PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma doesn’t tend to say very much these days, largely I think because his advisers are tired of "clarifying" nonsense. But last week he said something that was at least interesting — that the teaching of history ought to be compulsory in schools in SA.

He then did us all the great favour, in the next sentence, of demonstrating why politicians shouldn’t be allowed near a classroom. "The ANC pulled millions out of poverty.... So much has been achieved, it’s important for our children to understand our country and its people," Zuma was quoted as saying.

And before we get too excited, I am aware there is substance to what Zuma said. One of the most fist-bitingly infuriating things I hear people say is that they "don’t understand why people vote for the ANC". Such blindness to the transformation of life in this country since 1994 is maddening. The fact that Zuma’s first foray into history as it ought to be taught to our children is about the brilliance of the ANC does nonetheless illustrate the kind of history Zuma wants kids to learn — propaganda. This is about as unsurprising as Richie McCaw getting away with actual murder on a rugby field. It’s what politicians do in societies where they are allowed to get away with it.

But Zuma accidentally made a good point. While governments are best kept as far away as possible from curricula, we really ought to be teaching history in our schools, ironically for the opposite reason that Zuma wants — to ensure South Africans are not led by the nose with a simplistic view of history but are equipped with the crucial understanding that nothing is ever simple and that the story of SA is a tale of generations-long cause and effect.

When all our stories are heard, a more truthful picture emerges. After the 1879 massacre at Isandlwana and Britain’s eventual revenge at Ulundi, it was inevitably the British who wrote the history — of a disaster brought on by an inexperienced camp commander and such mundane shortfalls such as a lack of screwdrivers to open up boxes of ammunition. It was just shocking luck.

But, later, historians such as my much-missed friend David Rattray spent time collecting oral history as passed down in the hills around the battlefield. There, you find a very different tale — the tale of the brilliant general, Ntshingwayo Khoza, whose men overwhelmed the British by using military nous and the topography to brilliant effect. Oh — and how, when they needed ammunition, they’d smashed open the boxes on the many rocks that scatter the battlefield. If I could encapsulate how we ought to question what we are taught by a dominant establishment, it would be this: so much for the bloody screwdrivers.

The point of bringing up this vignette from a big story is to illustrate that free-thinking people exposed to the true lessons of history are capable of making better decisions. And that lesson is, perversely, best encapsulated in a Rodriguez song: "[I] Opened the window to listen to the news. But all I heard was the establishment blues." In other words, let’s learn history, but not Zuma’s version of it, thank you.

I’ve just spent a very happy week with a Renault Duster. What a brilliant little car it is. For about R250 000, brand new, you get a full 4x4 with a punchy 1.5l turbo diesel linked to a six-speed gearbox. It’s got four airbags, ABS, ESP, TomTom satnav, electric windows all round and a height-adjustable driver’s seat. Add a good-sized boot. By any measure, a bargain.

Once we get to truly understand that, for example, where you live in 2014 in this country was probably decided by the legislative depredations of two Nazi sympathisers and white supremacists (DF Malan, HF Verwoerd) in the early 1950s, perhaps we’ll think more carefully before drafting legislation to engineer society.

The past plays a vital role for car makers, some of which is damaging (history) and some of which they are proud (heritage). Every corporate entity has an on-message projection of its past. Then there’s the public imagination, a different kettle of lobsters altogether. It must be frustrating for French car importers to butt heads with their present-day reputation, inherited from reliability and parts availability problems that really are history. If I had a euro for every time somebody said they’d never buy a French car because they’re made of papier-mâché and collapse into a heap of rust as you drive out of the showroom, I’d be a rand billionaire.

I’ve just spent a very happy week with a Renault Duster. What a brilliant little car it is. For about R250 000, brand new, you get a full 4x4 with a punchy 1.5l turbo diesel linked to a six-speed gearbox. It’s got four airbags, ABS, ESP, TomTom satnav, electric windows all round and a height-adjustable driver’s seat. Add a good-sized boot. By any measure, a bargain.

All that kit at that price does mean there are shortcomings — the seats are pretty unsupportive for tall men and there’s a maddeningly tiny switch on the dashboard that unlocks the car — the only way to unlock the car, meaning you scrabble around in the dark unable to get out.

The car doesn’t have a low-range gearbox, instead making do with very low gearing on first gear, which you’d use off-road. This saves the weight and considerable expense of another transfer box, but does mean that in town you tend to start off in second, so sixth gear feels more like fifth, and the car could arguably handle longer legs for the freeway.

Add in a pretty plasticky, frill-free interior and it’s clear where cuts have been made for such affordability.

To drive, it’s unremarkable — alarmingly understeery in slippery conditions but generally solid.

The engine belies its limited displacement and offers a solid 240Nm of torque from about 1,500rpm. I averaged a brilliant 7l/100km.

For an active family that tows a caravan or goes camping or gets off-road, the 4x4 Duster offers a serious amount of capability for the price. And should you be more realistic about your bundu-bashing requirements, you can get a 1.6l petrol with 4x2 (you lose some of the toys, including ESP) for less than R200 000.

That’s scarcely believable value — and anyone who knows Renault’s more recent history will know how hard they’ve worked to fix reliability issues. The Duster is brilliant, no matter what those who hear half the story might think.

See more articles

Popular

Wed Dec 07 14:10:48 SAST 2016

Our Network