Model of the future

2019-10-09 06:01

SOME of the best developments in our society will be brought about by those we suspect of having the most sinister intentions. This saying summarises the story of human development — a series of accidents and innovations, some of which were not well intended, but ultimately found their way into good hands and the ultimate end is the betterment of humanity.

There are examples of innovations that have come through the military, with the aim being to fulfil the task of what militaries are there for, namely, to kill or neutralise the enemy.

Some of those innovations have become part of civilian life, with astonishing effect. The Internet is a good example of such a development, having originated in the military.

When it comes to human development, at times innovations are not backed by good intentions and are sinister in intent. Yet such innovations can evolve or grow beyond their original intentions to become catalysts for development in society.

In real-life situations, it is not always easy to tell if the intention behind an innovation is outright sinister. There may be doubts across society about the intention of the innovator, with these doubts formed because of the past behaviour of the innovator. These cases are often difficult to resolve because they are political in nature and they do not really involve an assessment of the facts at hand and facts only speak in context, and the context is always political.

It is from this position that I want to look at trade union Solidarity’s decision to build an Afrikaans medium university. I want to give this issue the respect it deserves because it is a complicated matter that should not be simplified into a for or against 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 the many small contributions made by the community in the village.

Days were set aside by the community to prepare bricks for extensions to the schools in the late 1980s and early 1990s. 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. The 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 the government was coming up with a fee-free school model. A new beautiful building was then built by the government in my old high school started by the community.

The community began to disengage from 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.

With this history in 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 progress; with the efforts of the community showing that they are engaged with their surroundings and they want to do something about the situation.

I often imagine where the community of My-Darling would be had they not stopped in 1994 and rather 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 that 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 its university Afrikaans is aimed at exclusion or at 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.

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