Stellenbosch, Making Excellence Inclusive

2015-08-28 20:38

Even at the tamest of times, South Africa can really be an infuriating address.  The issue here discussed is not about Open Stellenbosch Movement versus Stellenbosch University Management, but a consideration of the bare issues within in a circumference of South Africa. Both sides have made their case.

But always and every time, you should keep in mind that the truth lies somewhere in between what combatants say it is.

When people engaged in a war, and they write about the war they generally write it from their biased perspectives. Maybe that biaseness helps for it gives us something to reflect on as to why they were motivated to going to war. But we are not then under the illusion that we actually know why they went to war or that the war is justified by just listening to them.

Recently I was watching the video of Desmond Tutu’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. That speech was made in 1984 in Oslo, Norway. He looked scandalously young and vibrant, his physique trim, his mind ever engaged. The Nobel Peace was an honour, befitting a man who has been called, again and again, to attend to some fire in his country and around the world.

The constant seeking of a balance between ethics and political engagement has been Tutu’s inescapable burden and boon. One suspects that most people have come across Tutu through his relentless interventions on political issues than on theological terms as a leader within the ranks of the Anglican Church. In fact he is more known as a friend and confidante of Nelson Mandela - the pure politician. The friendship goes far way back in the 1950s and 1960s. They lived on the same street in Orlando West, Soweto in those times.

Tutu has traversed the labyrinth of politics and theology for a long stretch of time. It’s something of an odd situation, but wholly understandable considering the context and society he was living in and more so after the inauguration of the democratic South Africa – called to lead and guide the efforts of reconciliation, becoming the Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

One of Desmond Tutu’s great work has been coining of such phrases as rainbow nation, Out of many, we are truly one. Nelson Mandela has once said that Desmond Tutu has conveyed our common pain and sorrow, our hope and confidence in the future.

I suppose, Tutu being a man who always looks at both sides of the issues, confronted  with the case at Stellenbosch University, the Luister Documentary, and Open Stellenbosch Movement, he would have quoted us a passage from his book that is titled, The Book of Forgiving, the book which he co-wrote together with his youngest daughter Mpho Tutu - who of recent has become such a huge pillar of strength for him in his golden old age.

I do not have the book anymore in my library but the passage I am thinking of has this central idea going along the following lines:

The mistake we often make is not that we speak or do not speak about racism in our society but that we speak as if our society is stationery; as if no progress has been made; as if this country is still irrevocably bound to a turbulent past. But as we know, we are aware that things have dramatically changed within our society. Let what we have achieved give us hope and encouragement for what we can and must achieve tomorrow. We never said this journey will be easy. 

This idea originally comes from Barack Obama's great speech on racism. And is worthy that Tutu made reference of it within the contest of South African experience.

We just have to come to the sense that as we work towards a more perfect society, we must understand that there will always be individuals with a temptation to revert to the old omnibus stereotypes and reckless ways. It is human nature, a human nature that is given and a human nature that is predisposed to do that.

When that happens the right attitude to take is not to amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality. Amplification of the negative all too often distracts attention from solving real problems. We must never succumb to despair or cynicism.

In his book Diversity and Distrust Stephen Macedo Professor of Politics and Human Values at Princeton University (US) believes that diversity should only be valued only if there is a determination - a sketching of the imagination that will carry you through the moments when you feel despair whispering.

The important thing worth of consideration is that professor Macebo does not argue against diversity but rather to show that much, yes, much more needs to be put in to drive transformation and the efforts should be sustained. If you are not prepared to follow through what you started then don’t even start.

That at least, is perhaps where the management of Stellenbosch University failed; failing the students, failing their convictions for transformation, and failing the society at large.

The question is no longer whether Stellenbosch University is on board with regards to matters of transformation as demanded by the new society we are in and creating, that question institutionally and organisationally is settled in Stellenbosch. We may look at one primary aspect that, Maties student body does reflect the diverse South Africa society, the chocolate side of it (that is the black people) are almost about to become half of the entire student body.

The University Management has pushed for transformation no doubt. The problem arises in the fact that these new emerging students come to Stellenbosch with the hopes of living in a more open cosmopolitan cultural environment, one that is loosened up, and open. But watching the Luister documentary one gets the impression that Stellenbosch authorities has not really worked enough broadly to create the space and the culture for the new phenomenon - beyond just working on the bilinguality in lecture halls.  The emphasis here is enough for it will be false to say the University has done nothing in terms of changing the old system.

The work of transformation and diversity is an arduous, painful, conscious undertaking. Transformation is like the Way of the Eagle, the Lion and the King.

Eagles do not hide when they see a storm gathering, lions do not retreat when the enemy threatens and kings do not run when they hear the sound of battle. Rather the eagle flies boldly into the eye of the storm without a trace of fear but with power, majesty, grace and passion. The lion rises and roars with courage and strength as his adversary approaches.

The king does not yield one inch of the field to the enemy but rather he boldly leads his captains and princes into the thick of the battle.

The Nobel Peace ceremony where Tutu received the Peace Prize was very moving. As I said this was 1984. After the speech Tutu called upon his family to join him on stage to sing the great song Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika – the song that is now the national anthem of the democratic South Africa. The singing was heartfelt and moving to such an extent that the entire audience that was a representative of the world offered standing ovation –they rose up from their seats overtaken by feelings of love and the interconnected humanity.

My address to the racists is as follows:  Narcissism is a psychological term describing people who think they are special to others. Narcissism is a developmental stage; all children under age ten believe that they are special but eventually grow out of it; the narcissistic personality is stuck at a child's emotional stage of development and believes that he is special and better than other persons. In truth, all of us are the same, equal and one people of the same humanity.

Racists are wicked people and must change their ways. Only people in pain can do painful things. Only people who have been hurt can hurt others. Only people with closed hearts are able to act in less than loving ways.

The moral story of "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" ("Lord Bless Africa"), the national anthem, is that we make a pledge, a commitment to God that:

We hold common hopes; we recognise that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same background, but above we all recognise our shared humanity. Out of many, we are truly one.

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