How Are We Impoverished?
- Written by Menzi Maseko
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of Justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” – Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela*
“Many thinkers and respected scholars like Ali Mazrui, Leopold Senghor, Aime Cesaire, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Mahmoud Mamdani, Wole Soyinka, Valentin Mudimbe, Amilcar Cabral, Frantz Fanon opened my mind to the reality that there was, in fact, an Africa with a history far richer and deeper, more complex and worth celebrating than what was marketed as ‘official history’. Most children born in the continent today will not find much history from which to draw inspiration and build confidence about their past.” – Andrew Rugasira in A Good African Story (The inspirational Story of How An African-Owned Coffee Company Became A Global Brand)
What is the purpose of a good education? Can the same answer that was acceptable in 1977 still be acceptable and relevant in 2013? If not, then what has changed? In other words, how far have we come since the revolutionary days of the 1960’s, 70’s, the tumultuous 80’s and the slight yet significant paradigm shifts of 1994 (at least in South Afrika)?
These basic questions have to be sufficiently answered if we are to become the Developmental State that the ruling class of our country are hoping to achieve. Even the very meaning of what it means to be a State needs to be sufficiently explained to citizens if we are to participate in its creation and its maintenance. It is abundantly clear that the state of South African education is miserable to say the least. In a country where the rich have become much wealthier while the poor have sunk deeper into various levels of poverty; our government preaches that the best way to relieve our socio-economic troubles is by increasing learner-ship in Mathematics and Physical sciences, thereby boosting the Information Communication and Technology sectors.
We are also told that we should all adopt an entrepreneurial spirit and cheerfully become Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment compliant. All of this interesting and well intentioned rhetoric and even investment is great, yet when one takes a clear look at the distance that the average Black child has to traverse in order to achieve quality education, the task is daunting. One has to also consider the reality of living in a world that is over-determined by whiteness.
White Supremacy is one of those world pervading monsters that many of our people misunderstand or are just too fearful of looking straight in the face. We simply have become too busy trying to earn a living to even bother with questions of what brought us so low or what has caused us to become the wretched of the Earth. Those scholars and ordinary people who dare to identify our common vice are either demonised or simply misunderstood. People like Steve Biko , Robert Sobukwe, Fanon and many others who have striven to re-educate us or re-align our thinking towards the positive aspects of our humanity by clearly defining what our common problem is are not studied in our schools. Your captor cannot give you the keys to free yourself, it makes no economic sense.
One would get the impression that someone or some people are making sure that black learners are not supposed to know and understand these thinkers; our true liberators. A deeply honest and unbiased study of any of the above characters would help steer us away from the lure of whiteness, imperialism and uncapped capitalism, in other words – away from the vestiges of white supremacy.
Judging by the appalling conditions in most black schools, it is clear that many of the hopes and dreams of a New South Africa are far from being met. There are many reasons for this and a lack of vision among Afrikan thought-leaders is just one of them. But what does lack of vision really mean? Surely there are many successful Afrikans who lead inspiring lives and are involved in charities that include making donations to schools, feeding schemes and supplying much needed resources to learning institutions. So why does it seem like there is little change in our situation, the black child appears more and more endangered.
The lives of black people have been institutionally commoditized. We have remained slaves to the powers of monopoly capitalism even many years after our supposed emancipation from physical institutional slavery, colonialism and many other forms of un-freedom. But everyone agrees that there is nothing more beneficial than education if we wish to end poverty and all other kinds of lack.
Yet the books that are still studied in every field from economics, sciences and even religious texts boldly proclaim that “the poor will always be with us”. The economists, financial advisors, trade unions and banks are all gatekeepers of capital, and capital is clearly under the control of minorities; ion the case of Afrika, it is the former European population that enjoys most of the privileges of abundant resource wealth while the rest suffers. One does not even require an in-depth analysis of Class to understand this; therefore it does not take any ideological background to see that even the socio-economic struggle is one that is based on racial prejudice and the subjugation of Black people and that this is a global phenomenon. So it does not matter whether a particular number of non-white citizens of the world acquire high levels of education or high- status (meaning: recognition of their significance within an anti-black world), the fact of their Blackness and the cultural death of their race remains.
We therefore need a liberatory education, an education that ensures that we do not repeat the false premises of the past centuries. Just like the Blacks in the diaspora recognised that religion as it was given to them would not suffice and that they could not wait to get their rewards in ‘Heaven’ after being downtrodden on Earth; their decision to develop a Black Theology and organise themselves into Liberation movements was just the beginning of Self Determination. The problem is that they were still using their slave-masters tools, thought-processing and languages to assert themselves. Real education means that we need to become more creative in developing institutions that are more indigenous, what scholars have called Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) coupled with Afrikan Traditional Religion (ATR). Above all this, we can all agree that the Afrikan revolution has to be a revolution of Consciousness. We need to re-learn to think and be as Afrikans.
At a time when the very meaning of being Black and Afrikan is being questioned, we are fortunate to have the words of Steve Biko to reflect on and if need be, to improve upon. Here is what the Black Consciousness theory defines Black:
“Blacks in the BC lexicon are all those who are by law or tradition, politically oppressed, socially discriminated against and economically exploited and who identify as a unit in the struggle for liberation.” (Biko: I Write What I Like)
It is very important to recognise and understand the work of Biko for what it is. It is essentially an elaborate and scientifically sound way of removing the spectre of whiteness and fear of white superiority from the minds of Black people. It can be applied globally and in many situations and institutions wherein Black people exist only as appendages to a dominant white culture. Note the last part, where he says that the “economically exploited who identify as a unit in the struggle for liberation.” This sentence clearly defines Blacks not just in biological or class terminology but as a conscious unit of people who identify with the cause of their own liberation from the powers that oppress them. There are many fields upon which this identification can manifest and be used affectively. It is imperative that we identify as a unit and not fall into the tribalisms and class theories that have been defining us through-out the past.
Lastly, we should find ways to involve young people in political and even philosophical work so that they can create their own ways to free themselves from a world that separates and divides them thus reducing their potential for greatness. Earnest and emancipatory political education should begin in schools across the continent and it should reflect the cultural and nuanced living conditions of the people there. In a lecture delivered before members of an extra mural residential course at Oshogbo Nigeria, R.K. Gradner had this to say:
“Citizenship involves the theory and practice of politics. Some schools of thought regard the study of politics as part of moral philosophy. Morality it has been said ‘is the very sinews of politics’, being in truth nothing more than the conscience of a nation striving to express itself in state action.”
As I have already stated above, there are many aspects of 19th and 20th century living and organising that we desperately need to unlearn, perhaps the whole issue of what constitutes a ‘state’ is just one of them. There are many other hang-ups and dogmas that we have to do away with if we hope to co-create a Better Life for All. But it begins with a good education, which begins at home. But our homes also require significant psychological make-overs. Our perception of reality influences our ability to act and this is why we have to accept that old Zulu adage ‘Imfundo Ayikhulelwa/ One is never too old to learn’. Thus our state of poverty can be transformed, but it will take collective efforts from a people who identify as a unit waging a visionary struggle against familiar forces.
Hutuapo!!! Ukuthula Makube Nathi!!![*]