I wonder if George Santayana really examined the concept of “history” before arriving at this conclusion. Did he factor in the tendency to award the job of writing it to the victors, the revision that would take place as the needs of expedience overtook actual recounts or even the way in which modern man perceives his ancestors?

Winston Churchill better summed it up when he said: “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” Which he did in both meanings of the words.

One of my favourite columnists is David Aaronovitch (Times of London) who also writes a blog on various themes. One of his recent posts was an item that proposes that learning the lessons of history is a load of bunk.

This got me thinking about history in terms of South Africa and the role it would play in shaping future generations.

As we are all aware, the history books studied during apartheid are vastly different from those found in our classrooms today.

Our past is studied in far greater depth, and credit is given to the history of all of our people rather than a minority. The great men who fought for our freedom, in terms of the liberation struggle, are styled as the heroes that they are rather than terrorists.

Yet we must not forget that there were many other heroes as well. Men whose impact on segments of our population, rather than the whole, must also be recorded.

We need only consider the emotional impact the song De la Rey had on our Afrikaner community to realise that the melting pot is made up of many ingredients that strengthen the whole.

To degrade that memory does not strengthen the rainbow it tarnishes it. The modern Afrikaner is proud of his history and playing a dynamic part in our future as well.

For example, I have noticed an enormous amount of entrepreneurs emerging from this community now that many government positions are denied them. If one looks at just one example, the music industry, then the number of stars emerging and the audience’s responses are incredible.

The government, in dealing with Afrikaner history, needs to show a sensitivity that, in the main, was denied them. They must demonstrate the qualities of a Madiba and not relegate what they hold dear to the back pages.

What I am effectively saying is that in balancing our history — that is, that which is taught in school — we must display sensitivity to the present in reflecting the past. Isn’t that in essence what history is? Our decision on what must be included in the story and what needs to be left out?

And if that be so, who makes that decision? Is it not the rulers of the day? Which effectively means that we are ultimately learning victor’s history.

What history are they learning in Zimbabwe?

If this generation were to fail to learn from the history now being taught to them would they be doomed to repeat it?

Repeat what?

The dangers they are being taught to avoid would probably form the subject matter of every good governance book of the future.

Perhaps the answer lies not in learning the lessons of history per se, but rather a set of principles drawn from a variety of sources.

I would imagine that if this were to be acceptable, then World War III would be fought to decide who gets to draw them.

Which means we should end with this quote from Kurt Vonnegut: “History is merely a list of surprises. It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again.”


  • Mike Trapido is a criminal attorney and publicist having also worked as an editor and journalist. He was born in Johannesburg and attended HA Jack and Highlands North High Schools. He married Robyn in 1984 (Mrs Traps, aka "the government") and has three sons (who all look suspiciously like her ex-boss). He was a counsellor on the JCCI for a year around 1992. His passions include Derby County, Blue Bulls, Orlando Pirates, Proteas and Springboks. He takes Valium in order to cope with Bafana Bafana's results. Practice Michael Trapido Attorney (civil and criminal) 011 022 7332 Facebook


Michael Trapido

Mike Trapido is a criminal attorney and publicist having also worked as an editor and journalist. He was born in Johannesburg and attended HA Jack and Highlands North High Schools. He married Robyn...

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