Reflections VII – Culture clash

posted in: Life in South Africa | 0

Taking advantage of a long weekend – Human Rights Day – we headed into Kwa-Zulu Natal and the town of Dundee, an excellent base to explore the battlefields of the Anglo-Zulu and Boer Wars – we took a guided tour of Isandhlwana and Rorke’s Drift (for those of a certain age, think “Zulu” with Michael Caine.) Our guide, Pat Rondgren, gave an excellent insight to battle strategy (and stupidity), but also into Zulu culture.

The Zulu were raiders, with no concept of borders and the ownership of land, and had little interest in things that were anchored. There are monuments to both sides  – the photo is of a monument to the Zulu fallen at Rorke’s Drift, a statue of a leopard on hide shields – but it is largely for the benefit of (white) visitors.  The Zulu see far greater point to the tree planted alongside, which provides shade and sustenance.

Western virtues do not sit easily with Zulu culture. We value punctuality (the politeness of kings), making eye contact upon meeting, even the idea of ladies first when entering a room (it is the duty of the Zulu man to enter first to ensure no danger lurks within). And, knowing this, I have had cause to question my own teaching.  Am I being stubbornly dogmatic (and racist) in demanding that the learners in my class “listen with their eyes”?  Should I continue to insist upon the learners arriving on time for lessons and rehearsals, and getting down to work straight away?  (That is certainly something the school insists upon.)  Or is it patronising (and racist) to make allowances for a different approach, when they will have to make their way in the modern world.  No straightforward answer, I fear.

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