History professor hits out at Holocaust question

  • MirahHolocaust
Professor Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu, the chair of an educational task team, lashed out at the SA Jewish Report for daring to question him about the Holocaust’s place in the future history curriculum at South African schools, saying, “Our history is more important.”
by MIRAH LANGER | Jun 07, 2018

Ndlovu chaired the task team investigating whether history should become a compulsory subject for Grade 10, 11 and 12s. He agreed to speak to the SA Jewish Report about the recently released report commissioned by the Department of Basic Education.

Prior to its release, history textbook writer Gengs Pillay, was reported to have told the Sunday Times that there was an over-emphasis on the Holocaust in the proposed adjustments to the curriculum. “You are living in Africa, in South Africa, but you don’t know about the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906, the Land Act of 1913, or segregation,” he was quoted as saying.

History teacher and textbook writer Michelle Friedman was quoted in the article as saying that the Holocaust remained “seminal” to the subject’s curriculum.

In the report released by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga last week, a recommendation is made that, “In terms of chronology, before learners study about the Nazis and the Holocaust in the theme/topic on genocide, learners will have to study about genocide in the Americas, particularly in Latin America and also on the African continent.”

“The impact of disease, plants and animals brought by colonisers to the ‘new world’ is also important.”

“Before we study about the Holocaust, we have to study the history of genocide on the African continent as perpetuated by King Leopold II of Belgium, who carried out a brutal plundering of the Belgian Congo, ultimately slashing its population by 10 million in the late 19th century,” states the report.

“This should be followed by genocide in Namibia, as carried out by the German government during the same period,” it concludes.

In response to the SA Jewish Report’s first question about the Holocaust’s place in the proposed adjusted curriculum, Ndlovu went completely silent.

“I’m just taken back: why only the Holocaust? I’m taken back. I’m just taken aback. I haven’t even recovered. Can I not answer this question? Our history is more than the Holocaust.”

Ndlovu disrupted any attempt to clarify the question, instead offering his interpretation of what was being implied: “And we even haven’t spoken about ourselves as a people, and the first thing you ask me is about the Holocaust...”

Speaking over another attempt by the interviewer to engage, he declared, “So South African history according to you should be about the Holocaust?”

“History is not about an interest group, so that is why I am saying to you I am not even contemplating answering your question,” he said.

Despite attempts to ascertain why Ndlovu was responding in this way, the interview continued to degenerate, with Ndlovu becoming unresponsive.

When it was explained that the interview was to gain insight into the task team’s recommendations, Ndlovu refuted this, saying, “No, you want me to talk about the Holocaust, and I don’t want to talk about the Holocaust. I just want to talk about the way we interpret genocide that it is inclusive; it is not exclusive to the Holocaust, that is what I said.”

Asked what the intended outcome for students in studying genocide would be, the professor said repeatedly, “It’s obvious; it’s obvious… We are part of the international community; it’s about human solidarity.”

To understand the basis for the task team’s selection of which genocides to recommend for study, the professor was asked why, for example, the Belgian Congo was proposed.

This query, too, seemed to go awry. “Why not? Why not? We are in the African continent,” he declared.

When it was pointed out that the question was not an accusation, he began to raise his voice, and speak over any attempt to interject and gain an understanding, he said, “We are in the African continent. Don’t you understand that South Africa is part of the African continent?…”

He refused to listen to pleas that this was not the question asked, instead raising his voice even louder. “The Belgian Congo is in Africa,” he repeated twice, before saying: “So why do you ask me a question about why do I write about Africa?”

He then proceeded to say, “Now is my turn to question you… Why should the questions be one sided?”He then repeatedly asked the interviewer where the Belgian Congo was, refusing to proceed until his question was answered.

When it was posed that an interest in the Holocaust did not exclude an interest in Africa, he retorted: “It does exclude.”

The task team of which Ndlovu is at the helm was appointed in 2015 and completed its work in December 2017.

Its recommendations include that Life Orientation remain a compulsory subject until Grade 9, after which it will be replaced by History in the Further Education and Training band.

Further, it is proposed that History be phased in incrementally in the final years of high school, from 2023 to 2025.

In Grade 12, two History exam papers should be written – one on African History and another focusing on the history of “the wider world”, including Europe.

Elijah Mhlanga, the spokesperson for the Department of Basic Education, said that the “popular view” indicated that the department was likely to go in the direction of the report’s recommendations.

However, he said there would be no final decision before the report went before Cabinet and Parliament.

The department was “moving with speed” to complete these processes, Mhlanga said.

Currently, the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement for History Grades 10 to 12, which is dated from 2011, stipulates that Nazi Germany and the Holocaust should be studied in the second term of Grade 11 under a section titled “Ideas of race in the late 19th and 20th centuries”.

According to the policy statement, the section covers a variety of aspects, including Hitler’s rise to power and political machinations, his ideology of race and eugenics, the Final Solution, labour and extermination camps, as well as the Nuremberg trials.”

The syllabus also requires that students study the various groups targeted by the Nazis, as well as unpack the choices made by various role-players such as perpetrators, bystanders, resisters and rescuers, including the responses of the persecuted.


  1. 2 Irving Freeman 07 Jun
    It is very easy to predict the treatment of  History in the near future in a country which has already named one international airport after an instigator of a holocaust based on tribal affiliation , BLVXK and is contemplating naming another after an advocate of necklacing those who  were suspected of opposing the policies to which she subscribed.  
  2. 1 COLIN JANTJIES 12 Jun
    I hope that when Prof Ndlovu and his team will also look into the devastating effect of Arab colonialism on Africans. It is sickening that only European colonialism is blamed for Africa's woes. But Arab colonialism came centuries before the Europeans. And remarkably, besides its slave, racist and forced convertion of the Africans to Islam, no history book single the Arabs out as the biggest destroyers of the African people. The Arab countries in Africa continue to practice black slavery because they have never seen themselves as black. Africans, in their opinion,were never their equals - not even those who have converted to Islam. The Arabs, in comparison to the Europeans, have done little to uplift and develope Africans. The countries they have conquered generally remain underdeveloped and backward. Only the elite and their cronies have benefitted economically and socially. This remains the scenario in the African north where a black skin is still perceived as an inferior being. Will this reality be raised in our history books or will the Arab conquest of Africa continued to be swept under the carpet as if it never happened? 


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