A reconceptualisation of the term “Land” in an investigation of the role of Land-based education in South Africa

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Land has been a sensitive and emotive issue since the earliest times of colonialism in South Africa. To date, the question of land has been addressed primarily from narrow political and economic perspectives, while education on the topic has been either underemphasised or completely absent from these discourses. It is perspectives such as these that reduce land to being simply a commodity. Yet the effectiveness of such approaches to the land issue may be doubted, especially in the context of the current violent protest actions linked to land reform. In this article I argue that a possible reason for these protest actions could be the lack of awareness of “land as a multidimensional concept” among politicians, businessmen and indeed most South Africans, as Gerber implies in a newspaper report in 2018. A distinction between land (small letter “l”) as a physical commodity and Land (capital letter “L”) as an all-encompassing concept is therefore made here to emphasise its various interpretations and use. This article aims to provide a wide-ranging perspective on the concept of land and to explore its multidimensional implications in the field of education. My point of departure is that the concept of land encompasses far more than just its physical aspect, but that there is a connectedness between the self and Land – one that connects the self spiritually and emotionally to Land. It is this authentic and natural relationship that is often overlooked and neglected in the discussions about, and decisions taken by government on, land reform. I argue that an emotive issue such as land is far more complex and all-encompassing, and that it is every South African citizen’s right and responsibility to be informed about the scope of this question. A more nuanced awareness of the issue might lead to a decline in protest actions and to a change in the prevailing narrow approaches to land reform. Consequently, I explore a potential avenue through which a greater awareness of the complex nature of land could be cultivated, namely Land-based education. It is this type of awareness that needs to be urgently promoted and seriously considered by all citizens – not just through mainstream education, but in all sectors related to land-reform initiatives in South Africa.

According to Styres (2017), Land-based education can be viewed as adopting an environmental and indigenous orientation towards learning that acknowledges people’s deep connection to and relationship with the Land. It further seeks to offer a specific type of education relating to the Land that is grounded within indigenous knowledge and pedagogy. By recognising and engaging with colonial ways of thinking in schools through the current education system, Land-based education offers an innovative, more comprehensive philosophy that is guided by indigenous pedagogies. It therefore seeks to disrupt the colonial power relations that still prevail in the classroom today. As a very old indigenous philosophy of education, Land-based education assumes that knowing and learning occur through the cultivation and observation of the relationship between people and the Land.

In this article the argument is based on the premise that most South Africans are not aware of the multidimensionality of the concept of Land. This lack of awareness means they often think of land in terms of its physical and economic value. Decisions regarding land reform processes are most often also made in light of these dominant instrumentalist views of the concept. It is argued that protest actions might be a direct result of these views. A diagram illustrating the different dimensions of Land – namely spiritual, physical, cognitive and emotional – is therefore included to demonstrate that Land is far more than just an economic commodity and physical entity. Each of these dimensions is discussed in detail; and as Styres (2017) claims, to fully apprehend the notions of Land and Land-based education, one needs to perceive Land in terms of its spiritual dimension, as all other dimensions flow from this perspective.

However, Land as spiritual is not a simple notion to grasp or to teach, especially in a field such as education. After presenting a thorough definition of Land, the article explores a framework for Land-based education to illuminate the conceptual and theoretical links between Land and education. A discussion is presented on how such a framework could serve to enhance education, strengthen pedagogy and expand understanding, given the current situation regarding land reform in South Africa. This discussion is followed by an overview of the possible implications of Land-based education for the education system in South Africa. Although Land-based education has implications for all subjects and disciplines, a practical example is provided from the context of school geography.

It is argued that school geography can be conducive to integrating all the elements of a Land-based education framework, yet the Curriculum Assessment and Policy Statement for Geography (CAPS) focuses mainly on topics such as places and people rather than land/Land. The article also makes a distinction between place-based education and Land-based education to demonstrate how these two schools of thought differ. In the case of place-based education, the focus is on the identification of specific environmental problems in specific places and which are distinctive to that community. On the other hand, Land-based education transcends local environmental problems and geographical boundaries. It focuses primarily on the spiritual and emotional relationship of the Self with the Land, the promotion of indigenous knowledge and the integration of indigenous stories in pedagogy. After an analysis of the Geography CAPS for Grades 4–12 it was found that only scant reference is made to the term and notion of “land”, and when it was, it was mostly in terms of its physical aspect (such as land/soil erosion). Practical examples for the geography teacher and curriculum advisors of how a Land-based education framework could be integrated into a geographical theme such as soil erosion (Grade 11) is therefore provided.

Some of these implications include, for example, a practical assessment task (PAT) where learners have to conduct fieldwork and empirical research at the specific site where the erosion has taken place over a period of time, conduct interviews with local municipalities, incorporate the stories of the inhabitants in their research, reflect on their own embedded relationship (how it has changed / stayed the same) with the land, and narrate their own story throughout the research process. Other implications of this approach include storytelling and attentively listening to one another’s stories about learners’ own connectedness to the Land.

The article concludes with the recommendation that an empirical study be undertaken to explore a Land-based education framework in practice. A follow-up article will therefore focus on a more practical application of such a framework, as this article has served only as an introduction to Land-based education. Attention should specifically be given to the methodology and methods that would be employed in such an empirical study. Otherwise it might run the risk of simply reproducing colonial research methodologies and theories.

Keywords: education; land-based education; land-based pedagogy; land reform; South Africa


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’n Hervoorstelling van die begrip Grond tydens ’n ondersoek na die rol van Grondgebaseerde onderwys in Suid-Afrika

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