The answer lies in the soil

2008-01-19 00:00

The phone rang. Fighting off the effects of last night’s Jack Daniels I opened one eye and looked at the digital display of the deactivated bomb timer I use as an alarm clock. Three am. Stuff this for a lark. The phone rang a second time and on a hunch I answered.

“Ratty!” said an urgent voice with a thick Eastern Cape accent. “Ratty! Is that you?”

“What the — ?” I said, and then, just in time I remembered my trade craft.

“Hello. This is Ratty,” I said. “Feel like a picnic on the river?”

“Mole here,” said my mysterious caller, immediately identifying himself as one of the network of informers I run in the higher echelons of the post-apartheid South African state.

Then he said, “The picnic hamper is on the river bank,” and rang off.

He was right. The hamper was just where he said it was and, there, lurking within its musty confines was the whole skinny on the born-again African National Congress’s tertiary education proposal.

First, the language policy. Out goes Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Swati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga, not to mention Khoi, Nama and San languages, sign language, Arabic, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Portuguese, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu. And in comes Chinese, specifically Mandarin, just in case you Cantonese speakers thought you might get a look in.

The reason for this is not hard to find. According to Comrade Mao Witbooi, Luthuli House spokesperson on tertiary language policy: “China is the dominant force in Africa and indeed the world”.

“We have much to learn from the Chinese communist revolution. China’s victory over the fascist hyaenas of the colonial, post-colonial and neo-imperialist world is a model to all the struggling masses, as they strive onwards and upwards. Apart from which, China has bought most of those bits of Africa not mortgaged to Libya.”

Next, university fees. These will be done away with. University education will be free to all those who seek it, just like it used to be at the ancient African universities of pre-colonial times. The massive shrinkage in already underfunded university income is unlikely to present any problems, said Comrade Witbooi, noting that most academics are used to working for next to no money.

“We predict,” said Witbooi, “that future wage-free academics will be inspired by the new Chinese entrepreneurial class to start their own iron smelters, oil refineries and nuclear power stations in their spare time.”

Finally, non-payroll costs for the new free universities. Here the post-Polokwane cadres at Luthuli House are way ahead of their predecessors, most of whom still clog the formal structures of state administration.

“We will plough the sports fields,” said Comrade Witbooi, “using students and underemployed academic staff as draft animals. Then we will plant mielies, some sorghum and maybe a little wheat. What with maize on international markets currently hitting 509 U.S. cents per bushel, we’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.”

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