(Re)colonising religious education in Eswatini and Lesotho: a policy critique

Yonah Hisbon Matemba*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePresentationpeer-review


In this conceptual paper I examine supranational trajectories of Religious Education (RE) in Eswatini and Lesotho, which have similar demographics, including the continued dominance of Christianity (90% in both countries) in education and socio-cultural life. Developments (or lack) in RE in the two countries present a somewhat anomalous picture to the trend not only in southern Africa where the two countries are located, but indeed in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa where despite different outcomes and challenges, decolonial movements in RE have occurred. These movements include attempts to demissionalize and de-Christinanize RE through trying different forms of post-confessional pedagogies attempting to liberate the subject from its colonial past (i.e. decolonize). Eswatini and Lesotho present a contrasting case from such trends, but with one difference between the two countries. While in both countries Christian RE of the colonial type continues in public schools, between 2000 and 2016 Eswatini attempted to break the mould by introducing multi-faith RE (based on “limited pluralism” because only a few religions were selected). However, by the way of policy reversal, the curriculum was abruptly withdrawn from schools in 2017, and returned RE to the previous Christian curriculum that dates to colonial times. For its, part, Lesotho has not attempted to initiate post-confessional formulations for RE (in spite of calls for change). In the end, despite the policy path taken, RE in both countries remains a colonial project. They are thus out of step with the postcolonial vision of countries that are supposed to be independent (from colonialism) and under African leadership who should be keen to decolonize not only the structure of education, but also the material content of the curriculum and how its delivery in classroom discourse. It is this area that concerns African/Africanist scholars, who are beginning to critically question the inability of African leadership to curtail the continued dominance a Christian/missionary epistemological framework. To this end, scholars are beginning to see such failures through the prism of anticolonialism, because it goes beyond the postcolonial criticism of the current political and social milieu in sub-Saharan Africa, and into questioning the postcolonial project itself. Given the importance of educational policy in guiding the direction a country’s curriculum takes, the paper utilizes the concepts “policy reversal” (completely reversing previous policy commitments) and “policy status quo” (keeping things as they are) as the analytical framework, and why, for example, Lesotho has left Christian RE curriculum unchanged (policy status quo) and Eswatini has made a U-turn in reverting to Christian RE after trying to decolonize RE for a number of years (policy reversal). My argument is that colonized RE is no longer a desired option in postcolonial Eswatini and Lesotho. Rather, there exists the need to adopt an anticolonial approach offering radical tools of resistance to challenge the current policy direction if RE in the two countries is ever to unshackle itself from its colonial past.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 25 Apr 2021
EventComparative & International Education Society 65th Annual Meeting: Social Responsibility Within Changing Contexts - Online
Duration: 25 Apr 20212 May 2021
Conference number: 65


ConferenceComparative & International Education Society 65th Annual Meeting
Abbreviated titlevCIES 2021
Internet address


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