Fifty years of Yakhal’Inkomo – and still too few people are listening

percy event

“There’s more to defending democracy,” says writer, visual artist and broadcaster Percy Mabandu, “than being fishers of corrupt men.”

Mabandu is reflecting on the near media silence that has greeted the 50th anniversary this year of the release of one of South Africa’s greatest jazz standards, Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s Yakhal’Inkomo. At the Standard Bank Jazz Festival in Grahamstown on 30th June, Mabandu will lead a tribute to this event, involving readings from his book Yakhal’Inkomo: portrait of a jazz classic and music from an ensemble comprising saxophonists Linda Sikhakhane and Sisonke Xonti (who’s also musical director), bassist Shane Cooper, pianist Andile Yenana and drummer Ayanda Sikade.

Mank 50 yrs agoThe anniversary, he argues, is an important political, as well as cultural moment – or, rather, there is no separation in that piece of music between the two spheres. “For me, it’s emblematic of the contribution of the arts to this country’s journey towards democracy. By that time in 1968, organised political resistance had been decimated, and Black Consciousness was formally inaugurated in December, after Yakhal’Inkomo appeared. In that space between, it was the musicians and creative workers whose voices were keeping hope alive. We saw them uplifting the country. Now we have this moment of remembering to help us recapture that spirit, outside the pontifications of politicians. And it breaks my heart that so few people get the immensity of it.”

Mankunku himself was crystal-clear about the political meaning of the tune, when I spoke to him in March 2003, six years before his death:

Mank old
Mankunku in the early 2000s

“Things were tough then – but don’t ask me about all that: I don’t want to discuss it. You had to have a pass; you got thrown out; the police would stop you, you know? I was about 22. I threw my pass away, wouldn’t carry it. We had it tough. I was always being arrested, and a lot of my friends, and I thought it was so tough for black people, and put that into the song. So it was The Bellowing Bull: for the black man’s pain. And a lot of people would come up to me and say quietly: ‘Don’t worry bra’. We understand what you are playing about…’”

A lot of people understood. The album sold at least 100 000 copies in its first five years, and may be the best selling SA jazz album of all time – but the contract included no royalty provision and a 1970s fire at the Teal label warehouse in Steeldale allegedly destroyed all sales records.

Mabandu has organised musical readings before, but none of them on this scale at a national event. He’s worked with different ensembles, and although the two reedmen are his regular collaborators, he’s also particularly excited by the addition of Yenana on piano. “First, Andile played with Mankunku. He knows this music in a different way from younger players. But also, the enigma of that 1968 ensemble is the pianist, Lionel Pillay. We know too little about him.”

(Pillay – who also worked as Lionel Martin to evade apartheid restrictions – also collaborated with Early Mabuza and Basil Manenberg Coetzee , but died in 2003, his later years saddened by psychological problems. Music historian Gerhard Kubik writes of listeners being moved to tears by his solos ). “Having a pianist in the group,” says Mabandu, “helps us to think about how best to memorialise Pillay too.”

bookWhen preparing for this performance, Mabandu talked to pianist Nduduzo Makhathini, and saxophonists Kevin Davidson – who worked with and has written about Mankunku – and Salim Washington. “Every time I talk to musicians,” Mabandu reflects, “it offers fresh ideas about that tune.

“One question that always arises is what previously unrecorded music that shares the spirit of Yakhal’Inkomo is around in the aether from that period. Neo Muyanga’s research and composition project on protest music has been a big inspiration. It’s certainly more than jazz. And an important discourse question for me is how to grow the language in which I have explored Yakhal’Inkomo into other kinds of music.”

As for what the performance will show, Mabandu is emphatic that it “can’t just be another show. It must challenge listeners and musos in breaking expectations. So the formal repertoire is going to be what I think of as one huge Yakhal’inkomo – but that doesn’t limit what else we will bring to it – something I’ve been discussing a lot with Sisonke. There will be sheets of paper on stage, and there will be drawing. That isn’t a gimmick, but a holistic art performance: one aspect of growing the language of ‘talking about’ music. And other things may happen too…”

Mabandu acknowledges gratefully how the jazz festival in Grahamstown did see the importance of the Mankunku anniversary. “But how little it’s been noticed elsewhere poses a big question. We are talking a lot now about identity:  ‘our’ culture – but how deep – or how surface – is our real relationship with that music?”

Claude Cozens: Improvisations 2 now completed

Just heard the second instalment of Claude’s project: Improvisations 2. It’s everything he predicted in his interview — and more!
One wonders what more South African music postgrads could show us if given these kinds of creative opportunities to explore ideas in music…

Bokani Dyer’s Neo-Native intelligence

Bokani Dyer

“What does being a ‘native’ mean?” asks pianist and composer (and 2011 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz) Bokani Dyer. “Does it mean you’re tied to a specific geographical location? Or that you’ve found a home within a certain community of ideas?”

Titles are important to Dyer. Each of his earlier three albums (Mirrors in 2010; Emancipate the Story in 2011; and World Music in 2015) was thoughtfully – and sometimes subversively – named. (World Music, for example, embodied multiple influences to challenge the compartmentalising commercialism of how the record industry markets the music.) And his fourth, this year’s Neo Native, neonative uses the ‘neo’ not to suggest some modified musical genre in the style of, for example, ‘neo-soul’, but for a “reinterpretation of the construct ‘native’.”

Born and schooled in Botswana before music studies at UCT, Dyer’s father is South African saxophonist Steve Dyer, with whom he travelled (and still travels) regularly. His mother belongs to the Kalanga people, “so my ‘native’ is already multiple things, before you even look at the heritages of my parents’ parents and their broader families. Neo Native carries through a personal interest in identity that’s been present in all my recordings.”

The outing travels far around Africa, from the Kalagadi desert to Mali and other destinations West, to Mozambique, the Northern Province of Ray Phiri, and the Cape Town of the young Dollar Brand. But it’s not facile pastiche: each choice is made to say something very specific.Mirrors.jpg

The Brand track, for example, Dollar Adagio, “is a way of expressing my sentiments when I hear Abdullah Ibrahim playing, rather than an attempt to mechanistically reference him. And, yes, especially the early Dollar – there’s that Monk thing about him then: something my teacher Andre Petersen drew my attention to – that beautiful ability, which the movie Brother with Perfect Timing gets across so well, to say a lot with less than most other players would need. He commands his space, and takes his time…If there’s a musical reference, it’s probably the track Monieba on the Dollar Brand/Archie Shepp album.” .emancipate

The album’s core is the four tracks – Nguni, Xikwembu, Chikapa and Mutapa – that comprise the African Piano Suite. These, too, are threads weaving through all his albums, and also including African Piano on Emancipate the Story and African Piano – Water on World Music . There’s an upcoming project – “maybe the next album, maybe a bit later” – which will bring all those threads together in a solo album, also employing some prepared piano (which he already plays on stage).

“I wanted to explore the piano in a different way, inspired by African idioms and musical instruments, seeing how it is possible to give those a voice through the piano. This suite is a selection from what will feed into the later solo project, and I’m interested in whether, for people listening to it, it can communicate on a level that’s inherent in ‘Africanness’ before ‘jazzness’.”

wotldThe dialogue between African and American voices in South African jazz is a long-running one. Regularly, jazz players will give primacy to explicitly asserting and exploring African elements, for example, Eric Nomvete on Pondo Blues ; Ndikho Xaba, Sakhile in the 1980s or the late Moses Taiwa Molelekwa and Zim Ngqawana in our own time. Less obvious but equally important in that context are the intellectual concepts and approaches black South African musicians also bring to international standards, developed through their lives and learning in their communities.

Sphelelo Mazibuko

Both of those, believes Dyer, are important for the identity – that word again – of South African jazz. “A lot of my generation of younger musicians are listening to ‘world’ music now. When I hear music from other regions of Africa, it still sounds deeply traditional, but also very fresh and modern. Those nations have had a different journey from South Africa – we’re interesting because South Africa has forged a unique jazz identity: one that sounds both African and jazz. Maybe…maybe…,” he pauses, “we have different musical linkage points back into heritage – I’m still thinking about that…”

The album comprises 14 tracks, all original and mostly new but including re-conceptualisations (in the former case quite radical) of the tracks Kgalagadi and Waiting from earlier outings. Kgalagadi was an arrangement of a traditional theme, and so are the newer Gono Afrobeat and Sangare tribute Oumou, sung by Moroccan guest Asmaa Hamzaoui.

Romy Brauteseth

Part of what makes Neo Native such an effective vehicle for these explorations is the tight mutual understanding that has developed between the trio, which also includes bassist Romy Brauteseth (both thoughtful and challenging on Waiting) and drummer Sphelelo Mazibuko (offering fireworks on Fezile). They’ve been working together for more than two years now – “and sometimes I think they know my music almost better than I do!” says Dyer. The trio format allows for close working; the long experience together has created an ease and comfort with one another’s approach. “We’ve grown together, we allow each other to be, and everybody’s freer than they would be if we’d just met for a session. Those relationships let us ask questions like ‘What does this music mean?’, rather than just ‘How can I execute this music professionally?’”

Though it’s easy to hear echoes of Dyer’s earlier work on the album, there’s more here. It’s not about ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’, but rather a negotiation of a super-permeable membrane between what he called the music’s ‘Africanness’ and ‘jazzness’. With every release, it’s getting harder – as it should, and as Dyer very deliberately intends – to decide which side of that border you’re on. And that, in this age of xenophobia, tells us about identity too.



Claude Cozens: improvisation in the key of freedom

“What if you didn’t spend so much of your time taking care of business?” muses drummer Claude Cozens. “What wouldn’t you be able to do?”


Taking care of business is increasingly dominating the time of working musicians. Digital music distribution and the stifling of arts journalism by many media means that work formerly done by record labels, managers, publicists and arts writers is now outsourced back to the musicians themselves. On the upside, at least they aren’t paying labels and managers for services that are sometimes barely token. On the downside, it all erodes the time available for creative work on the music.

For Capetonian Cozens, “I know that Hugh [Masekela] and Abdullah [Ibrahim] went the hard road. I respect that. And there are other ways of buying time to concentrate just on composing, like doing the hotel circuit in the Middle East for a while,” he reflects.  That’s a role that sometimes gives hotel management and patrons a lot of power over players – although, he adds, “doing something like that was how Keith Jarrett perfected playing ballads – and he’s the last person you’d think of in that context.”

But Cozens was growing increasingly frustrated by the pile-up of what he calls his “creative backlog”: ideas, compositions and projects clamouring to be realised while he was tied up arranging the next gig. Now, studying towards his Masters degree at the University of Bergen in Norway – he finishes in May 2019 – he has managed to liberate himself from some of that, thanks to the freedom his university programme offers. The first product has been the CD Improvisations 1, which he completed in March ( ).

Cozens hooked up with the university while touring with pianist Nduduzo Makhathini, and was excited by what he calls the institution’s “openness”. While he’s unstinting in his praise for many of his own teachers at UCT, he feels that South African jazz curricula in higher education are too often “stuck in the 1970s”, in terms of both repertoire and the top-down, conservatoire style of pedagogy.

“At Bergen, the university is there to serve me as a student. They asked me what I wanted to do! At first I found that a bit surprising – wasn’t that their job? But because Norway has identified that American culture is not their culture, that’s brought freedom in what counts as subject matter, and new ways of doing artistic research. A performance-based masters was possible, and I could self-design my own study.”

The result will be a masters thesis constructed from what Cozens envisages as a series of CDs, where he works with a full, synthesised ensemble to “explore the possibilities of uneven rhythms and patterns […and] make them feel ‘natural’”.

He was inspired, he says, “partly by [multi-instrumentalist] Mark Fransman. He can play any instrument he picks up. So the sound I’m going for aims to fuse that instrumental flexibility with the way DJs put mixes together. The computer these days is a powerful instrument in its own right. If I get it right, I can create something that’s multilayered: that dancers can hear as good for dancing, but that scholars can find complex enough for analysis. The possibilities are endless. I’ve got an orchestra and I can create whatever I want.”

Getting it right, he admits, is in no way easy. While the first set of Improvisations alludes to some familiar Cozens rhythmic inspirations such as ghoema beat alongside some more intricate patterns, the next installment will be “entirely complex rhythms: things like 15:8 and 13:8. It’s the kind of complexity that makes me think of what happens with African dance steps…” And as with all his work to date, “I’m aware the first attempts might suck. Everybody who wants to keep exploring as a musician has to face that.”

Cozens embraces the experimental space that synthesising the sounds offers: “The electronics offer bigger and newer possibilities, where you’re not emulating a band but actually creating a new sonic world…”

The drummer is aware of the dangers of immersing himself solely in electronics, alone with his computer. He constantly refers to the energy both live playing partners and dancers can bring to his musical thinking. He’s also aware of another danger that studio music can pose: that the producer’s own instrumental knowledge imposes its idioms on the voice of every other instrument. “You’ve got to constantly question yourself. You need to find what you can emulate, and recognise what you can’t.”

The results manage to be both convincing and entertaining: Improvisations 1 sounds like neither an impersonal experimental exercise nor a manufactured studio album. The final three tracks – Strongholds, The Babble, and Rhythms of Rain – take the rhythms out quite far towards the edges. But your feet will still find something to tap to. Before that, She Knows offers a moving piano ballad; Seventeen Again takes a turn around a Cape Town club dancefloor; and Pa Moses alludes to the history of Cape Jazz. It’s a song Robbie Jansen would have enjoyed improvising to – and invoking that name reminds us that edgy modernism and rhythmic risk-taking were always around among the city’s modern jazz players, who also produced their dissertations on disc rather than paper. Leaders of Freedom, meanwhile, alludes unmistakably (though not exclusively) to Ibrahim’s pianism.

It’s inspired, obseves Cozens in his sleeve notes, by “listening to the great artists, playing with some of them, and then sitting down in the practice room searching and crafting a sound and style.”

You get the sense that he is simultaneously luxuriating in the freedom of his current rhythmic explorations, and impatiently thinking ahead to when he can take the fruits of them back on to a live stage. “Taking the chances cold with a live ensemble that I’m trying on the recordings could be a nightmare! But that is going to happen too – I do want to take this music on to stages with a band!”

And he thinks about home quite a lot. “You get reminded all the time Bergen isn’t Cape Town – it seems like you have to take your umbrella with you every single day! And I do miss playing with the guys…”

I talked to Claude Cozens back in March when he was home for CTIJF. He’s likely to be home again for a visit in July

Stanley Nelson’s Black Panther movie – a righteous antidote to fantasy

Two movies called Black Panther have now shown in South Africa. The first was a lavish Marvel fantasy about a feudal African state, Wakanda, whose monopoly of the mineral vibranium allows its ruling elite to create a hidden high-tech utopia that, by the end of the film, has saved the life of a CIA agent and established a charitable foundation to help impoverished African-Americans.

The second was film-maker Stanley Nelson’s 2015 PBS documentary Black Panthers, Vanguard of the Revolution, shown by UJ’s VIAD (Visual Identities in Art and Design) at the Market Photo Lab auditorium last night in the presence of the director.

Film-maker Stanley Nelson

The two films stand in implicit – though not intentional – dialogue with one another. What the Black Panther Party achieved made multiple subsequent commercial appropriations of the name and the iconography possible and lucrative. Meanwhile, the fantasy caricature called “Killmonger” in the fiction film – armed, strong, articulate; righteously angry but indiscriminately murderous – owes far too much to how the US government and the FBI tried to portray the real Panthers through the gevaar they fanned in the late ’60s and ‘70s.

Nelson told his audience that as a black youngster growing up in the Panther era, the assertive image and activities of the movement had impressed him with the possibility of a new future: “Before that, you’d never see a black man even wag his finger in the face of a white.” It was that ground-breaking impact he wanted to convey in the movie – that, and to provide real information to counteract the negativity and ignorance infusing many mainstream tellings of the story. “To even get that anti-capitalism [of the Panthers] mentioned on PBS,” he believed, could shift the boundaries of viewers’ understanding.

Nelson’s two-hour film is powerful and moving. Visually, there are no wasted frames. Words and images marry beautifully – with the music too: Tom Phillips’ soundtrack offers an authentic soundscape of the times, with everything from Isaac Hayes’ Shaft to Gil Scott-Heron to Soul Train invoked.

Selling books for the Panther cause

In putting the record straight on both the work of the Panthers and the literal war waged on them by the American State, the film does two things particularly well. The first is to give agency to many voices, not only those of leaders – where Kathleen Cleaver’s powerful personal narrative often dominates – but also of the working-class men and women who formed the movement’s rank and file. These were people who dreamed, as one woman did, of “carrying my baby on one side and my gun on the other”; the man who, facing death in the Oakland shootout, “finally felt free” – and who weren’t afraid to say that sometimes their leaders could be mistaken, quarrelsome or unstable. The dignified intelligence of these survivors of the US State’s massacres, their sharp political reasoning, regrets and hopes transcend all generation gaps.

Artwork by Tarika Lewis

The film’s second strength lies in its bridging of the gap often perceived between cultural creativity and politics. It’s too commonly assumed today that art inspired by struggle is mere “propaganda” and has no right to its own aesthetics. Nelson’s film showed the unity between iconography, style and political struggle: the Panthers created a visual language that was seamless with their politics. South African MEDU artist Thami Mnyele observed: “For me as a craftsman the act of creating art should complement the act of creating shelter for my family or liberating the country for my people. This is culture.” That’s very close to what Emory Douglas, one of the two main graphic artists on the Panther paper (the other was Tarika “Matilaba” Lewis) said in the film.

Also seamless was the Panthers’ work for both survival (free healthcare, school feeding schemes, research into sickle-cell anaemia) and self-defence. They were two sides of the same coin of struggle. When the forces of the US state drove a wedge between them, and when even some members began to see them as in opposition, the cracks fatally weakened the whole. Some of Nelson’s interpreting historians perpetuate that division in their analysis.

Emory 2
Artwork by Emory Douglas

Nelson’s history meticulously employs multiple sources, including contemporary broadcasts, retired police officers and FBI papers. What’s absent, as one questioner noted, is any record of the political debates taking place in branches: the way revolutionary and reformist strands within the movement engaged and argued (presented only through the elite paradigm of ‘Huey versus Eldridge’), and how they related to other organisations. (That’s a huge job, and Nelson pointed out he did only have two hours. One analogous history that does manage to detail both lives and work, and the fine nuance of political argument is George Lewis’s magnificent AACM history A Power Stronger than Itself – and that comes in at 650 pages.)

One audience member asked “Where was Angela Davis?” – but she was never a member. Perhaps more pertinent is the total invisibility in the film of George Jackson, who was a member, rose to high rank while chained within the US prison system, generated rigorous analysis of the state and the struggle, ( ; ) and was assassinated in 1971.

George J
Soledad Brother: George Jackson

So there were points where more context could have been illuminating. Since before the 1860s and through to Malcolm X, African-American struggles have produced advocates of armed self-defence and the need for revolutionary change. Though its specific urban form was fresh, the Panthers’ ideas did not spring fully-formed from nowhere. Additionally, while audience members at the showing discussed the Panthers’ influence on Black Consciousness in South Africa, some Panthers also drew significant inspiration from the era’s independence struggles and victories in Africa. That was in the film only implicitly – in, for example, Eldridge Cleaver’s sanctuary in Algeria, in the sartorial style of some members, and in Douglas’s artistic style. It’s a thread that’s important, and often overlooked.

Though we saw scenes of routine police viciousness, other aspects of oppression, such as the abject poverty to which many African-Americans had been reduced, were visible only by implication (in, for example, the desperate need for school breakfast schemes). The massive protests and riots of 1967 (in Newark, Detroit, and nationwide) – which preceded those a year later following the murder of Martin Luther King – didn’t feature in the narrative either.

That doesn’t devalue Nelson’s movie. It merits far more than the single showing to a self-selected audience that it received last night. What the protagonists have to say is relevant to many current debates: on decolonisation, culture, and the limits of reformism. But it does mean that there are many more works about the real Black Panthers still waiting to be created. The Wakanda Foundation is unlikely to fund them.


As a sad postscript, news has just come in of the death of Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, founder of the Last Poets, who provided one of the important soundtracks to the politics of the Panther era. See this Guardian appreciation at:


SAMAs, sex and sagas

(Yes, that is a click-bait headline up there. I don’t know anything about sex scandals at the SAMAs – though there probably are some – but rather want to reflect on the recent gender abuse stories surfacing in SA pop music, while ‘sagas’ is an allusion to the ‘history in schools’ debate. But the alliteration was irresistible. If you’re looking strictly for skandaal, you can probably turn to the Sunday World now…)


Sitting pretty: two-time SAMA jazz winner, pianist Nduduzo Makhathini

SAMAs: Ikhambi rules!

Well, the SAMAs are done and dusted. Congratulations to pianist Nduduzo Makhathini for his second and well-deserved jazz SAMA: if you haven’t yet heard Ikhambi, you need to do so – or catch this live PASS performance with The Cure here:

As for the event, and the rest of the awards, the big winners were newcomer Shekinah and old reliables Mafikizolo, while Tresor’s accolade for Best Pop benchmarks the major contribution to the SA scene now being made by artists from elsewhere on the African continent. Some categories, however, remain deeply problematic: Charl du Plessis’ win for “best classical and/or instrumental” was a win for the only shortlisted entry that precisely fitted that label. He’s a skillful player – but it’s a horribly clumsy catch-all of a category.

Ambushed: musician, songwriter and former MP Jennifer Ferguson

Sex: the epidemic of music industry abuse

Meanwhile, the past few weeks have seen a worrying accumulation of gender abuse stories emerging from the South African music industry. To Jennifer Ferguson’s accusation of rape against Danny Jordaan we can add the harrowing testimony and medical evidence from CiCi Twala in court against label boss Arthur Mafokate, the on-air allegations of abuse inflicted on young gqom star Babes Wodumo by Mampintsha, and Mshoza’s ordeal at the hands of her husband. The men named have reacted with silence, highly imaginative denial ( “This is all a plot by Irvin Khoza” – really?) or gaslighting. That last was from Mampintsha, insinuating that Wodumo had clearly not been herself during the interview in question, and that – chillingly – while he “may have overreacted on one or two occasions,” Wodumo had been “given” to him “by God.” ( ) It’s all hideously reminiscent of the solipsistic rape “apology” penned by Okmalumkoolkat a couple of years back. (

In her element: gqom artist Babes Wodumo

Three points need making about all this. The first is that while the media stories have focused mainly on pop stars to bring this to public attention, abuse in the industry (which rests on systemic societal patriarchy) impacts on all women in music. The abuse spans genres and roles and poisons the creative environment for all: the women service workers in theatres, bars and restaurants with live music, female roadies and engineers, music students and more.  Second, it’s time to build an industry forum where such issues can be highlighted, and that will allow women across music to offer solidarity to one another, act if necessary as amici curiae in contentious cases, and build resources. The excellent US women in jazz site #wehavevoice ( offers a model – maybe we need our own South African chapter?

But third, and disturbingly, some SA media are now beginning to behave exactly like the defence in rape cases: ambushing survivors without care for their trauma (or indeed for the fact that such actions can taint upcoming prosecutions and allow perpetrators to walk free). Jennifer Ferguson was last week ambushed by the Sunday Times publishing details of her evidence, in advance of the trial and without her permission – without, indeed, even letting her know it was happening. Wodumo was ambushed on-air by Metro-FM presenter Masechaba Ndlovu about Mampintsha’s behaviour, in a tone that veered sickeningly between patronising and accusing.

Every citizen of South Africa has the constitutional right to privacy. It is an act of enormous courage for an abused woman to waive that right and go on the record, even if she does not lay charges. No journalist has the right to “out” a woman still processing what she has suffered at the hands of someone pretending to love her. And in the music industry, as in Hollywood, power is an important factor: both Mafokate and Mapintsha are label bosses and managers. The Weinstein case showed very well how such men can spread career-destroying rumours among their peers that a female complainant is “unstable” or “difficult”.

There’s a plague of bad journalism riding the #metoo bandwagon at the moment. (It also encompasses publishing torus-like rumours about alleged perpetrators, with a gaping hole in the middle where facts, names and dates should be.) It needs to stop. Do the hard reporting ground-work. Get something on the record, however long it takes. Don’t build your audience on other people’s pain.

Sagas: what’s history in schools for?

And so finally to the conclusion of a DBE Ministerial Task Team that history should be compulsory in state schools. That’s important for music, because of course cultural history needs to be part of the mix. (Maybe I should not have been astonished, in the absence of decent history teaching, when not one, but two well educated 702 presenters said last week they were mystified why Thursday was dubbed “Sheila’s Day”.)

In principle it’s a good proposal, but the discourse around it is worrying. There is minimal discussion of the resources and support already hard-pressed teachers will need to make it happen as anything more than a box-ticking exercise. That must be the first priority in moving towards realisation. Those with working memories will remember that Curriculum 2005 – which had a generous allocation of time for an integrated component of social sciences including history, and the arts – crashed largely because teachers were never adequately supported in its implementation.

The late Sir Seretse Khama: first president of Botswana

Then there’s the instrumentalism of it all: that it’s being introduced to “promote nation-building and unity.” No. That may be a by-product, but the study of history is the study of evidence: what exists, how it can be discovered and the diverse ways it can be interrogated and interpreted. A history curriculum that encourages the critical understanding and handling of evidence should help learners deconstruct the sexist, racist and classist – and nationalistic – myths that have masqueraded as the subject for too long. But determining in advance what use they must put that skill to describes the teaching of propaganda, not history. You need to know where you’ve been to decide – not just passively accept – where you’re going. Seretse Khama got it right back in 1970: “We should write our own history books to prove that we did have a past, and that it was a past that was just as worth writing and learning about as any other. We must do this for the simple reason that a nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past is a people without a soul.