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Curriculum History Uncovering History

Uncovering Apartheid

UPDATE: I have created a webpage with a lesson plan and links to specific resources for the activity described below.

While looking for some primary sources to make a short unit on Modern Africa more student-centered I came across a trove of primary sources at the South African Government’s site for Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.  Covering the TRC allows me to connect Rwanda and South Africa, the two African countries stressed in my district’s current curriculum; and, it is a powerful and intriguing idea.

South African Government's TRC Page
South African Government’s TRC Page

I put students in groups of 4 and gave each group 6-7 short news articles on cases that came before the TRC in 1996.  Students read and marked up one article at a time and put it back in the middle.  Having more sources than readers and having each document read by more than one student makes different reading speeds in a group less of a problem.

Students used the articles to draw conclusions about Apartheid, especially its violent conflicts.  My 11th grade are quickly able to grasp that Apartheid promoted white supremacy and racial segregation.  Reading about violence of various kinds, including black on black crime in townships, gives them a fuller picture of Apartheid.  And, they had a day to work as historians sifting through documents.  If I took more time I would add one of the shorter amnesty application transcripts, such as Adriaan Smuts’s application.  Mr. Smuts admits to a revenge attack on random black bus passengers in response to reports of Pan-African Congress attack on white people at a beach.

By Eric Beckman

I am a veteran high school history teacher interested in decolonizing history curricula, anti-racist pedagogy, and e-learning.

Let me know what you think!

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