Where have all our intellectuals gone?

2011-08-20 13:26

Gone to the wilderness every one; perhaps Moseneke will re-emerge as a Harvard law professor after being overlooked for chief justice

If you really want to understand why President Jacob Zuma overlooked Dikgang Moseneke for the position of chief justice, I suggest you go beyond the fact that Moseneke apparently told a birthday party gathering that his ultimate loyalty was to the country, and not to the ruling party.

The rot runs deeper.

It’s the story of post-colonial Africa, where the continent’s despots demanded unqualified obeisance from their country’s professionals and intellectuals.

According to African intellectual Thandika Mkandawire, “the default position of the African political class was a distrust of the country’s intellectuals”.

Writer Ali Mazrui has written about how “the scintillating intellectual voices of Uganda either fell silent or went into exile. Before long, I too packed my bags and left my beloved Makerere.”

Indeed, African intellectuals – Mazrui, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Micere Mugo, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Wole Soyinka, Zakes Mda and countless others – have been driven away by the political ignoramuses who have driven this continent into
the ground.

Mamphela Ramphele was recognised by the World Bank before this country had any use for her.

I was surprised by the admiration that eminent American scholars such as Henry Louis Gates Jr and Molefi Asante had for Es’kia Mphahlele while this country let him wither on the vine.

I personally cringe when I listen to some of these politicians try to cobble together a sentence while the country is full of young minds with the best promise in the world.

The problem is that these young minds exist on the margins, or find silent refuge in the corporate sector.Our own exiled author Zakes Mda describes how he went without a job for seven years – going to interviews, enduring the long waits – before that dreaded letter of regret arrived in the mail.

“In many cases, the people who ended up getting those jobs had no qualifications in the field at all, save for the fact that they were close relatives of important people in the government or were known in the ruling party apparatchiks.”

Ultimately, Mda also left because Ohio University appreciated his talents more than those who run this country, engrossed as they are with the business of looting.Countries do not decay overnight; they do so over decades.

Once the tipping point has been reached, there is no turning back. One indeed wonders what will be left of this country’s skills and resources at the end of President Zuma’s second term in 2019.

In the meantime, no one should act surprised when a Moseneke re-emerges as a professor of law at Harvard Law School, or an international jurist at The Hague or the United Nations.

I can already hear the response that the country can survive one individual leaving, but when it becomes a flood of individuals leaving, you soon have a talentless society.

Our refusal to learn from the African historical experience
is heartbreaking.

» Mangcu is convenor of the Platform for Public Deliberation at the University of Johannesburg. He is also the author of the recently published Becoming Worthy Ancestors: Archive, Public Deliberation and Identity in South Africa 

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