Friday, December 1, 2023

When children were pulled out of class to dance for dignitaries

Courtesy of the President’s Day competitions, fewer and fewer students are being used to provide free entertainment during the school day.

Not too long ago, it used to be that when someone very important (a president, minister or foreign dignitary) visited a place, students would be pulled out from classrooms and taken to the kgotla to dance for the entertainment of the visitors. Africa’s most exciting traditional dance, borankana, also came to represent an extreme form of class exploitation and child abuse. At least one “beneficiary” of this sacrificial ritual – Prince Harry of England – was horrified by this practice when, during his visit to Botswana in the high noon of 2010 winter, primary schools pupils in Gaborone were brought out to entertain him.

The oddest this thing about this practice is that it is perpetrated by people whose own children most likely go to elite private schools: school management, education officers and officials at the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD) headquarters. These children entertain adults whose own children also go to elite private schools.

Once when asked to explain why schools prioritised entertaining dignitaries over children’s education, an MoESD official said that this was in line with recommendations of the Revised National Policy on Education that “each student should also take at least one co-curricular activity in the form of sporting activity, a club or a hobby.” However, the official was hard put to explain why there was no structured learning programme if borankana was at all meant to have educational value within a formal curricular context.

Purely by accident, this practice is dying out courtesy of the President’s Day Competitions which have led to a mushrooming of traditional dance troupes. The competitions were never meant to provide substitute dance labour across the country but that is what eventually happened. Whether they win or lose, troupes see the need to survive past the competitions and this has led to the commercialisation of traditional dance. Other groups come into being not because they are interested in winning but because their members just want to dance.

Some benefit has also accrued to value chain activities, one being the manufacture of the dance attire. Whether the Department of Wildlife has issued as many hunting licences as there are new borankana skin clothing is something one doesn’t want to speculate on lest they be accused of snitching.


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