Nkutšoeu Motsau (Chairperson of Azanla MVA), writes:
I am not an atavist. I would, however, like to invite you down memory lane, to the precolonial communal communities of our country. Today the students at higher education institutions are up in arms demanding free and decolonised education. Was there education then?
First of all, I should like to point out that we had communities numbering above 10,000. When people come to live together in such big numbers, it means they are organised in some way. I am particularly interested in education. There were no schools, no teacher training colleges, no learners as we have come to know them today, no uniforms, no school fees. But education and teaching took place effectively, from the cradle right up to initiation schools!
All the toddlers of the village were grouped together. They ate and slept together. The grannies of the village looked after them. They fed and taught them without discrimination. At night they told them stories. The stories were educational. They were told stories about the birds, the insects, the animals and their heroes. They were the children of the village. And all the adults were their parents.
As they grew older, the same age-group boys and girls would be separated, and taught different things and chores. The boys would look after the sheep and goats. They were taught about the wild animals; how to interact with them, which were dangerous, which to hunt, how and when to do it. They were taught about the stars, their names, and how the positions of the stars changed with the seasons. They were taught about the four seasons of the year; what happens and what must be done during the different seasons. The young girls where attached to women and taught how to collect firewood, to make fire and prepare food, to cook and to sweep. Literacy was zero, but all the children were taught how to count: to add and subtract, and to multiply and divide.
As they grew older, so their education and chores changed. The boys would now look after the cattle. Sometimes they would be away from home for weeks, staying with their cattle where there was plenty of grass and water. Their survival techniques being perfected all the time. All what they had been taught was used to survive. The girls of the same age are now working in the fields alongside the women. They are taught about different crops; when to plant, when to weed and when to harvest. They are taught different edible grasses, plant leaves, roots and vegetables. Some communities also took the girls to initiation schools.
The initiation schools prepared them for adulthood, so they must be responsible adults. Thereafter they could marry or be married. They could now be given their own pieces of land to build their houses and fields to plough and grow their food. They could now procreate.
What the children of the village were taught, how and when this was done throughout their upbringing (from the cradle right up to the initiation school) was the responsibility of the community as a whole. The community as a whole was in charge of the education of the children. As a result, there was no discrimination of whatever description against any child. Education was an essential integral part of the way of life of the precolonial communal communities. That is why it was universally accessible and usable. Is there anything we can learn from that? Today the students demand free and decolonised education. Today we, as the adult in society, don’t know what our children are being taught. The education of the children is by and large out of our hands and control.
And so therefore “The fees must fall!”
* The writer of this column, Nkutšoeu Motsau, was born in Top Location in the Vaal Triangle in 1953. He grew up in Sharpeville. He is a tetraplegic as a result of a car accident in July 2005 in Sharpeville and now resides in Cape Town, but still feels a deep rooted connection with the Vaal. Nkutšoeu is Chairperson of Azanla MVA.