Ideas and the Future of Education in South Africa

2017-03-05 06:17

Let us forget for a moment that the US President Donald Trump is an attention seeking junkie, dictatorial and judgmental about others in a way that bothers on the indecent. Instead let us consider the merits of his recent presidential executive order.

Last week President Donald Trump signed a presidential executive order dedicating himself to the advancement of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, HBCU as they are commonly called.

One of the key issues in the executive order is that Historically Black Universities will no longer be located in the Department of Education. They will be elevated, moved from the Department of Education to the White House. That is to say they will be given special treatment, tender care by President Donald Trump.

Historically Black Universities and Colleges in America have been a vital force through the years.

Like all universities the value is in their experience and what they have produced. They produced some graduates who went on to become powerful forces in the world, shaping and directing the progress of humanity. Some of these graduates are Oprah Winfrey one of the most powerful media moguls in modern history. They also produced the movie superstar and film producer Samuel L Jackson. Also Dr Martin Luther King the most fascinating figure that towers above all America in terms of respect and iconic status.

President Donald Trump with Principals from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (Reuters Photo)

In Africa, when we think of the post colonial Africa only one person comes into view: Nkwame Nkrumah. Nkwame Nkrumah played a powerful singular role in conceptualizing and the building of the African Union. Nkrumah is a graduate one of America’s historically black universities.

Today in America, the term historically black colleges and universities is misplaced, more and more White people study in these institutions. In 2014 Time Magazine published a lengthy article titled: Historically Black Colleges Are Becoming More White.

In 2013 non-black students made up 20% of HBCU enrollment. More than just academic environments, HBCUs are vital communities.

As one notable African American leader once said: It is imperative that black people first learn among their own communities, then after gaining a thorough knowledge of ourselves, our own kind, and racial dignity has been instilled in us. We can then pursue any school or endeavor and still retain our race pride, racial dignity and be able to avoid the subservient inferiority complexes that most Black students experience in formerly white universities.

In South Africa we have the same history, where there used to be Black universities and White universities. The difference however is that the ANC is intending to kill the Black universities in favour of White universities.

When the ANC took over, because historically black universities were underfunded, it promised a redress funding for historically Black universities. But just like all promises nothing was done. It was just one of the many empty talks and empty promises that we are used to. Attempts were made to merge the historically black universities with historically white universities. In the midst of the whole process, one of the the important university system in the form of Vista University was killed.

In fact the design of the merger was to sustain the privileges and structures of historically white institutions. When the ANC proposed the mergers the Association of Historically Disadvantaged Institutions flatly rejected the proposal, they knew better.

The Association of Historically Disadvantaged Institutions issued a statement about the mergers. In that statement they said "This is a declaration of war on black institutions,".

But the ANC never listened to them, their views because they are black did not matter. What mattered was the voices of White professors. In the worldview of ANC Black voices don’t matter.

Out of the university mergers we have the dire state of Tshwane University of Technology in constant protests and bitters clashes leading to periodic closure of the university. Also look at Mafikeng Campus of University of North West. Mafikeng Campus of University of North West was a fully fledged university that promoted the welfare of black communities around, it was part of the community and the pride of Black people but now it is reduced to subsisting under the formerly white University of Potchetroum. Black students in Mafikeng are made to become Potchefstroom - bowing their knees to some white campus in Potchetroum. And remember it is at this Potchetroum campus where white students chant the songs of Adolf Hitler.

Also consider the fate of Medical University of South Africa (Medunsa). Medunsa during Apartheid was a thriving Black medical university – its echo of excellence and achievement was felt across the world. When ANC took over it ill treated this university. First they merged it with University of Limpopo which is 300 KM far away. Consider the fact that Medunsa is in Gauteng but it is called University of Limpopo. There were so much confusion about what shape the merger should take. Some said Medunsa must physically relocate all its resources from Gauteng (Garankua) and bring them to Limpopo (Polokwane). Others said if we relocate to Limpopo what about the buildings? The answer was the buildings must be donated to Tshwane University of Technology. But others opposed saying a dedicated campus in Garankua should be retained, and it must have its own Principal, not campus director, but a fully fledged university Principal. There were also other views.

Nevertheless, the two universities worked hard to find each other. After extensive period and sleepless nights the leaders of the two universities developed a comprehensive Report called: Institutional Operational Plan for the Merged University: A Brilliant Opportunity for Being a World Class African University.

I remember Craig Lyall-Watson, one of the architect of the Plan, so excited saying: We gave the Institutional Operational Plan something of a fanfare. We wanted to emphasize to everyone associated with the merged university that here was a brilliant opportunity to get things right. The merged university is an institution with huge potential - if we can get it financially.  

There was no finances given. Only R12 million was given for the realization of the merger. Just think of that. Just think of the costs of distance travelling, the merging of technology, programmes and so on. The merged university needed R500 million at least.

But regardless work continued in merging. When all the hard work was done and people were excited, the ANC came back and said they want the merger to be cancelled. After the merger was cancelled the biggest shock was renaming Medunsa to Sefako Makgatho. Sefako Makgatho was the President of the ANC president from 1917 to 1924.

The name Medunsa was a powerful household brand build through many years of hardship by Black excellence. Black academics made Medunsa to become a household name working under strained apartheid conditions. They worked tirelessly under limited resources and under funding to make something out of nothing. Why ANC don’t rename Wits University? What does the word Wits mean anyway in this current dispensation? Look at the current map of South Africa, there is no place in that map that is called Witwatersrand. ANC will never rename Wits because they are scared of Whites. Further why don’t they remove the word Rhodes in Rhodes University? Who is Cecil John Rhodes? But they are so easy to rename Medunsa, kill it. Blacks don't matter.

Out of President Trump executive order on Historically Black Universities and Colleges the hope is that R325 Billion ($25 Billion) will be pumped into Black universities and colleges.  In that case the legacy and institutions build by Black people is being harnessed and promoted.  And by the way, one of the top advisers of President Trump is a brilliant young black girl, Omarosa Manigault, and she comes from Howard University, one of the historically black universities.

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