Suffer the poor black children

2016-10-23 06:01
Mondli Makhanya

Mondli Makhanya

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This week marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party, an organisation that stood up to white power in the US. In South Africa, it also marked the 39th anniversary of the banning of black consciousness organisations and black newspapers by the apartheid government.

While black people in these two countries looked back with pride at the role played by these two movements in contributing to human progress, a ragtag mob masquerading as their successors was wreaking havoc at South Africa’s tertiary institutions and in the streets of major cities.

Projecting themselves as the foot soldiers of some abstract cause of decolonisation, they have been doing everything in their power to sabotage black progress and undermine the future of the black child.

This week, they burnt a section of the library at the University of the Witwatersrand, destroying 100 books. This was not the first time they engaged in the Hitlerian practice of book burning – something which, in modern times, has been emulated by jihadists in Mali when they attacked the ancient African knowledge centre of Timbuktu in 2012. And, just last month, student anarchists turned their fiery anger on the law library at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

At some point, some of them even plotted to torch a section of Wits University that houses the archives of South Africa’s treason trials. Science and computer laboratories have not been spared their wrath.

This week, they successfully shut down the University of the Western Cape, a proud black institution which, in the 1980s, defiantly defined itself as the “intellectual home of the left”. Thousands of students – mostly from poor black households – will now return home for an early Christmas break, with no idea of what 2017 holds for them and whether this could be the end of their academic endeavours.

Thousands more, who were waiting to enrol at this institution and others countrywide next year, will write their matric exams doubtful of whether there are places for them in the higher education sector.

This week, they converted a church – which had opened its doors of compassion to them – from a haven of peace to a space where intellectual vandalism and hooligan behaviour ran riot. In the words of Father David Rowan, Regional Superior of the Jesuits in South Africa, the Holy Trinity Church had tried to “create a space of neutrality and sanctuary in accordance with the long-standing tradition of the Catholic Church”.

Instead of according the mediation process a chance, the students behaved as if they had consumed Mamelodi’s most famous chemical product. They hounded the university’s management out of the church and refused to entertain sympathetic adult voices. “This safe and neutral space has been violated by those who declared God’s house exclusively theirs … We appeal once again to everyone to treat God’s house with respect,” said Father Rowan.

And this week, former trade unionist and Cabinet minister Jay Naidoo and former public protector Thuli Madonsela, two leaders who should know better about the hazards of playing to the populist gallery, did exactly that. Naidoo said his generation had betrayed the current youth as South Africa was still serving the white elite and not the poor. A valid point, but back to that later.

Madonsela told the crowd that, “while some of us were enjoying life, some of you were left behind”. Another valid point. But, like Naidoo, she was legitimising the hijacking of a just cause by a destructive element which has mistaken sloganeering for thinking.

It is true that the anger that has fuelled the violent protests is borne out of post-apartheid South Africa’s failure to alter the racially skewed economic order. There is no dispute that our horrendous inequality wears a racial face and that, while millions go to sleep hungry, the boss of a retailer which sells mostly to poor communities pockets a R100 million package for one year’s work. No one disputes the right to access to all levels of education and the need for a curriculum which embraces all forms of knowledge and answers the requirements of our society – and which will help South Africa keep up with the fourth industrial revolution.

There is a noble cause to be fought and most South Africans embrace it. But what we see on our campuses and streets is not a cause, but an unidentifiable deformed animal.

There may come a day in the not-too-distant future when we will look back on this time and rue how we allowed the country to be wrecked by a handful of pyromaniacs masquerading as revolutionaries.

This so-called movement, which threatens to take us backwards and not forward as revolutionaries would, has proved that nature hates a vacuum. The leadership vacuum in the country – the inability to read situations, coupled with the inability to give direction on small and big issues – has thrust us into an unnecessary crisis that will take ages to unravel.

While the state’s security cluster hallucinates about third forces and regime change, and adults such as Madonsela and Naidoo bask in the adulation of this so-called movement, South Africa’s knowledge machine is being sabotaged by a mindless mob that is clearly enjoying the leadership role it is playing in this vacuum. And the poor black child is the main victim.

Read more on:    mondli makhanya  |  jay naidoo  |  thuli ­madonsela  |  wits university  |  fees must fall

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