Shakespeare is racist, Swift humourless, say white SA educational `evaluators'

Shakespeare is racist and sexist. Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer is "patronising" and her grammar is not up to scratch

Shakespeare is racist and sexist. Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer is "patronising" and her grammar is not up to scratch. George Orwell is too subversive to be trusted and Jonathan Swift is just not funny.

These are the views of a team of four white teachers commissioned to review the curriculum in South Africa's most populous region.

Their report has drawn fire from the country's Minister for Education, Dr Kader Asmal, who stressed to The Irish Times that the report had not been accepted by the authorities in Gauteng, the region that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria. In a statement issued through his press spokesman, Dr Asmal said the views of the evaluators were "ill-informed, pedagogically unsound and smacked of anti-intellectualism." He also phoned Ms Gordimer to convey his support.

The evaluators were charged with ensuring that the Gauteng curriculum was in line with clauses in South Africa's Constitution which guarantee tolerance and non-discrimination and reject racism. Reaction to their spree of "political correctness" ranged from anger to ridicule.


The Taming of the Shrew and Julius Caesar were denounced as "sexist". Hamlet was described as "Eurocentric", perhaps because it was set in Denmark instead of Durban, and in any event, royalty was "no longer fashionable". Another royal, King Lear, was shot down as "ridiculous" and as for Othello, well, wasn't it obvious that "the Moor" was subjected to racist treatment by the bigoted bard?

In George Orwell's 1984 the team managed to unmask "an element of subversive rebellion against the state, which is perhaps no longer relevant" and Gulliver's Travels was simply riddled with "foreign" humour.

Nadine Gordimer, the only South African writer on the list, was castigated for her novel July's People. The book describes a vicious civil war between blacks and whites in a future South Africa; it is tempered by the humanity of a black servant who gives refuge to the white family he works for.

The evaluators were scathing. The book, they said, was "deeply racist, superior and patronising," and its grammar was not up to scratch either. More importantly, it projected "a South African future that did not happen". In short, Ms Gordimer was found guilty of fiction.

The evaluators recommended that July's People, along with Hamlet, be removed from the curriculum. But their views were rejected by Mr Ignatius Jacobs. The education minister for the province said July's People and Hamlet would remain as prescribed reading and he would investigate why such "insulting comments" on Ms Gordimer's work were made public.

"The learners should be subjected to a broad variety of literary styles and traditions and it is as important to ensure that learners develop an ability to critically understand and evaluate what they are reading," he said.