Bringing Culture into the Classroom

By Xiletelo Mabasa

In a space where more and more children are becoming westernised it has become increasingly important for children to be taught to love their roots. Learners at Rebonwe Primary School in Ivory Park Midrand had an early celebration of Heritage Day on Friday the 23rd of September 2016.

Students and teachers were dressed in traditional attire from across South Africa’s diverse cultural groups. The event had a colourful atmosphere in every sense of the word.

In another part of the country in Dzumeri Primary School in Ndhambi Village in Limpopo,  teachers and learners went about their daily routines on Friday but with a bit of flare. The colourful beaded necklaces and headdresses, full xibelani skirts and animal skin cloths called tinjhovo truly reflected the culture of the predominantly Tsonga population.

Considering that our country’s political landscape is not in the greatest condition it is very refreshing to see that there is still something we’re doing right. We are teaching children to love themselves and to love where they come from.

I am proud of schools like Rebonwe and Dzumeri for encouraging children to celebrate their culture. I remember arts and culture day was my most favourite day on my high school’s academic calendar.

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Little boys from Dzumeri Primary School dancing dressed in tinjhovo

It’s been 364 years since Jan van Riebeeck arrived at the Cape but the effects of colonisation are still felt today. I’m sure our ancestors never anticipated that when the colonisers came to Africa that one day our cultural attire would become somewhat of costumes only to be worn on school fun days, at family weddings and during celebratory concerts. And that every other day of the year we would wear suits, dresses and t-shirts. Today that is the face of normality.

Retailers might be selling skinny jeans and tank tops instead of tinjhovo and tiyele (traditional Tsonga tops worn by women and girls) but I believe that we are naturally inclined to possess self-pride. I often feel patriotic when I’m admiring a natural wonder like the Three Rondavels or the Potholes in Mpumalanga. The same is true when I watch a foreign TV show and they mention my country’s name.

Even with this little bit of success in schools we still face a bit of a problem. Some (not all) African language teachers who are faced with westernised learners may do more judging than teaching. They fail to recognise it as an opportunity to impart knowledge on someone.

How can we expect our children to carry on our legacy and to teach their children about their cultures if we fail to do the same for them? Our position may be unique but it is no different from that of our ancestors.

They had to introduce their children to the beauty of their culture and we need to do the same. We cannot continue to blame media and western values for corrupting the minds of our children – for making them lost to us. We are just as guilty if we choose to abandon them because we think they are too far gone.

Every selfie, group photo or video of people celebrating their heritage; that graced your timeline yesterday is proof that they are not too far gone. Proof that we have made the first step towards embracing our African identity.

Happy Heritage Month!

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