Social Education 59(2), 1995, pp. 87-89
National Council for the Social Studies
Responding to Literature
"The reality," or the insiders' perspective, can be easily accessed through literature. The next best thing to inviting a South African teenager to visit an American classroom is to read realistic fiction. The stories listed below provide students with varying points of view about what it was like to grow up under apartheid. They provide a glimpse of gritty reality and offer opportunities for students to relate to story characters. Waiting for the Rain, Beyond Safe Boundaries, and Journey to Jo'Burg: A South African Story are literature selections that may serve as springboards for extension activities. Students may read and discuss chapters of the story individually, in pairs, or in small groups. Designed to extend pupils' thinking about story characters' experiences, the format of the activities varies.
A brief synopsis of these outstanding novels, with story extension suggestions, follows.
1. Waiting for the Rain (Gordon 1987) is a 224-page novel about a powerful South African friendship. Frikkie, whose white uncle owns a farm, and Tango, whose black father is foreman of the farm, are childhood friends. In their teenage years the boys' paths separate. Frikkie joins the army while Tango leaves the farm and joins the struggle against the oppressive political leadership. This novel offers insights into the conflicting emotions and values that these interracial friends faced under apartheid.
Extension Activity: During the reading of the novel, pupils may keep an ongoing journal from one of the main character's perspectives. As each chapter is read, students predict what they think will happen to their character next, or they reflect on how they feel about an experience of their character. Sharing their journal entries allows students to engage in rich discussion about their evolving insights.
2. Beyond Safe Boundaries (Sacks 1989) is a 160-page novel that features the experiences of a white South African teenager, Elizabeth, who was raised in a protective Jewish family. Shielded from the harsh realities of her black South African counterparts, Elizabeth does not understand the tragedy of apartheid until a series of disastrous events makes apartheid difficult to ignore. Readers will grapple with concerns facing black and white South African teenagers.
Extension Activity: Given Elizabeth's Jewish heritage, students write about the ironies involved in her apathy about apartheid. They can reflect on the fact that Elizabeth had wealth and privilege but was ostracized anyway. After doing independent research to gather background information about anti-semitism, the class prepares questions. Students can role play an interview with the main character.
3. Journey to Jo'burg: A South African Story (Naidoo 1986) is an eighty-page story about Naledi, a thirteen-year-old black South African girl who goes on a perilous journey to Johannesburg with her nine-year-old brother, Tiro. Alone and afraid, they find their mother's place of work within the frightening streets of the big city. Their hope to bring their mother home to care for their sick baby sister leads them through a maze of mistrust, false accusations, danger, and unexpected friendship. Written as a survival and coming-of-age tale, this novel deals with the issues of growing up in South Africa in the early 1980s.
Extension Activity: Cooperative groups of students design a board game to re-create the story events. Students decide what the game will look like and how it will be played. Students might answer these questions:
1. What will the game board consist of? A map of South Africa? The route taken? Locations of story events?
2. How will the game be played? Will men move by roll of dice? Will there be consequence cards to relate to story events (i.e., go back two spaces because your food supply is gone)?
3. What is the goal of the game? Is the goal to locate mother in Johannesburg? Is the goal to get home safely?
For example, one group might begin by drawing South Africa on a playing surface and deciding where Naledi's township should be located. Next, they might trace the 200-mile route to Johannesburg and back again. Particular locations are highlighted in relation to story events.
Careful reading of the text and additional research can supply the necessary details of geography, climate, food sources, demographics, and critical decisions characters must make. They also plan the trip and suggest what they would have done had they "been in the main characters' shoes." Students might need to conduct some basic research to answer the following questions. How would they prepare for the journey? What would they take? What would traveling conditions be like? What would they wear? As every dangerous event occurs, students offer advice, share warnings, and predict what will happen. What laws, obstacles, people, and events from the larger society impacted them in the story?
. . . photographs tell us much about the time and place in which they were taken if we are able to "read" them, for knowledge comes to us through pictures as powerfully as it does through words" (Tucker 1994).
Helping students learn to "read" or analyze photographs from South Africa may give them insight into the peaceful revolution, the powers that shaped the election process, and the people who make up the nation. Students can work in small groups to collect, analyze, and report on photographs from current and past issues of newsmagazines and newspapers. Teachers may provide specific photographs, such as the memorable overhead view of snaking lines of South African township residents patiently waiting for their opportunity to vote (Time, May 9, 1994, pp. 25-27).
To analyze the photographs, students can follow a four-step approach that we adapted from analysis guidelines created by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History: (1) Observe and list people, objects, and activities; (2) Make three inferences based on observations, such as what the emotions of the people are and what process is occurring; (3) Develop a context for the photograph, such as what might have been happening before, during, or after the photo was taken; and (4) Generate questions for future investigations.
Reflecting on Quotations
The peaceful elections of April 1994 were possible because of the careful groundwork laid by South African leaders. The following quotations reveal four leaders' thoughts and hopes about peace, freedom, and cooperation. Even though each quote is inspirational in its own right, when they are considered together, they offer a vivid depiction of a nation coming together for a common cause. The quotes are taken from the 1993 issue of Policy Review, RSA, Beleidsoorsig, which published leaders' views relevant to the September 14, 1993, National Peace Day.
Devoted to the pursuit of peace, the National Peace Day was the first in the memories of many South Africans in which no one was killed. Quotes by Mandela, DeKlerk, Buthelezi, and Tutu follow, along with suggestions for classroom discussion and activities based on the quotes.
Nelson Mandela, President of the African National Congress
"My ideal is a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve, but, if need be, an ideal for which I am prepared to die [Excerpt from the Rivonia Trial in 1964]." (Kromberg 1994, 46)
F.W. DeKlerk, State President
"I am optimistic because of the underlying goodwill that exists within our society . . . One of the strongest grounds for hope and for future cooperation lies in the realization that the major population groups of South Africa are inextricably bound to one another in a symbiotic relationship. No group can prosper without active cooperation with the other groups." (Kromberg 1993, 7)
Mangosuthu Buthelezi, President of the Inkatha Freedom Party and Chief Minister of KwaZulu
"We must recognize and accept that we are a culturally diverse country. We must protect and enrich that diversity and do so as South Africans intent on growth and positive development in human and economic terms. We must cherish all human rights and our commitment to these rights must be unequivocal. With our terrible legacy of apartheid and polarisation, it is critical that we offer protection and self-determination to all groups in a manner which is consistent with federal democracy as it is practiced, respected, and admired throughout the world." (van Blerk 1993, 11)
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 1984 Nobel Peace Laureate
"True peace-Shalom-is not simply the absence of fighting. It is achieved when there is justice, when the God-given rights of individual human beings are respected and when people feel they have a handle on their lives. Peace involves giving people a sense of being in charge of their destiny, of being free to develop their potential so that they can become what God intended them to be." (Kromberg 1993, 52)
Classroom activities that focus on these quotes can vary in length and intensity. Ask students to select and paraphrase a quote. As they grapple with the message, they will reflect on the essence of the statement. This activity may also stimulate rich discussion as students express multiple perspectives.
Provide newsmagazines from April to June 1994 for topical background information. Students will refer to these resources and be able to place the leaders' words in appropriate social and political contexts. Invite students to speculate about the reception of the quote by the original and varied audience members.
Give students the opportunity to make an illustrated book of quotes. They may select one leader, research quotes over time, and create a collage that expresses the changing political climate. Mandela's quotes in particular provide a powerful record of his lifelong struggle. Or, they may select several quotes that reflect similar or contrasting ideas and draw an artistic metaphor. For example, contrasting ideas may be illustrated by an olive branch (symbolizing a peaceful stance) and a shield (symbolizing a defensive stance). Quotes of differing viewpoints on the same issue may be symbolized metaphorically by drawing two sides of the same coin. Given the rapidity of change in South Africa, and the dearth of accurate, current information in textbooks, teachers can nonetheless develop activities focused on aspects of South African "reality" if they creatively use available resources as suggested here.
Farrell, Dennis. Photograph: "Civic Duty." Time 143, no 19 (May 9, 1994): 25-27.Kromberg, Marlene. "Unity of Purpose is Challenge of '94." RSA Policy Review, Beleidsoorsig 6, no. 10 (Nov/Dec 1993): 1-7.----. "The Views of Society: Pray for Peace." RSA Policy Review, Beleidsoorsig 6, no. 10 (Nov/Dec 1993): 52-55.----. "Mr. Nelson Mandela-Profile of a President." RSA Policy Review, Oorsig (May 1994): 46-49.Labbo, Linda D., and Sherry L. Field. "A Thousand Truths: Treatment of South Africa in U.S. Elementary Social Studies Textbooks." Journal of Social Studies Research 18, no. 2 (1994).Van Blerk, Chris. "Democratic Constitutional Solution: The Way to Peace." RSA Policy Review, Beleidsoorsig 6, no. 10 (Nov/Dec 1993): 10-21.Young Adult Literature
Gordon, Shelia. Waiting for the Rain. New York: Orchard, 1987. Naidoo, Beverley. Journey to Jo'Burg. New York: Harper Collins, 1986.Sacks, Margaret. Beyond Safe Boundaries. New York: Dutton, 1989.Tucker, Jean S. Come Look With Me. Charlottesville, Virginia: Thomasson-Grant, 1994.Diane L. Brook is Assistant Professor of Social Science Education in the College of Education, University of Georgia. She was born and raised in South Africa. Her research interests include educational reform in South Africa, geographic and global education, and the link between national development and social studies.
Linda D. Labbo is Assistant Professor of Reading Education in the College of Education, University of Georgia. Her research interests are in children's early literacy, reading education and global education.
Sherry L. Field is Assistant Professor of Social Science Education in the College of Education, University of Georgia. Her research interests include global education and children's historical thinking.