Original Research

Masekitlana re-membered: A performance-based ethnography of South African black children’s pretend play

Esther Ofenste Phetlhu
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 4, No 1 | a55 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v4i1.55 | © 2014 Esther Ofenste Phetlhu | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 May 2014 | Published: 01 July 2014

About the author(s)

Esther Ofenste Phetlhu, University of North-West, South Africa

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The extensive empirical research inspired by Piaget and Vygotsky’s theories of make-believe play has been criticised for restricting data to western, urban, middle-class children. We seek to redress this bias by researching a traditional black South African Pedi children’s game Masekitlana. Our data relies on embodied memories enacted by Mapelo (one of the authors), and interviews of two other informants. The analytical framework draws upon ‘emergent methods’ in ethnography such as performance ethnography, autoethnography and memory elicitation through ‘bodynotes’ within a Vygotskyian orientation to play. The findings show that Masekitlana shares features common to all pretend play, but others unique to it  including: i) extended monologue, ii) metacommunicative frames for realistic thinking, and iii) a complex relation between social and solitary play. These findings support Vygotsky. However, ‘the long childhood’ of Masekitlana suggests that the stages theory of Piaget, as well as  Vygotskyian ideas that have come down to us via Cole & Scribner and Valsiner, require revision in the light of Bruner’s two modes of cognition, and Veresov’s reinterpretation of the theatre movement, within which Vygotsky’s central ideas are embedded.


Masekitlana, Pretend or make-believe play, Performance-ethnography, Adult memories, Vygotsky’s theory of play, Autoethnography


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