Peoples Education for Peoples Power’: The Rise and Fall of an Idea in Southern Africa

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Socialism and Education

Peoples Education for Peoples Power’: The Rise and Fall of an Idea in Southern Africa

Martin Prew

Centre for Education Policy Development


This chapter explores how left-wing liberation movements in southern Africa in the 1970s and 1980s engaged with alternative concepts of education, which included elements of Socialist and indigenous knowledge, in liberation schools. It traces how these same liberation movements, with a particular focus on the African National Congress in South Africa, shed the cloak of transformation contained within these alternative education and schooling models and perpetuated the salient features of the colonial education systems once in power. The chapter concludes that there are two main explanations for the failure to implement Socialist or alternative education systems on gaining power: the prevailing neo-liberal hegemony which made any alternative difficult if not impossible to pursue and fund; or because the national petit bourgeoisie on gaining power no longer needed education as a hook on which to gain popular support for the liberation struggle, so reverted to class interest which dictated that they perpetuate the existing class based education system.


The cry of ‘People’s Education for People’s Power’ resonated across the southern African region during the 1980s as a call to transform education systems recently liberated from the colonial powers in Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe and still to be liberated in Namibia and South Africa. It appeared at that time, in the 1970s and 1980s, that as southern African countries approached independence through the barrel of the gun, a series of Socialist states would emerge. However, this did not occur. These states strengthened capitalism and the revolutionary rhetoric either died or became increasingly orchestrated to rally popular support for increasingly conservative policies (see Babu, 1981; Astrow, 1983). Marxist-Leninist theorising indicated that settler capitalism, as a branch of imperialism and monopoly capitalism in ‘backward economies’ would face internal contradictions which would be exploited by the national petit bourgeoisie which would use the peasantry and proletariat to gain power and then betray them (Lenin, 1973; Marx and Engels, 1969). This may explain the changes in these states, or this backtracking might indicate the difficulties inherent in pursuing a Socialist policy in an increasingly hegemonic neoliberal capitalist world. This chapter will examine this failure to root Socialist societies in southern Africa within the context of education.

Progressive transformation of the education systems in the southern Africa region was a key demand of the liberation forces and was intimately woven into the liberation rhetoric and programmes. Because of the desire for education amongst the peasantry, particularly during these struggles, liberation education was seen as a key ideological vehicle to popularise the liberation struggles towards gaining power for the black leadership of the national democratic liberation movements. Liberation education rejected the prevailing colonial Western school systems in these southern African colonies and appeared to present alternative education models founded on explicit Socialist and progressive ideologies.

This chapter analyses the liberation struggle in South Africa, led by the broad left alliance under the African National Congress. This struggle is used to illuminate similar liberation movements in other countries in the region, particularly ZANU in Zimbabwe, MPLA in Angola, FRELIMO in Mozambique, and SWAPO in Namibia.1 These other countries all developed a variance on ‘people’s education’ and ‘liberation schools’ in their liberated areas, or in friendly allied states, with much more consciously Socialist ideological underpinnings than the ANC.2 These movements’ liberation schools generally had a strong emphasis on liberating and transforming their societies by drawing inspiration – at least in part – from the discourse of Soviet and Chinese ‘scientific’ socialism. However, post-independent Southern African states failed to live up to the promise these ideas had offered. Rapidly, after independence, as neo-colonial capitalist modes of production established their dominance, the alternative education models were marginalised by an adaptation of the colonial education system based on neo-liberal orthodoxy. It appeared that the liberation struggles had used the promise of liberatory education to gain popular support in their bid for power, but once in power had turned away from such promises and exploited the lack of class consciousness among the peasantry and working class to impose a capitalist neo-colonial economic order (Turok, 1987).

Education and the Liberation Process in Southern Africa

The African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, in its Freedom Charter asserted that the aim of education is ‘to open the doors of learning and culture to all’ (African National Congress 1994:2). The organisation set education as a critical element in the liberation process, driven by variants on its cry of ‘people’s education for people’s power’. As the new democracy started to take shape in the 1990s there was a real sense of hope within progressive circles in South Africa that there would be a break from the past and a meaningful progressive education system would be created generating a new type of awareness for citizens while also transforming the social and economic reality. As Mzamane Nkomo (1990) stated,

Education for development and disalienation in South Africa must be built upon this majority culture which is accommodating, dynamic, and capable of use in mass mobilisation for liberation and development (p. 365).

Earlier, Zwelakhe Sisulu (in Unterhalter, 1986: 3) of the iconic Sisulu family, had asserted,

We are no longer demanding the same education as Whites, since this is education for domination. People’s education means education at the service of the people as a whole, education that liberates, education that puts the people in command of their lives.

The liberation movements saw education as part of the overall struggle, in which “schools were the most important terrain for the struggle towards people’s power” (Wolpe quoted in Christie, 1991: 274). In South Africa the struggle around education took a number of forms inside the country from the 1976 Soweto Uprising, which was triggered by enforced use of Afrikaans in black schools, to the class boycotts of the 1980s under the slogans ‘liberation before education’, ‘liberation now, education later’ and ‘the year of no schooling’ (Christie 1991; Frederikse, 1986). The Soweto Uprising and the subsequent class boycotts took place largely outside the control of the ANC. This was graphically illustrated by the ANC countering the student led call for ‘liberation before education’ with its own slogan of ‘education for liberation’ (Fiske and Ladd, 2004). This slogan was supplemented by an argument from within the ANC that “schools must be taken over and transformed from within” (Father Mkatshwa quoted in Christie, 1991: 272).3 Outside the country the ANC had more control over how the education message was linked to the liberation struggle through its schools in the camps and the message it put out through ANC propaganda.

Liberation education was imbued with progressive or scientific Socialist beliefs that all citizens should have equal access to education and skills so that they can take up any role in society, assist the society in achieving its modernising development objectives, develop an appropriate revolutionary character (which rejected race, ethnicity, religious orientation and regional identity and espoused class and international solidarity), and play a full role in transforming a class based society to one based on merit and the peoples’ will (Samoff, 1991). Parallel with this belief in the various liberation struggles, there was a considerable emphasis put on linking ‘liberation’ education, agricultural production and socially valuable labour in a creative developmental education dynamic. This tendency in Southern Africa was specifically grounded in an interpretation of Soviet or Chinese Communism and supported with an explicit Socialist rhetoric. As Youngman (cited in Alexander, 1990: 65-66) states,

the linking of learning to production and political action is the key to the unity of theory and practice that socialist pedagogy seeks to achieve.

Recognising that the majority of people in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Botswana and parts of South Africa were rural peasants, the Chinese Communist model with its North Korean offshoot, was seen as relevant by Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), FRELIMO of Mozambique, MPLA of Angola and SWAPO of Namibia, as well as other liberation movements in southern and central Africa. These movements adopted much of the Chinese Socialist rhetoric, which glorified manual and particularly rural labour, and in so doing affirmed the roots of most of their constituency. In the region the cause of linking rural labour and education, or Education with Production (EWP), was particularly espoused by Patrick van Rensburg, through his Foundation for Education with Production (van Rensburg, 2000).

In Botswana, where he was based, van Rensburg focused on primary school leavers from rural areas and created the Brigade system. This was aimed to close the gap between school education and the post-colonial society’s economic reality. Through a mass based radical pedagogy the Brigades intended to teach rural youth self-sufficiency and self-employment so that they could take control of the social, political and economic forces, which influenced their lives. In reality, in Botswana the focus was on developing ‘socially useful’ skills rather than on social and economic transformation and to enable self-employment rather than contribute to the revolution. Despite this reality the philosophical rooting of EWP, as in the idea behind Soviet polytechnics, lay in the belief that true liberation requires the individual to be consciously able to marry the intellectual and physical part of their productivity in socially useful labour, or as Jansen puts it to unite “vocationalism, productive activities and self reliance” (1991: 80). Merging these ideas, however, created a dialectical and practical dilemma in many of the liberation movements, because agricultural and manual activities were associated in the students’ minds with a conservative tradition emanating from the mission stations, where pupils were expected to labour as part of developing a Christian character. This tradition links labour to the idea of appropriate education for black people, and therefore to a Verwoerdian reality where all people have their assigned but different places, Africans being at the bottom (Fiske and Ladd, 2004). The more radical policy intent of EWP sat uncomfortably alongside the more conservative mainstream experiences of similar policies, which brought manual labour into the school. I will demonstrate this uneasiness later through examination of the mainstreaming of EWP in the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO) and in Zimbabwean schools after independence.

The Value of Education to the Liberation Movements

Full and equal access to education was a key feature of all the anti-colonial liberation struggles in the southern Africa region, represented by intellectual and revolutionary leaders such as Robert Mugabe, Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Eduardo Mondlane, Agostinho Neto and Marcelino dos Santos. These men acted as powerful and persuasive educated revolutionary role models. In their hands resistance to colonial rule and a transformed education system were inextricably tied together.

Free and open access to adult education and schools was a key demand of many of their constituencies, as access to education under the colonial and settler regimes had been restricted and colour based. An expectation that the liberation forces could meet this demand once in power was a powerful inducement for villagers to engage with the liberation struggle, according to Tongogara (a senior ZANLA commander).4 He recalled,

So you find most of them [the rural people] come up [to the liberation fighters] because they have no land or because they are deprived of education. Those are some of the reasons that compelled them to come and join the fight (cited in Martin and Johnson 1981: 89).

There was social pressure for unfettered access to schooling and literacy by peasants and the urban proletariat in all of these countries. This focus on education and its link to liberation was emphasised in the ANC’s 1955 Freedom Charter, in ZANU PF, FRELIMO and MPLA propaganda of the 1970s and 80s, and in many of the speeches of the leadership of these movements. The 1955 Freedom Charter succinctly stated that “[t]he doors of learning and culture shall be opened”, before going on to assert that “[e]ducation shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children” (see: Similar sentiments were common across the region during the era of struggle during the 1960s – 80s. What was less often stated was what the purpose of education should be after liberation.

The promise to open access to education for all was a powerful weapon in the propaganda war with the colonial and apartheid regimes. This call was given unlikely support in the 1980s from politically conservative institutions like the World Bank. However, the liberation movements went further by asserting that access to education was intimately related to the people gaining political and economic control. The relationship was based on the belief that peasants and workers must be able to engage in analysis of their objective reality to be able to fully understand the oppressive nature of colonialism and to exert their class interests. It was also believed that they needed to internalise the character of the ‘new person’ post-colonial reality would demand in order to effect the social and possibly economic revolution that was expected to accompany liberation. For this to occur, literacy and political awareness, through a radicalised or liberatory model of education, were considered essential.

What Alternative Models Existed to the Colonial System of Education?

What has been most distinctive in each of the southern African countries under analysis is how quickly Socialist or liberation thinking on education was shed by the liberation movements once they got into power, however strongly they argued for it, sloganised it, and promised it during the struggle. This is reflective of a tendency that Samoff (1991) notes across many fragile ‘transition’ states. He argues that in Africa nationalists used notions of imperialism, class and class conflict, and popular mobilisation to attack colonialism, but in power, “once (the) new leaders began to attach content to their socialist rhetoric, the anti-colonial national front dissolved” (1991: 4). Such an argument casts doubt over whether there were workable alternative systems of education available to the liberators to model their innovations on. In deconstructing this assumption the following section explores two known and available alternatives to ‘Western’ schooling for southern African states on reaching independence in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. These were the liberation school model and the traditional indigenous African education model, each of which are discussed below.

The ‘Liberation School’ Model

The promise of full access to schooling and education was given a reality in the so called ‘liberated zones’ which the liberation armies established once they had ‘liberated’ a large enough area and had installed an alternative administrative structure to the displaced colonial one. This was a feature of the liberation wars in Angola and Mozambique in the late 1960s and early 1970s and in Zimbabwe in 1979 - 80. ‘Liberation Schools’ were one of the first institutions to be set up in these liberated zones, as well as in the camps of the liberation forces set up in friendly states across the region. Similarly, although the ANC never liberated areas of South Africa, it set up the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO) in Tanzania and had schools in its camps, where many ANC cadres’ children and young exiles fleeing South Africa gained their schooling. There were a number of reasons liberation movements set these schools up despite the challenges they faced, not the least being the lack of materials and teachers (ZIMFEP, 1991). The main reasons for making this effort are neatly summarised by Dr Eduardo Mondlane, the President of FRELIMO and the first Mozambican to receive a doctorate, when he stated,

We have always attached such great importance to education because in the first place, it is essential for the development of our struggle, since the involvement and support of the population increases as their understanding of the situation grows; and in the second place, a future independent Mozambique will be in very great need of educated citizens to lead the way in development (Isaacman and Issacman 1983:93)

Isaacman and Isaacman (1983:94) point out that the liberation schools “helped to instil a new set of values”. This became the conscious basis for South Africans, Mozambicans, Angolans, Namibians and Zimbabweans to form a new national identity which celebrated their culture and history rather than denigrating it or divorcing children from their social reality, which was what usually happened in colonial schools (Babu, 1981). In addition, many of the liberation school teachers were overtly Socialist and ensured that political education was foregrounded. In general terms, political education involved a basic understanding of the necessity for the struggle, its nobility, and an understanding of its political aims, which were generally couched in Socialist terms of liberating the means of production, particularly the land, and returning them to their rightful owners – the African peasantry and proletariat (Isaacman, 1983), while also forming the ‘new person’ (Samoff, 1991).

Liberation schools were characterised by volunteerism. Anyone in the community or camp who was literate volunteered, or was directed, to teach children during the day and adults in the evening (ZIMFEP, 1991). This, in zones where schooling had been very limited such as northern Mozambique, could involve grade 3 and 4 children teaching the younger children and adults. Mondlane, realising the importance of teachers and medical personnel, gave new FRELIMO recruits the choice between these two options or becoming a fighter (Christie, 1989). In Zimbabwe and South Africa there was a cadre of teachers who had crossed the front line into the liberated zones and camps, sometimes with large numbers of their school children. This happened for example with students from Mount Darwin area who crossed into Mozambique to join ZANU, or had found themselves in those liberated zones as the frontlines moved (Martin and Johnson, 1981; ZIMFEP, 1991).

The liberation schools in some countries found themselves educating large numbers of children. By 1970 FRELIMO schools were educating over 30,000 children (Isaacman and Isaacman, 1983) and by 1974 there were 200 liberation or ‘bush’ schools in the liberated north of Mozambique (Sellstrom, 2002). The SWAPO schools in camps in Angola and Zambia had about 25,000 students in 1983 (Cohen, 1994) and similarly, by 1979 there were nearly 30,000 children in 9 schools in the ZANLA (those of ZANU) camps in Mozambique taught by over 700 teachers. This meant that classes and schools were large with about 43 children to a teacher and with an average school size of over 3000 children.

The rationale for the schools established in the liberation army camps was two-fold. They were intended to occupy and educate children of the liberation fighters and those who had joined the liberation struggles as children (and there were a surprising number of these particularly in the later years of the liberation struggles in all five countries) and to educate adult fighters who had never had a chance to attend school or had dropped out early. Often these schools began as fairly ad hoc systems and became so again when large influxes of new refugees arrived, but as camps became more settled environments, so too did the schools become more established (ZIMFEP, 1991).

The ZANU camps in Mozambique emphasised creative education, with significant time spent on learning through drama and singing (Martin and Johnson, 1981), building on the oral tradition in Shona and other local cultures, along with academic subjects and EWP. Mutumbuka, head of education in the camps, and later Minister of Education in Zimbabwe, stated that the aim of liberation education was to create new people and imbue the students with socialist consciousness, particularly through political and cultural education and EWP, which was considered as ‘a key tenet of socialist pedagogy ... [and in which] production was integrated into the lessons’ and through the experience of communal living in the camps (ZIMFEP, 1991: 10). A particular innovation was the development of a Research Unit in the ZANU camps that informed the writing of appropriate textbooks and the conceptualising of productive projects. It also trained teachers and in 1979-80, just before the end of the war, it began to develop schools in the liberated zones and draw up some educational ideas for a post-colonial Zimbabwe (ZIMFEP, 1991).

SOMAFCO: The Model Liberation School

SOMAFCO, the most famous of all the liberation schools, was established in 1978 by the ANC in Tanzania.5 It was created for the children of exiles and the increasing number of South African children who had escaped South Africa after 1976 and were consciously seeking a different form of education (Morrow, Maaba, Pulumani, 2002). SOMAFCO in many ways encapsulated the essence and challenges of liberation schooling. As the South Africa Deputy President stated at a SOMAFCO Trust event: “from the day when SOMAFCO was established in 1978 the link between education and the struggle for freedom further crystallised” (SOMAFCO Trust, 03/09/10).

SOMAFCO, in line with the broader liberation education model, was greatly influenced by the Brazilian liberation educator Paolo Freire and his assertion that there are two types of education: one driven by the language of the oppressor which conditions the learner to accept the ethos of domination and so mental enslavement, and its antithesis being education for conscientisation, critical reflection, liberation and revolutionary transformation, taught in the language of the people where possible (Freire, 1972). The liberation schools, and SOMAFCO in particular, were also very influenced by the concept of Education with Production (Lubisi, 2008). Education With Production (EWP), as planned in SOMAFCO, required the development of a range of vocational or commercial skills alongside an understanding of the production processes and the social, cultural, and economic context in which work takes place. Significantly, SOMAFCO became a complex settlement with farms, schools, factories, administrative buildings, housing and social institutions. However, Morrow et al (2002) explicitly state that

All these, and other units, were intended to play a broadly educational role in that they were meant to be integrated into the system of ‘education with production’ which was, at least on a rhetorical level, the foundation of the ANC’s education thinking (Morrow et al 2002:158).

SOMAFCO’s curriculum included academic and production based learning as well as celebrating the cultural background of the children and inducting the children into the history of and the ideas represented by the ANC (Teacher Freda and Teacher Anna, 1987). The primary and secondary schools’ aims were broadly progressive and even Socialist in intent. They attempted to re-define social relations in a way that negated power differentials based on class, gender and race, and posited an alternative democratic and egalitarian mode of schooling and existence. The teachers, who were a collection of prominent South African and foreign educators, believed that they were trying to develop the ‘new person’ (Morrow, Maaba and Pulumani, 2004: 58) who would need to be responsible, critical, self-confident, patriotic, co-operative, with initiative and self-discipline. Pedagogy therefore included exploration, research and questioning to raise critical individuals. While many of the teachers were Socialists there were fundamental differences in approach to the education enterprise (Morrow et al, 2004). Some teachers saw SOMAFCO as a space to experiment with A.S. Neill’s concepts (Neill, 1960) including democratic, individualistic and open schooling. Others, who came from the South African and Soviet systems, were more authoritarian and hierarchical in their thinking, and wanted ‘revolutionary’ discipline and structure with an emphasis on community. This cohort of teachers innovated in the subject matter and tended to disregard the architecture of learning. For example, O.R. Tambo, the President of the ANC, took a strongly authoritarian line when he exhorted students “to qualify, to do your work, to pass your examinations” (Teacher Freda and Teacher Anna, 1987: 13-14). These pedagogical differences inevitably led to tensions and disabled the development of a uniform pedagogy.

EWP was integrated into lessons across the two SOMAFCO schools. The primary children planted an orchard, maintained gardens and made lampshades and other artefacts for their dormitories as part of specific subjects. This happened, according Morrow et al (2004), in order to impart ‘the dignity of labour’ rather than to deliver an explicit political ideological orientation through pedagogy. At secondary level, after the visits by van Rensburg, the students were divided into brigades and assigned manual work alongside their teachers, including agriculture, carpentry, building and vehicle mechanics. While the ideas of EWP incorporated the value and dignity of manual labour, importance of Socialist / Marxist political formation and preparation of skilled workers, EWP was not successful as a model for liberation schooling for a number of reasons. These included, first, a perception brought from South Africa that manual labour is demeaning and reinforces the master-servant nature of the society. Second, there was a lack of trained technical teachers and a tendency among some teachers to set manual labour as punishment. Third, Tanzanian workers who worked in these productive units resisted students’ involvement in the factory and farm. Finally, there was a general belief among learners that EWP got in the way of studying and getting a scholarship to study overseas. It is clear from teacher and learner accounts presented in Morrow et al (2002; 2004) that the school failed to underpin the idea of EWP adequately by supporting it with the available Socialist theoretical framework. After some years the brigades stopped functioning and manual labour became a voluntary activity, or something to be practiced collectively only on special days.

In 1980 a Curriculum and Development Unit was established to develop a “genuine curriculum for liberation” (Morrow et al 2004: 81-82). The curriculum was deliberately different from that prevailing in South Africa at the time and emphasised mathematics and science, encouraging learners to consider careers that were closed to blacks in South Africa, such as engineering. They were also taught subjects such as ‘history of the struggle’, ‘development of societies’, agricultural science, typing as well as the work of Marxist and African authors in literature. This was an attempt to combine political orientation, curriculum content and EWP.

Even though SOMAFCO was the ANC’s flagship of South African liberation schooling, and the conditions would appear to have favoured a transformational Socialist education model, it failed to systematically link schooling with the skills and class consciousness that were needed to make the liberation struggle one for a Socialist state. The school appears to have been ambivalent about implementing more politically progressive forms of education, with the failure of a progressive form of EWP to take root, a failure to introduce overt political education and more globally the lack of an articulated alternative education philosophy to the prevailing neo-liberal one. This may reflect the ANC’s ambivalent relationship with Socialism and the broader difficulty in defining and developing a Socialist schooling model as a distinct alternative to the ‘Western’ capitalist schooling model (see for example Griffiths and Williams, 2009). SOMAFCO did not have any direct influence on the post 1994 education system in South Africa.

Traditional Indigenous African Education Models

There was another alternative to the western schooling model: that of indigenous pre-colonial education approaches. The liberation schools themselves drew to some extent on the community based education that had been a feature of traditional African life in most societies across much of the continent going back centuries (Ntuli, 1999).6 Indigenous African knowledge systems and pedagogical modes have been posited as an alternative to ‘western’ schooling or, more often, as an adjunct to ‘western’ schooling as ‘an important step towards sustained economic, cultural and social development’ (Suliman, 1990:162). However, he also points out that generally across Africa,

modern general school education is replacing the traditional indigenous educational systems, rather than supplementing them. The result is literate people who may know how to read books but do not know the ways of nature; people who are alien in their own surroundings, unable to maintain a harmonious relationship with the fauna and flora around them, to respect the balance of give and take (1990: 162).

Education and culture are profoundly linked in traditional African society with a focus on life-long learning which involved the engagement between the individual and the community and nature as s/he grew up, and at certain key age points involved specialist educators who taught specialist knowledge. Prominent Kenyan academic Micere Githae Mugo (1999: 213) emphasises that traditional education and culturalisation teach,

self-definition / naming, self-knowledge, self-determination, and the acquisition of general knowledge and skills. These lead to the cultivation of true consciousness which nurtures creativity, perpetuation, development and invention, plus all other forms of human endeavours that lead people to the highest point of self-realisation.

Mugo (1999) makes the point that under colonialism traditional knowledge and culture were either adopted by the colonial power, if it served their purpose, or erased. She argues that if Africa is to break away from a ‘western’ paradigm of education and ‘decolonise the mind’ (wa Thiongo, 1990), it needs an indigenous definition of education. The difficulty is clearly one of drawing on the past while ensuring that Africa does not become a backwater of archaic knowledge and practice. It is for this reason that Mugo (1999: 225) defines African education as,

a system of knowledge, theory and practice, informed and shaped by a content and form that are definitive of African space as well as the indigenous experiences of Africa’s people ... literacy should not be privileged over that from the orate tradition ... and should equip the learners with technological skills needed for modern development ... One proven model of achieving this synthesis is education with production.

Various writers and politicians, such as Mashamba (2011), draw on another important tradition, which Mugo (1999) summarises as the need for African education to ‘instil a democratic culture in which dialogue, gender and age meet in conversation’ (p. 225) and where sustainable development with a focus on the whole person is the ultimate aim, rather than a limited fit to the world of work. In other words, education should not be about schooling in strict age cohorts in preparation for paid employment, but rather connected to its traditional, communal activity designed to develop the skills needed to live, operate and cooperate in one’s society. It is not, therefore, about education for capitalist exploitation; it is about education which feeds off and drives a new economic order, which in essence is a form of African Socialism where environmental knowledge is celebrated (Mashamba, 2011) while identity, the knowledge of what it is to be an African, is defined and asserted (Ntuli, 1999).

The liberation movements drew on this same heritage of traditionally rooted educational models to promote societal transformation towards African Socialism through some of their education activities, such as EWP and the all night ‘pungwe’ meetings conducted by ZANLA guerrillas during the war of liberation in Zimbabwe. These played the role of community education sessions (Frederikse, 1982). Rural communities would be brought together by the guerrillas to share intelligence and sing and chant before developing into political lessons, which were structured with lecture notes in the vernacular prepared by ZANU’s Publicity and Information Department (Zvobgo in Frederikse, 1982). This would lead to discussions on the history of colonisation as well as the nature of the settler economy, the community’s grievances, development and what policies ZANU would implement once in government. These involved community members of all ages learning together and debating and making meaning together, as well as singing liberation songs and slogans and dancing. These pungwes drew on the tradition of community education where learning is a shared activity, transmitted orally with use of stories, narrative, song and dance, involving all ages and genders.

However, there was almost no attempt at the end of the war, or even in liberated zones, to mainstream this form of political education and present it as a viable alternative to school based education. It remained a particular function of the liberation war as a way of countering the propaganda spread by the colonial regime and of ensuring that the peasantry understood what the struggle was about from the liberation fighters’ viewpoint. The only influence such traditions had on post-colonial schooling was to create space for an argument about ‘Africanising’ the ‘western’ model of schooling. This involved policy decisions around wider use of the vernacular in the classroom, introducing a limited form of EWP and school feeding into schools through the development of school gardens, and the adaptation of the curriculum to allow the teaching of African history and particularly the history of the national liberation struggle (Steiner-Khamsi and Quist, 2000). This was seen as part of the Africanisation and modernisation of schooling which Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah in particular promoted, and which had resonance in all the post-liberation southern and central African states. Ironically, as Steiner-Khamsi and Quist (2000) discuss, the integration of manual labour and use of the vernacular were common elements of schooling in missionary schools earlier in the century, which had often been criticised by the black elite as being anti-African and anti-modern.

This recreation of the past, which traditionalists posit as an alternative to westernisation, capitalism and the borrowing of external models, has been harnessed by African nationalists in the name of modernising and indigenising education. However, this fostering of the past has been seriously contested by some African Socialists. Babu (1981), for example, criticises Tanzania’s President Nyerere, and by inference other members of the African progressive bourgeoisie and other sectors of the national liberation movements, for positing traditional society as egalitarian, democratic and based on social and economic equilibrium. He argues that this is not accurate and that this tradition represents particular relations of production related to a particular mode of production, which has irrevocably passed. In other words, Babu (1981) argues, that this focus on traditional indigenous education is ahistorical and anachronistic. In contrast, Cabral argued that there was nothing innately contradictory between building Socialism and selectively embracing traditional culture, as long as that culture is not based on divisive ethnicity (cited in Alexander, 1990).

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