Education is still the future
Education matters in many ways and or for many reasons. A couple of years ago me and my Doctoral student then crunched numbers to try and answer whether education really matters. The journal article we published in 2016 is attracting a good number of citations. Numbers confirmed that it is not just education that matters, although education has its own intrinsic value, but the quality of education matters greatly.
We know that we have a challenge of the quality of education in the context of South Africa. This, barring the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, is one of the reasons why unemployment has remained very high in South Africa. It also partly explains huge inequalities in South Africa. Of course, the poor quality of education in South Africa is largely because of the country’s political history: education for Africans was deliberately poor and the agenda was to ensure that Africans remain inferior. This was the hallmark of Bantu education. As argued in a recent book chapter, the Bantu Education system effectively pursued the same objective as slave education, albeit perpetuating subjugation and disempowerment with much greater vigour and disdain.
Indeed, the successive democratic administrations since 1994 have not been able to sufficiently reverse this terrible legacy whose ramifications have dire consequences for the society. There have been many policy mishaps and implementation glitches that have conspired to keep the quality of education low. The inefficiencies in the South African public sector have worsened the situation. Not all is lost though.
Back to what this blog/reflection is about: education is till the future. Presenting to student teachers at the University of Mpumalanga recently, I went down the memory late trying to remember my teaching practice encounter. I had initially trained as a teacher in the early 1990s. The teaching profession was held very highly those days. I changed to be researcher later on. I ended up as an academic, after a relatively long detour as a government official. The opportunities for tutoring and working as assistant lecturer made me wish to be an academic. I saw an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution as an academic. Was it not Mandela who said that “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world”?
Education plays an important role in the advancement of wellbeing in many ways. It interrupts intergenerational transmission of poverty. It contributes to technological improvements. It advances socio-economic development. At an individual level, education enhances one’s chances for success even in instances where it is difficult to secure employment. Education just makes you better in some way. Of course, there are many “educated idiots” out there. In the Godfather trilogy, when his son decides to drop formal education for music, the Godfather pleads with him that “education is insurance”.
Teachers do not only impart knowledge but inculcate a value system especially in contexts like our society where communities have largely disintegrated and families are falling apart. It is in schools that young ones can be molded to be responsible citizens. In many instances teachers find themselves in unfortunate circumstances. Because of the troubled nature of our society, mainly due our repulsive political history and its ramifications, teachers are sometimes unable to play the roles that they should be playing. Schools have become playgrounds for all social ills manifesting in our society. This does not mean though that teachers should not continue to do their best. Teachers have to be responsible and accountable like everyone else in society, but more so when one is a teacher. Accountability, in various forms, should be the mainstay of any profession.
Teachers have a critical role in ensuring that the future citizens of any country are properly raised through arming them the requisite skills, knowledge and values. A failing school system is a disservice to a nation, for being entrusted with the education of future generations is a huge responsibility. Some teachers sometimes see themselves as teaching learners without critically reflecting on the extent to which they are accountable to society.
Part of the problem that affects teachers is that those responsible for education may not know enough about what they are dealing with. We have seen, for instance, the confusion that frequent changes in the curriculum have caused. Education policymakers can take wrong advise and implement inappropriate decisions. It is important that that which is not working is corrected but don’t fix that which is not broken.
So, even though teachers need to be more responsible, policymakers should not make it difficult for teachers to do their best. Like lecturers, teachers have to improve themselves and ensure that a student is the main focus of his/her attention. If teachers/lecturers are unable to make the necessary sacrifices that the education sector demands of them, it would be good that they explore other professions.
Love and living in times of the coronavirus
There are a few subjects as complex as love, loving and living – and of course death. Loving and living do not only influence life but they shape death and dying, for dying better is shaped by how one lives. There are different kinds of love. There are different ways of loving. Living to love, be loved, loving to live and to forgive, for better or worse, are some of the best gifts to humanity and gifts we can give ourselves in a generally hostile world where love often suffers. Loving oneself and to love others must be one of the best gifts one can give to her/himself.
As the world battles the coronavirus, one wonders what could be expressions of love in times of Covid-19. The Colombian Nobel prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez covers these intriguing subjects of loving, living and dying in many of his outstanding novels. The two that stand out are: Love in the Times of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude. In Love in the Times of Cholera, Márquez brilliantly portrays a love triangle that helps us understand loving, living and dying. In One Hundred Years of Solitude (my all-time favorite), we learn about loving, living and dying – and forgetting – in a town that has no contact with the outside world.
Although it is hard to define love, we know what love is not: love is not envy, love is not jealousy, love is not obsession and other things that can be confused with loving. Loving is special. It is not hard to see love when there is love.
Indeed, love can be pain: just like pain, love is universal. To love should not be equivalent to benefits of loving and being loved. One can love helplessly but suffer because of loving. We can never know for sure how those we love feel. This is both the beauty and curse of life, love and living. Love cannot always be clearly communicated. To love at times may mean letting go of those we love but it can never be that we harm those we love because of love.
The power of love is that we can always devote ourselves for those we love: we do what we can so they can live better, we work harder so humanity can improve, we love so we can be loved, we do that which is good because of love. We live for love – we love to live. Many people have sacrificed a lot so we can be where we are: that is love. In return, we are called upon to deliver the greatest love of all so we can all thrive and the future can be better than we found the world we live in.
Love gives us hope. Love inspires. Love strengthens us at moments of weakness. When in doubt, we remember that we are loved and that we love. When we are discouraged or exhausted, love keeps us going. Love teaches us forgiveness. We grow through loving. Through love we do good and we can keep going, even in moments of adversity. We are sometimes in shadows of love, which elicits confusion and at times can cause pain. We are reminded that when we truly love we cannot judge, and we must love selflessly. Even in instances when those we love let us down, our love for them does not have to die. We learn to live with disappointments.
Love is faith; having faith to those we love that love can be repaid with love. It is about the commitment to a better future. It is about connecting deeply with those we care about. It involves giving back, for we have been loved so we can love. Through being loved we can love better.
One of the most powerful lessons in Tuesdays with Morrie, a memoir by an American author Mitch Albom about a series of visits Albom made to his former sociology professor Morrie Schwartz as Schwartz gradually dies, is that we can all love. We have all loved. We all have been loved. We shall love. We love and live, and live to love. Most importantly, dying well depends how well one lived. As Morrie says, as he stares at death, “once you learn how to die, you learn how to live”.
I am wondering what could be expressions of love in times of the coronavirus.
South Africa’s future becomes more bleak
It was always going to be hard to advance wellbeing in South Africa. It has become harder. For many African countries, ensuring that human development expands has been a challenge. This important point is generally overlooked in many analyses, voices and proposals regarding what could be done. No amount of rhetoric and dreaming as well as marches would take the South African society forward.
Similarly, there is a lot of practical work that needs to be undertaken in all African countries if we are to see substantial progress in the lives of Africans. In the meantime, the mobilisation work towards the United African States should intensify.
Coming back to South Africa, it would seem that we have not fully understood what is going on. The sporadic, increasingly frequent and intense public protests are justified. There are many factors that account for despair, anger and resentment that many community members are displaying – this is not to justify criminality by some South Africans as we have witnessed again and again during public protests and the frequent attacks on Africans from other African countries.
Getting the African economy right
As we commemorate yet another Africa day, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on the African economy or economies in Africa. To start with, it is clear that part of the reason why development has not been good in Africa is that economies in Africa are constrained by the colonial character of the African economy. The encounter with slavery, colonialism and imperialism negatively impacted the African economy or economies in Africa in many ways. The Africa-China economic relations might exacerbate that, for Africa is becoming a supplier of raw materials again and African economies are depending on China as they might have depended on Europe.
The structure of the African economy remains largely unchanged and most of what has been done since political independence is scratching the surface. Most of southern and eastern parts of the African economy are still largely labour reserves or what has been characterized as an ‘enclave economy’.
Mama Madikizela-Mandela fought a good fight
In a new book on Thomas Sankara, Aziz Salmone Fall says ‘it is said that behind every great man is a great woman. In the case of Thomas Sankara that woman is Mariam Serme. The courage and resistance of this great woman in the face of adversity is an example of resilience for all of Africa. She remains convinced that social progress cannot occur without a radical change in the status of women.’ We also learn, in this new book (A Certain Amount of Madness: The Life, Politics and Legacies of Thomas Sankara), that Sankara was significantly influenced by his mother like many other men out there (at least those who imbibed good values and are able to espouse such).
The continent of Africa and entire global south has come a long way. The liberation struggle for the emancipation of the peoples of the global south, and Africa in particular, was long and hard – there is still a long way to go. For South Africa, the next phase of the struggle for the complete emancipation of the majority is gaining momentum. We stand in the shoulders of the heroines and heroes that brought the freedoms, however insufficient, that we are enjoying. They fought a good fight. Mama Madikizela-Mandela fought a good fight among those of her generation, and endured many hardships as well as made many sacrifices. We often talk of Sankara, Cabral, Lumumba, Mondlane, Mbeki and many heroes of the liberation project but we hardly talk of the many heroines that gave birth to the politically independent Africa we now enjoy. Freedom was never free, and many of our grandmothers and grandfathers suffered immensely so we can have the freedoms we experience.
The Ever Changing Political Landscape in South Africa
The political landscape in South Africa has been changing rather rapidly lately, after two decades of democracy in South Africa. Among the issues that play a big role or contribute to the rapid changes we observe is reconciliation or lack thereof. Linked to reconciliation is development; inclusive development to be sure. With regard to development, there is a general view that socio-economic transformation has been slow since the dawn of democracy in South Africa. Indeed, nation building (as in a cohesive society), development, freedom and related phenomena have suffered in post-apartheid South Africa because there has been an inability to acknowledge and respect South Africa’s repulsive political and economic history of deprivation (as I have been arguing). Consequently, the power base of the African National Congress (ANC) has been eroding. The ramifications of apartheid colonialism have not been directly addressed and the weaknesses in the ANC and in government have given the minorities room to renege from reconciliation efforts.
South Africa's future becomes clearer
For good or bad, or for better or worse, the future of South Africa is becoming clearer. The signs are everywhere for everyone to see. It is better to deal with a clear future than an uncertain one, even if the future might look ugly. Now that South Africa’s future becomes clearer, we can all plan better.
To start with, it would seem that things are going get very bad before it gets better. The economy continues to fall apart and Statistics South Africa is finally telling the truth that the economy is in a recession. Unemployment continues to increase, and it will most likely get very bad before it gets better. The economic inequality, let alone other historical inequalities and inequities, remains the highest in the whole wide world. Poverty has not declined as expected. In fact, it might very well be that poverty is also increasing – or would increase, at least income poverty, as the economy takes a further knock and unemployment further rises. These triple-challenges, as government terms the trio (i.e. poverty, unemployment and inequality), are all a function of the structure of the economy as many have said, although some do not share the view that unemployment in South Africa is structural. Of course there are other problems, such as the poor management of public finances, which accentuate economic challenges in South Africa.
As I have been arguing, after stabilizing the economy in the early 2000s there was a long period when economic reforms were not pursued. Only in 2005 the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA) was unveiled, replacing the 1996 Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) Framework. GEAR was, arguably, meant to stabilize an economy that was bankrupted by the apartheid regime.AsgiSA was meant to grow the economy and ensure that the fruits of the growing economy got widely shared across society. Accompanying AsgiSA was the Joint Initiative for on Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA) in South Africa. Around the same time there was an Antipoverty Campaign Programme which had been proposed by the Antipoverty Strategy for South Africa. The Policy Coordination and Advisory Services (PCAS) in the Presidency was playing an important role as a think-tank and also coordinating these major initiatives of the government. There was also continuous consultations on a variety of important issues across government even in instances when there were disagreements. For instance, there were those who objected to the National Treasury’s Harvard Panel of Economists initiative but the Harvard Panel happened and it did the work that was envisaged. ...
What does Africa really want?
As we celebrate yet another Africa Day, the question of what Africa really wants (and or what Africans, wherever they are, want) cannot be avoided. This question is forever lingering, and it becomes sharpened when Africa interacts with the rest of the world. The question must be confronted or posed directly especially given the fuzzy and amorphous relations between Africa and the rest of the world, China included. Regarding China in particular, many questions remain. Among them, and the most fundamental one, relates to what does Africa really want from China. This is the question that only Africans within the African continent, or their representative body – the African Union (AU) Commission – should address. The Chinese appear very clear about what they want, hence the contradictions in the Chinese foreign policy as epitomised by the recent South Sudan case and also its new partnership with France on Africa...
Critical consciousness is the answer
There is, increasingly, a common message that is emerging about South Africa 21 years since the formal end of apartheid: things are getting bad. As argued elsewhere, this might not be surprising particularly if we look at the development experiences during the first two decades or so for many post-independent countries on our continent. We could have paid more attention to avoid what appears to be the forthcoming ultimate outcome: a new order, if not a disorder, that is plunging the whole of South Africansociety into a crisis if not a civil conflict. The sixteenth Steve Biko Memorial Lecture, which coincided with the fortieth Independence Anniversary of the Republic of Mozambique, confirmed that South Africa is at a cross-road again. It was therefore befitting to having former president Joaquim Chissano to deliver the lecture – he also got to juxtapose the link between the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) as well as reflect on the role and relevance of Black Consciousness in the liberation struggles in southern Africa.
The National Question in South Africa
It is not easy to ignore the national question in South Africa, particularly presently, both in the context of twenty years of democracy and also given the troubling discourse by certain seemingly regressive people and or institutions. It is also hard to overlook this paramount issue of the national question when one observes the socio-economic challenges confronting South Africa today, and what appear to be a directionless government and a chaotic parliament. By a ‘national question’, to put it simple, it is generally implied that there is appropriate balance of power and influence among all people and or ethnic groups in a nation state. Linked to the national question are notions of nation, nation building and nationalism as well as nation state. In simple terms, pride in identity beingof a particular origin is nationalism.Nation building, not statebuilding, can be viewed as the strengthening of unity, coherence, functionality and pride in a nation state – nation state simply refers to a geographical area characterised by legitimacy based on sovereignty of a nation. The reason I do not spend time on the question of sovereignty of South Africa is because the then parliament of South Africa declared South Africa as a sovereign independent state through the 1934 Status of the Union Act. Others may want to engage with this issue, because there are those who are of the view that ‘sovereignty’ of South Africa remains in question.
Towards a better agenda for the development of the Global South
The current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015. The MDGs were adopted in September 2000 through the Millennium Declaration at the 55th session of the United Nations General Assembly, convened as the Millennium Assembly. The MDGs, understood to be a global development agenda, focused on poverty reduction, access to education, gender parity, healthcare access, sustainable development and international partnerships. Although many milestones have been reached, Africa is set to miss most of the MDGs, so are many countries in the global south (with possible exception of Brazil and China which incidentally did not follow the orthodox prescriptions for development). Most African countries perform poorly on human development. The African economy, broadly, performs below potential relative to its size, resources, and other factors. Poverty and inequality remain very high in most African countries. It is imperative that the post-2015 development agenda pay particular focus on poverty, inequality and human development. It should be noted also that poverty and inequality in Africa are structural. The structures of African economies favour capital intensity, mineral-energy sectors, and high level skills. As many have explained, the colonial project had shaped African economies – and those of the global south as a whole – as satellite economies in the periphery to serve the metropolis in Europe. It is also in this context that the African continent was inappropriately partitioned at the infamous Berlin Conference and colonialism reigned.
Biko and the ‘new’ South Africa
As we commemorate the brutal and barbaric killing of Stephen Bantu Biko this time of the year we are once again forced to reflect on where we are as a country against the ideals that Biko died for. South Africa is also marking 20 years of political independence. It is fitting, indeed, to ask and answer the question: how far is South Africa in the journey to true liberation? Barney Pityana, at the debate that commemorated Biko at the University of South Africa, appealed to us, as Africans, to confront the question of what is wrong with us. Pityana, among many important points made during his reflections on Biko and South Africa, argued that Biko cherished dialogue and that we must discuss what is going on in South Africa. He reminded us of one of Biko’s most powerful and timeless essay, “We Blacks”, which was directed to Africans in an appeal that Africans must have a dialogue among themselves as a step towards decolonising the mind and being proud in being African. There have been similar calls and similar commemorative discussions across the country, as we remember Biko.