Teaching history in South Africa challenging?

wits_logoIs teaching South African history in the classroom a heavy task for teachers? “It doesn’t have to be,” says Helen Ludlow at the Wits School of Education. “South Africa’s painful history fraught with racial tension may seem like a difficult subject to teach and anecdotal stories suggest that learners find apartheid history repetitive. However, there are ways to teach difficult and emotive topics like apartheid, the holocaust and the Arab Israeli conflict, without creating blame and victimhood among learners,” she says.  

How to teach history and make it exciting for learners is one of the focus areas of the 28th Annual Conference of the South African Society for History Teaching, hosted by the Wits School of Education and the Wits History Workshop, in conjunction with the South African History Archive.

The conference themed History makes you think takes place from Friday, 10 –  Saturday, 11 October 2014 at the Wits School of Education, 27 St Andrews Road, Parktown. Teachers from South Africa, the continent and abroad will attend the conference which aims to promote the experience and the teaching of history.

Dylan Wray from Shikaya, an educational NGO in the Western Cape, will speak about the challenges and opportunities of teaching about difficult pasts in the South African context.

Some of the topics will shed light on low profile events which form an important part of South African history.

2014 marks 100 years since the beginning of the First World War where South Africa recorded one of its worst losses during war time. On 16 January 1917, the SS Mendi troopship sailed from Cape Town to France carrying 823 personnel of the 5th Battalion of the South African Native Labour Corps. However, five days later the Mendi was struck and cut almost in half by the SS Darro, an empty meat ship bound for Argentina.

616 South Africans of which 607 were black troops, plus 30 crew members, mostly British, died in the disaster.

How has the SS Mendi been commemorated in South African history and abroad? Delegates will discuss this with guest speaker Anke Hoffstadt, a political science and history researcher at Heinrich-Heine University, Germany, who will speak about memorialisation of the First World War and what it means to history educators and South Africa.

The closing panel on Saturday, 11 October 2014 at 14:30 will critically examine the recent proposal from a teachers’ union that history should be made compulsory in all South African schools.

Panellists include Johan Wasserman (University of Kwa-Zulu Natal), Mumsy Malinga (St Mary’s School) and Paul Maluleke (Wits History Education Honours student). Professor Noor Nieftagodien, Head of the Wits History Workshop, will chair the debate.

For the detailed conference programme visit http://sashtw.org.za

For media interviews contact Helen Ludlow, conference coordinator, on (011) 717 3170 or email [email protected]



Buhle Zuma

Communications Officer

University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Tel: 011 717 1018/ 082 886 8440

Fax: 086 5533 092

E-mail: [email protected]