SABDET seminar on the theme
for ZIBF 98 - children
Terence Ranger is former Rhodes Professor of Race
Relations, University of Oxford, Emeritus Fellow of St Antony's College,Oxford,
and a trustee of SABDET
For the first time the 1998 Zimbabwe International
Book Fair and Indaba in will be preceded by a two-day academic seminar,
30-31 July 1998, on `Children in Africa', to mark the year's theme.
The seminar is organised by Professor Ngwabi Bhebe and Dr Alois Mlambo
of the University of Zimbabwe. (For information please write to them
at History, University of Zimbabwe, MP167, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe.)
In order both to publicise this and to explore some of the themes which
will arise, the Southern African Book Development Education Trust (SABDET)
held a workshop at St Antony's College, Oxford, in November.
There is a tension in current research on children
in Africa between the abundant documentation which reveals them as victims
- of war, of Aids, of educational and medical collapse - and a different
perspective which sees children as survivors and even as agents. In
a 1994 paper, for instance, Sara Gibbs argued that in rural Mozambique
people focus on the `strength of children and the vulnerability of adults'.
She quotes a common metaphor: `A child is like a banana tree...once
you plant one they will reproduce themselves, after five or six years
they will grow alone, independent of their parents...If there is a forest
fire and you go away, when you come back you can find a lot of trees
burnt but the banana trees are often alive. Their parents are dead but
they will survive, alone.' And in the post-war rituals of healing, people
in Mozambique depend on the capacity of children to make new beginnings.
There is an obvious danger in moving too far from
a pessimistic to an optimistic picture of African children. but broadly
the SABDET day brought out the creativity and adaptability of children
rather than their trauma and despair. Mario Aguilar of St Andrews showed
how through play and through school drama Boorana children in Kenyan
refugee camps renewed and sustained their world; Tim Allen, showing
a wide range of the children's drawings which he collected in Uganda
as an indispensable part of his fieldwork, was able to show child insights
which an adult researcher might otherwise not have picked up.
Father Pat Shanahan, who has been working in the
streets of Accra for long enough to have `street grand-children', emphasised
that there is a `street culture' which needs as much respect from researchers
as the now archaic village cultures. He also emphasised that the choice
of street children had to be respected.
Kathleen McCreary, dramatist, described how she
worked with Zimbabwean adolescents in a reformatory by drawing them
into the situation of street children in Brazil. Acting up, acting out
- the Kenyans present told us that Nairobi street children put on extempore
shows for their audience - was really the theme of the day.
Fatuma Chege, a Kenyan educationalist of long
experience, described how Kenyan schoolgirls had been able to dramatise
their humiliation on the matatu buses which take them to school and
to act it out on the stage. At the end of the day Mark Chingono dared
to suggest that if `development' was attentive to the demands of youth,
it should aim not only for sustenance but also for `happiness'.
Given all this it was appropriate that the day
opened with a presentation by someone who had responded to child need
and who had raised money rather than issues. This was Elizabeth Clifton,
who spent much of her year out between school and university in Zimbabwe,
where she taught in schools and came to support the Vila Maninga Project
of children's villages in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Her presentation
gave rise to a lively discussion on how best to organise such a village
- Vila Maninga groups child huts around a central foster family - and
whether either `traditional' or contemporary age-set communities might
offer any guidance.
Appropriately to an event looking forward to the
Book Fair, various ideas about publication emerged. One hopes, for instance,
that Tim Allen's collections of child drawings can be published as a
book; a collected set of texts of child dramas - Boorana, Kenyan, Zimbabwean
- would be fascinating. Father Shanahan spoke of the need to provide
food for street literacy; what was needed was some modern equivalent
of penny dreadfuls. The day ended with several of the participants determined
to get to Harare for the July 1998 seminar, for the Indaba and for the
Book Fair. [end] [BPN, no 21, 1997, p 7.]
to table of contents for Newsletter 21, 1997 >>