Let Not Struggle Credentials Insult Our Education

2013-04-24 16:39

I am young, ambitious, competent, and qualified, but my CV is devoid of any struggle credentials and no one in my family was involved in the struggle. Do I have a promising future in this country?

Since the advent of democracy, we seem to have centred a leader’s fitness to be appointed into public office on their contributions to the struggle against apartheid, while regrettably sidelining other important aspects such as personal discipline, competence, and most importantly, qualifications. Struggle credentials have become the anointing all those who have it brag about it all the way to parliament, and those who lack it envy it in their homes reading Sunday newspapers, disgusted at the corruption and maladministration in government. The #Know Your DA Campaign has also fallen prey to the obsession with struggle credentials in that the DA felt it needed to create awareness about the role its leaders played in the fight against White minority rule. Essentially, the DA is approaching 2014 elections from a ‘struggle credentials’ angle, an angle diligently mastered by the ANC over the 19 years of democracy. Remember in 2012 when the ANC Youth League was on a mission to oust Jacob Zuma? The then president, Julius Malema, came out in the media to announce that there is nothing wrong for Tokyo Sexwale to stand for the presidency seat of the ruling party as he was in exile, was a combatant, and participated actively in the struggle.

That was enough a premise for believing he could take up the presidency position.

Seemingly, anyone who was in Mazimbu, Matola, Robben Island, Lusaka, Angola, and Manzini is a preferred candidate for top positions. Less attention is paid to education and personal fitness for the position. May I also be anointed. I have ambitions of leading this country but without the ‘cross’ on my forehead I’m afraid the sword shall behead my aspirations. Struggle credentials cannot be used solely as yardsticks for leadership. For every bad performer in public office, there are many who could have filled the position had they had struggle credentials.

The main shortcoming of being obsessed with struggle credentials is that the obsession generates a sense of entitlement to exiles whose skins absorbed the pains of mosquito bites ‘in far-flung Africa across the majestic and unconquered forests’, to recycle a quote in Welile Bottoman’s The Making of An MK Cadre. It’s that general sense of entitlement that will then catapult us in a situation where leaders reject any criticism as ‘ungrateful’ coming from the side of the youth. They feel like we owe them something because they fought for us. I have observed that whenever DA’s Lindiwe Mazibuko and Mmusi Maimane criticise the ANC, they get dismissed as ‘young’, regardless of the content of their argument. The ‘you are young’ response actually means they weren’t in the struggle, so they can’t question former combatants.

Additionally, the spoon gets passed from one struggle graduate to the other, while the anthem ‘It’s our time to eat’ is playing on the background to give rhythmic consistency to the transition. They pay themselves for their selflessness displayed in the fight for freedom—the only time selflessness is remunerated.

Interestingly, the ‘university’ which awarded one his/her struggle qualification tends to be closely assessed when there is either conflict or contestation. Some leaders received their struggle degrees from Robben Island, others went to study in exile and thus contributed to our liberation in an academic way, while some went deep in the trenches to earn their stripes. When it’s time to elect, you will start to hear those whispers about who is fitter than the rest to take up a certain position. Zuma is a soldier and therefore fit to run the country, my uncle would enthusiastically say, while ridiculously downplaying Motlanthe’s ‘credentials’, let alone Mbeki’s.

Projecting into the future, we need to ask ourselves questions about what will guide our choice of leaders once the ‘struggle generation’ passes on.

What measures will we employ to elect leaders?

Among us as the youth nobody has those highly coveted credentials of making explosives and surviving the torture of the apartheid police.

The intended or unintended consequence of worshipping struggle credentials is that it has made the youth believe that something major has to happen in your political life before you are fit to climb the political leadership ladder of the country. Campus comrades self-engineer problems so that they can be in a battle with university management, go to disciplinary hearings, and ultimately face expulsion. In the process, they are gloriously regarding themselves as vanguards of the student population. They record those altercations with management in their political CVs for future consideration.

They can’t go underground.

They can’t be imprisoned on Robben Island.

So they might as well manufacture their own circumstances to have stripes.

They want to be revered like Chris Hani and Robert Sobukwe, but the context is not the same.

Struggle credentials are unfair because they are a masquerade for ‘monarchies’. When all comrades from the struggle generation have passed away, we might be having a struggle-based system of monarchy where one’s family contributions to the struggle will be a gateway to higher positions. Everyone from that family then emerges. Everyone from the Mandela, Zuma, Sisulu family will be considered because of their grandfathers’ struggle credentials (It’s already happening). Those who were born into the struggle, particularly in exile, may think they are entitled to be considered in government because their parents sacrificed their lives for the liberation of the country.

When all this is happening, the competent ones may be overlooked.

What role will education be playing in deciding who leads what department?

Unless we unapologetically confront the system of cadre deployment by demanding that education and experience become prerequisites for appointments in government departments, our generation is heading towards a problem. Our education and competence will be insulted as unqualified comrades who claim to have graduated from the ranks of COSAS, SASCO, and ANCYL who once led UKZN or UNISA to a strike, emerge into top positions. The NYDA is a perfect model for the futuristic catastrophe we may be heading towards, unless we redefine leadership credentials for one to hold public office. Education should not be compromised with the fact that a comrade was once expelled for burning cars on campus during a protest. In contrast, one’s number of degrees and scholarships, years of experience, as well as youth development programmes, should become one’s credentials, lest Nelson Mandela’s joke that “In my country we go to prison first before we become President” comes into manifestation.

No wonder the ANC bluntly believes that it will rule until Jesus comes. It has the largest pool of struggle graduates with credentials and those graduates have sons and daughters who will protect the achievements of the family, while those without the history of the struggle but with impressive achievements suffer the effects of maladministration, corruption, and nepotism.

The struggle facing us is to fight against the worshipping of struggle credentials at the expense of competence.


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