Politics of rage – please don’t burn books!
The current violence exposes the ANC’s vicious internal struggles. The decision from its Luthuli House headquarters to appoint outsider Thoko Didiza as the Tshwane mayoral candidate in the coming municipal elections, overriding local voices, has provoked fury.
But Sebolai’s plea symbolises more than party squabbles. It is about the betrayal of the country’s youth over the past two decades, and how the casualties of government incompetence have been young people’s most precious things, such as education.
Last month, 50 schools in the Vuwani area in Limpopo province were burnt down or vandalised in protests following an unpopular government decision to incorporate Vuwani into a new municipality.
Meanwhile, more fortunate South Africans continue going about their lives while anxiously following reports of the instability. The “lucky” ones who possess foreign passports hold them preciously as an insurance policy, and everyone stashes as much money as they can into foreign bank accounts, in case things get so bad that the anarchy comes to their doorsteps.
As far as education is concerned, most who can afford it – middle class people, whether white, black, coloured or Asian – send their children to private or independent schools because of the appalling state of government schools. For example, over 85 per cent of Jewish kids go to Jewish day schools.
In 2013, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga admitted to a parliamentary media briefing that “[t]he diagnostic test of the [National Development Plan] said 80 per cent of [South African] schools were dysfunctional”.
Who should we blame for South Africa’s travails? Is it still a result of apartheid, white racism and privilege and white monopoly capitalism, as radical black politicians claim? Or the ANC’s inept governance, corruption and its lack of vision since 1994? Whatever the answer, we are sliding downwards.
In times of crisis, angry young people often help change things which seem intractable. So it was with the Soweto Student Uprising of June 1976, the watershed event which initiated the eventual demise of the apartheid regime. Perhaps they will do it this time too with the political leadership.
What about the human right to an education? A 1976 student leader Dan Montsitsi who is deputy chairman of the June 16, 1976 Foundation, last week warned today’s youth: “[In 1976] we were dodging bullets and teargas… We burnt most of the beer halls throughout Soweto, and all administration board offices. [But] no single school was burnt… Each and every student was hell bent on defending their classrooms.”
Student movements cross red lines and make mistakes, but their militancy and energy tends to focus minds. The controversial “Rhodes Must Fall” movement, for example, has initiated a crucial debate about university policies.
The energy of the youth needs to be affirmed and steered by elders into constructive directions. Ultimately, responsibility for the country’s sorry state lies with politicians – in this case the ANC – for failing to provide hope to young people. In particular, failing to educate them.
The catastrophic education system has been described by South African commentators as a “crime against humanity”.
Indeed, it is, no less than apartheid was. A burnt bus can be replaced tomorrow, but young South Africans whose fresh minds have been squandered by not being educated, will be handicapped for the rest of their lives.
Read Geoff Sifrin’s regular columns on his blog sifrintakingissue.wordpress.com