Pupils piece together the puzzle fragments of Africa
Ahmed Areff, News24
Johannesburg – The countdown starts, “three, two, one…” and the room at the Jabavu library in Soweto falls silent.
Ten pairs of pupils each have their own space to work with their 300 pieces that will hopefully join together to form the instantly recognisable shape of Africa, home to more than a billion human beings.
Some start squarely in the middle, with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Others start with Egypt and build their way down, while others start at home, with South Africa – a Cape to Cairo strategy that draws a diagonal line through Africa in a way that would make British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes envious.
The challenge starts off small, with more than 40 pupils first working in pairs and then individually to tackle a 63-piece version of the puzzle. It eventually comes to a head with those who make it through those rounds pairing up again to do the 300-piece version.
All of them don’t finish the puzzle within the 40 minute timeframe, but those who make it the furthest are acknowledged.
The actual winners, who did well in each round, will be announced on Monday, Africa Day, where Jipasa will award them with a chocolate hamper and puzzles for their school.
Jipasa chair Tefo Mohale told News24 the puzzle challenge was born as a response to the recent xenophobic attacks in KwaZulu-Natal that left at least seven people dead and thousands displaced.
“We are trying to bring a bit of excitement to learning about the continent.”
He said most discussions on xenophobia focused on adults, while most of the interventions involved marches.
“We thought of using puzzles as an intervention to engage with the youth. With adults, most already have their own minds made up about things, but with the young ones, who are still forming their opinions, this is a way for them to think about the continent differently.”
He said the act of putting together puzzle pieces was symbolic.
“As a continent, we are in pieces. We want the children to put together the pieces of the puzzle to see that we are one continent.
“Then maybe the pieces will come together in their minds and they will see Africa as a whole.”
He said Africa was also literally broken into puzzle pieces during the Berlin conference in 1884/5 where European countries met to divide up the continent between themselves.
“The children are now engaged in an exercise of African unity.”
‘Puzzles are fun’
One of the children, 12-year-old Hlohonolofatso Dinatlho, dressed in her blue school uniform, said her teacher from the Tlhatlogang Junior Secondary School brought 15 pupils to the challenge.
“I never did puzzles at home. But I will do them now – they are very fun.”
Another, Refilwe Phaphu, from Molaetsa Primary School said the puzzle taught her about the countries in Africa.
“I know some countries only, but now I see so many names. I have learnt about these new places,” she said.
Phaphu said she had her own strategy at puzzle building.
“I start in the middle. When I do that I always come right.”
Mohale said putting together a puzzle was also an important cognitive activity.
“It teaches you to solve problems. We think that it is about time that we grew a new generation of problem solvers that can confront and solve the problems we are facing.
“It is a self-correcting tool. The child doing it doesn’t need someone to tell them that something is wrong or missing. The puzzle tells you that.”
He said it also taught concentration.
“If you go to schools, children are always making a noise. No one has told them here to keep quiet,” he said, gesturing to the children who were quietly engrossed in their puzzles.
Mohale said puzzle building was an analogy of life.
“All of us are just trying to put together the pieces,” he said.