonialism and
its puppets. Africa will write its own history, and it will be, to
the north and to the south of the Sahara, a history of glory and
In Africa, in the struggle between the hunter and the lion, the
hunter has written the history. The lion, we have always hoped,
will one day have its day. The lion will one day have its say. The
lion will one day rise up and write the history of Africa.
We know, very well, the kinds of histories that have been written
by the hunter. Those books only serve the hunter's interests. But
those books are so often also boring and stultifying. We now want
to hear the lion's story. We now want to hear the lion's
On this occasion, with so many lions present, and so many books
written by lions around us, we can say that we that we have new
resources-truly new resources-for understanding our history.
I pay tribute tonight to our lions. I pay special tribute to the
work of our lions in writing history, with command of all of
necessary academic disciplines, which will give us a history of
glory and dignity.
In conclusion, if you will forgive me relating a personal memory, I
remember a Great Lion, from my youth-Chief Albert Luthuli. He was
my teacher, not in school, but in life. Albert Luthuli taught me,
like no other teacher, what it meant to be a South African.
Albert Luthuli clearly saw the African character of our history,
struggle and future. Fifty years ago, as a South African, he said,
"We are interested in liberation of all oppressed people in the
whole of Africa."
So, keeping that memory alive, we can see that our future is an
As he looked towards our future, Albert Luthuli was also working to
shape our future. Like us, because we learned this from him, Albert
Luthuli saw a unified, non-racial African future that "will not
necessarily be all black, but it will be African."
As we recover our African history, looking towards our future
together, we all have the opportunity to work out our own
understanding of what it means to be African.
Part of the meaning of being African, which we are celebrating
tonight, is greatness. I don't know if you know this, but South
Africa has produced ten Nobel Laureates, a sign of greatness-four
in Peace, two in Literature, and four in Science. Tonight, with us,
we have someone who has achieved this international recognition of
greatness. We have, with us, Nadine Gordimer-our laureate, our
great author, and our dear friend.
We are grateful that Nadine Gordimer has agreed to speak tonight at
our celebration. This is both wonderful and fitting. She has been
such an important part of our history-a South African "living
treasure", as she is identified in the HSRC's "Living Treasures"
project, which is also featured amongst our publications.
We must agree with former editor of Drum, Anthony Sampson, who
observed that "Gordimer's extraordinary consistency and sensitivity
through the apartheid years has given her a precious continuity
through the country's discontinuous history, maintaining a golden
thread of integrity through all the brutality and hysteria of that
time: she kept her head through the 'collective madness' as she
called it, and distilled her sanity into her novels. Like Mandela
on the political front, she provides a crucial link between past
and future, through which the New South Africa can see its problems
more clearly in a long perspective." This long perspective, linking
our past and future, is precisely what we are celebrating
In the presence of such greatness, I will stop speaking. But let
the celebration of our accomplishments-in education, in history,
and in the ongoing transformation of our country-continue.
Let us continue to work together to make our country worth
celebrating and to make ourselves worthy of the celebration.