As part of the 3-4 team’s inquiry unit this term that is developing our classroom Rights and Responsibilities, we have been exploring the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Some great questions we came up with included: Are these rights followed in every country? I wonder what it would be like if we didn’t have rights? And, what if the government did not care about our rights?
To help us begin finding some answers, Marsy’s dad Jamaka spoke to Rooms 13 and 14 last Thursday morning. He shared some of his family’s experiences during the apartheid era in South Africa. Jamaka explained to the students how under apartheid, people of different races were treated very differently by the government, with black people denied basic rights. Many of us were shocked to learn that people were not allowed to use certain water fountains, go to certain beaches, and live in certain areas because of the colour of their skin.
Jamaka explained that his parents and other members of his family had been activists in the African National Congress (ANC), which led the successful struggle to end apartheid and the unfair treatment of people based on their background and appearance. Marsy’s dad also spoke about his childhood in Swaziland, where his family lived in exile. Their home served as a safehouse for other ANC activists, who were introduced to Jamaka as his uncles. He thought he had a lot of uncles in his family! He also told us that his grandmother, Ellen Nkabinde, had once been Nelson Mandela’s first girlfriend and is mentioned in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom (chapter 10, p. 91).
Jamaka taught us how to say hello and thank you in Zulu, Afrikaans and other South African languages. He also sang us a freedom song in Zulu, “Umama Uyajubula” (there are versions on Spotify; see also the album “Freedom Songs” by African Cream Freedom Choir).
After the talk, the children were excited to share what they thought.
“I thought it was great,” Séamus said. “I love to learn about Nelson Mandela and his history. I don’t know many people who are African; I still have so many questions. If now we treated people like that then there’d be a lot of things that I couldn’t do with my friends who have different skin colours.”
“I learned so much,” Samuel said. “I learned that South Africa got taken over by the Dutch. And that some black people’s houses were made of junk. I think the black people were unlucky because they were treated so unfairly.”
Annabel said: “It was interesting, especially how people fought back. I was intrigued by that. What did they use to fight back?”
“It was really nice of him to come in and teach us all about South Africa and answer all our questions,” Raife added. “I learned that the white people came and said this all our land, and lots of black people had to build their houses out of scrap metal. It was very sad, how Mandela was put into prison. I also liked hearing about the Zulu tribe.”
Mariam said: “The black people had bad beaches, the white people had good beaches. The black people had to do all the chores. It doesn’t make any sense. We’re all the same. It’s just colour, it doesn’t matter, everyone needs to have the same rights.”
Jamaka later told us: “I was very impressed by this unit, especially the fact that it was being enthusiastically explored in Year 3 and 4, I was surprised by the amount of interest and engagement by the students of Room 13 and 14. There were so many great questions. Thank you to Patrick for asking me to do the talk, thanks to Cassie and Patrick for allowing me to share with your wonderful students on such an important subject “Children’s Rights Around the World.” And thank you Room 13 and 14, I got your lovely notes and messages. Stay conscious and keep asking questions about everything in our world.”