Ralph Mathekga

Ralph Mathekga: Why Solidarity's university should be welcomed

2019-10-01 05:00
Solidarity chief executive Dr Dirk Hermann. (Deaan Vivier, Gallo Images, Netwerk24, file)

Solidarity chief executive Dr Dirk Hermann. (Deaan Vivier, Gallo Images, Netwerk24, file)

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It is not clear whether Solidarity's decision to establish an Afrikaans university is aimed at exclusion or building a more inclusive society. That said, a community building its own institutions is without doubt the best way to express patriotism, writes Ralph Mathekga.

Some of the best developments in our society will be brought by those we suspect have the most sinister intentions. This saying, which I heard somewhere, summarises the story of human development; a series of accidents and innovations, some of which were not well intended, ultimately finding their way into good hands. The ultimate end becomes the betterment of humanity.

I can give an example of the innovations that came through the military, with the aim to fulfil the task of what militaries are there for, namely, to kill or neutralise the enemy. Some of those innovations have become part and parcel of civilian life in an astonishing manner. The internet is a good example of such a development, having originated in the military.

When it comes to human development, at times innovation is not backed by good intentions. The intentions can be sinister. Yet, such innovation can evolve or grow beyond its original intention to become a catalyst for development in society.

In real life situations however, it is never easy to tell if the intention behind the innovation is outright sinister. There may be doubts across the society about the intention of the innovator. The doubts can be formed because of the past behaviour of the innovator. Yet, those cases are often difficult to resolve because they are political in nature and they do not really involve an assessment of facts at hand. Facts only speak in context, and the context is always political.

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It is from this position that I want to look at Solidarity's decision to build an Afrikaans medium university. I want to give this question the respect it deserves because it is a complicated matter that should not be simplified into a YES or NO response.

Firstly, I find it very innovative of Solidarity to initiate the project of building a university by sourcing funds from concerned communities. I believe that this model is the future of development in society; communities taking responsibility for their own development and committing to such projects. If communities take responsibility for their infrastructure, they will ensure that those facilities are managed properly.

I completed my primary and secondary education in the oddly named village of My-Darling, in Bochum, Limpopo. Both the primary and secondary schools I attended were built by small funds collected from the community in the village.

Days were set aside by the community to go prepare bricks for extensions of the schools in the late '80s and early '90s. Those who did not show up at the community works programme were fined a small amount. The money was collected to build a secondary school in the village. We no longer had to walk to another village to attend a secondary school.

I matriculated from the school built by the community, meeting government halfway. Our parents were very much engaged in the decision-making processes of the school because they built it with their own efforts. Government provided teachers and the parents ensured that the school ran properly.

After 1994 communities were told that they no longer had to pay school fees since government was coming up with a fee-free school. A new beautiful block was then built by government in my old high school started by the community. The community began to disengage with the affairs of the school as local government councillors sank their teeth into community structures. Things did not go very well, as we all know.

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With this history at the back of my mind, I am of the view that when communities build their own infrastructure, the society thrives. Part of me wants to see Solidarity's innovation in this manner; efforts by the community showing that they are engaged with their surroundings and they want to do something about it. I often imagine where the community of My-Darling would be had they not stopped in 1994 and carried on and built a technical college. We would be far as a community, as a society, and as a nation.

Whatever the reason behind Solidarity's move, some communities such as those who were ignored by the state during apartheid did exactly what the trade union is trying to do today. It is not clear whether Solidarity's decision to make the medium of instruction at their university Afrikaans is aimed at exclusion or building a more inclusive society. That said, the model of a community building its own institutions is without doubt the best way to express patriotism.  

Such a model should be emulated by other communities. Perhaps we ought to wait and see how Solidarity's university will operate and how it will contribute to the national dialogue. In the meantime, the idea of communities building their own educational infrastructure should be welcomed.  

- Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views.The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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