Apartheid State: GUILTY or NOT GUILTY…?

By Mark Andrews

I remember when I was at school, 99% of the time History was about learning a date and a fact, and then applying the dates and facts to homework, tests and examinations. This often made History an extremely boring lesson and many of my fellow students therefore did not take History through to matric. In my role as a History teacher, while teaching the theory and facts about Apartheid, and the resistance movement that fought against it, my primary goal is to inspire a love for the subject. My wish is that History becomes enjoyable for my students, and as a result leads to many taking the subject to Matric and beyond...

The vision

The vision

How can I increase the love of History for my students? In this study of Apartheid I decided to use music as the basis for the study with my Grade 9’s.

Curriculum standards

The vision
Curriculum standards

This learning facilitated the development of the following skills as outlined in the IEB Curriculum:

  •  Identify and solve problems and make decisions using critical and creative thinking; 
  • Work effectively as individuals and with others as members of a team; 
  • Collect, analyse, organise and critically evaluate information; 
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the world as a set of related systems by recognising that problem-solving contexts do not exist in isolation. 
  • Apartheid and forced removals in South Africa. Focusing on what Apartheid was - laws and enforcement, then the resistance to Apartheid studied through the “eyes” of Steven Bantu Biko and then life in the Apartheid state.

NOTE: Although it is not an official part of the curriculum I also include a brief study of events in Northern Ireland for a global perspective.

Learning journey

The vision


9 x 50-minute lessons over the period of 3 weeks. (We work on a two-week cycle with 6 x 50-minute lessons within the cycle.)

Teacher Feature

The vision

Teacher planning

The vision

As anyone who teaches Grade 9 History will know, the study of WWII and the NAZI Genocide is a major section of the History curriculum. Genocide as a term is a term many do not truly understand so we start the year looking at Genocide and what it is. 

In order to connect my students to the reality of genocide, we start with a brief study of the Cambodian Genocide based around the film The Killing Fields.

The Killing Fields

Following that, we move through the study of the Holocaust. As we come to the end of the study of WWII, I encourage the students once again to consider the term Genocide. We look very briefly at Yugoslavia and then I ask them questions like “Was the US bombing of Hiroshima a genocide?” and at that point begin to introduce the term ‘Crime against Humanity'.

Using four songs as the base of the study, we begin to study Apartheid. I use the music to allow the students to discover what Apartheid was and the resistance to it and its eventual downfall. The question we start with based on the term Genocide is,


 “Was the Apartheid State GUILTY or NOT GUILTY…?”


The goal is for the students to discover Apartheid and the resistance to it through listening to and analysis of music. It is about students discovering for themselves, interpreting, and then putting the information into a format from which they can study.

The entire section is done as an in-class assignment with constant guidance, more often than not via leading questions. These questions are aimed at triggering a thought pattern and thereby discovery and understanding.

The students are encouraged to develop and express their personal feelings and opinions on the subject matter learned because ultimately the History they learn in Grade 9 should be a part of the grounding upon which they base the way they themselves create the history that they will be a part of, that will in years to come be studied and analysed - just as they are doing in the study of Apartheid.

Student activities

The vision

Here is a look at the songs I used in our class study along with materials we worked through. 


A Blood Stained History 


“The good thing is that we also have an ability to call them out and eventually run them out of town. Some of these bad people rise to powerful positions, which they use to terrorize fellow citizens and ruin livelihoods. In the past century, we have had genocidaires such as Adolf Hilter and Joseph Stalin, cruel and murderous dictators like P.W. Botha and Augusto Pinochet; and thieves like Mobutu Sese Seko and Ferdinand Marcos…” 

[Mondli Makhanya, City Press, 02/05/2021]

Adolf Hitler is very much a part of the Grade 9 curriculum and the students will know about him. Stalin will also probably be known to them through his involvement in WWII.


The idea of this part of the teaching is to introduce the idea [perhaps the fact] the genocide is not a Nazi exclusive crime. I use the film The Killing Fields.

Here only the Silent Survive to teach briefly about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. My grade 9 students also do an assignment about the Rwandan Genocide and the massacre of boys and men in Yugoslavia. The aim is to set into their minds that it is not a crime reserved for Nazis. This is so that they are able from the start to begin to assess Apartheid - WAS IT OR WASN’T IT a genocide?!


South Africa is Not Alone - Discrimination in other countries 

Using U2’s song ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and its music video we have a class discussion as to how South Africa is not the only country with a history of oppression and persecution of people groups within society. This was persecution largely based on a Catholic vs Protestant tension. Other possible examples that can be included could be things like the KKK in the USA and of course, the Khmer Rouge and the Nazis studied in History already.


Gimme Hope Jo’anna


Steve Bantu Biko 


Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko was a popular voice of Black liberation in South Africa between the mid-1960s until his death in police detention in 1977… Peter Gabriel recorded the song as a part of a worldwide effort to protest against and end Apartheid in S.A.

Via the initial research work about Biko himself, the study moved through various protests and protest leaders. We explored civil disobedience, school protests against Afrikaans, etc. And also took a brief look at people like Chris Hani who played role in the fight against Apartheid. 


The picture below contains the names of those killed...

“They shall grow not old…”


The YouTube clip above is a video taken on a Poppy Day - Day of Remembrance with the poem being read followed by the traditional Last Post. While this is specific to World War I, it opened conversations about how we remember those we have lost and contains ideas we can apply to our memory of those who died in the struggle.



This is the original uncensored music video for Bright Blue's seminal South African song `Weeping'. It was filmed by Nic Hofmeyr on the Cape Flats in the late nineteen eighties, during the State of Emergency. Students were encouraged to catch the `Nkosi Sikelela' bridge (which was snuck onto SABC airwaves despite the anthem's banning) and to look out for the late Basil `Manenberg' Coetzee on sax, filmed in Manenberg township! The song has since been covered by Josh Grobin, Vusi Mahlasela, and others.

Click through these slides to read more about how the lyrics of the song Weeping by Bright Blue were used to teach the grade 9’s about the “White man” in the suburbs who, while not making or enforcing the Apartheid Law, did nothing to change it.  


I ask thought provoking questions of the students and even used myself as an example. Even though men like myself just followed orders, like the rank-and-file Nazi soldiers did, I was just an 18-year-old following the law. Asking the students whether or not they thought I was guilty, in respect of the actions taken by the armed forces under the Apartheid State lead to fascinating discussions and explorations. Am I Guilty? Yes? No? Partially?


Teacher reflections

The vision

History, especially as I remember it at school, was a subject that became incredibly boring. My aim is always to provoke interest, to get the students hooked… What better way than with music?! As humans, we all have a connection to music, albeit not always the same types of music. Playing the music with the students, watching their very real responses to the music videos and the lyrics, and then encouraging them to react, made the process of learning not only different and fun but I believe REAL. It was no longer just Sir talking, it was music that created emotion which created reactions… 

These reactions ranged from happiness at finally understanding, to questions like “REALLY SIR?”, to anger and other emotions. After each lesson we would spend time talking and debating - I saw Grade 9 students step up to the plate and make valid emotional arguments that I do not believe I would have got out of them had I just used a textbook.

I had Grade 9’s come back to me with stories about their Dad’s experience in the Apartheid army or a meeting their Granny had with Archbishop Tutu - all of a sudden history was real - not just something Sir spoke about!

The biggest joy for me was how much I learnt from students whose families had experienced the negatives of Apartheid like the student who had the courage to stand up and question me about my life under Apartheid, my time as a National Servicemen. The music seemed to make it a very real-life experience for everyone in the classroom. Anger, tears, laughter, emotions - we shared them all.

What's next?

The vision

Using contacts I have made via Twitter and Facebook, I am wanting to take on the study of topics like Apartheid and more particularly the World Wars in a linked classroom with classes overseas - in the UK. Perspective - bring different eyes, different opinions to the same piece of time in History.

Closing thoughts

The vision

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase just take the first step”

- Martin Luther King


Bring your personal passions into your teaching, they reveal your inspiration and thereby inspire your students. A good History teacher develops a love for the subject, and that love, with guidance, creates, develops results, and changes the history of the future.


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