An analysis of the construction of African consciousness in contemporary South African history textbooks.
This study is rooted in the move by the South African government at the turn of the 21st century to spearhead the conception of what then President Thabo Mbeki referred to as an African Renaissance. This move entailed cultivating an African consciousness; education being one of the key tools. With textbooks still playing a critical role in the education system, I therefore set out to analyse contemporary South African History textbooks in order to understand the type of African consciousness that they construct for their audience. I conceptually framed this study within a conceptual architecture of African consciousness, adapted from Rüsen’s (1993) typology of historical consciousness. Theoretically, the study is framed within discursive postcolonialism and oriented in a social constructionist paradigm. The sample consisted of four Grade 12 History textbooks with a focus on the themes on post-colonial Africa, on which I conducted Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis. At a descriptive level of analysis, the findings are that Africa is constructed in the analysed textbooks as four-dimensional: the spatial, the temporal, the humanised and the experiential notions. Correspondingly, the African being is constructed as five-dimensional: the spatial, the physical, the philosophical, the cultural and the experiential notions. The interpretation is that Africa and the African being are constructed as multidimensional and largely ambiguous. I argue that the revelation that the analysed textbooks contain a bricolage of three forms of African consciousness (traditional, exemplary and critical) implies a consciousness conundrum that is a manifestation of the hybridity characteristic of postcolonial representations. In fact, the research shows that while the macro-level of power produces the dominant discourses, the micro-level of the citizen also contributes to the discourses that permeate the History textbooks. Indeed, the production of textbooks is influenced by multifarious factors that when the discourses from the top and from below meet at the meso-level of textbook production, there is not just articulation but also resistance, thus producing heteroglossic representation of African consciousness. On one hand, South Africa is constructed as part and parcel of postcolonial Africa. But more dominantly, there is on the other hand, the exceptionalism of South Africa and the South African from the construction of Africa and the African being. I argue that the kind of African consciousness that is promoted in the textbooks to a greater extent leads to the polar affect, which is a preference of the group one identifies with over others.