We seem to have learnt very little from the lessons of our own history. The 1976 high school student uprisings demonstrated the power of young people to risk all for the ideal of high quality education free of the ideological burden that sought to perpetuate their dehumanization and inferior status in the land of their birth.
The 1995-2000 tertiary education student protests were about aligning the tertiary institutions with our political settlement and the demands for fundamental transformation at the national level. We have to acknowledge that our education system today at both the basic and tertiary levels has failed to rise to the historical opportunities to become the fountain of talent development and ideas generation that was envisaged as one of the outcomes of a transformed system.
Our distress at the violence and destruction of public property, understandable as it is, stands in stark contrast to our failure as a nation to express outrage at the continuing destruction of talent and hope in successive generations of young people. What nation can normalise the theft of hope from so many of its young? Twenty-two years after our political settlement, children are still facing high infant and child mortality rates in a middle-income country such as ours.
Twenty-two years into our democracy, more than 50% of our children still drop out of school, and of those who survive and enter our tertiary sector, 50% of them also drop out.
Where is our outrage at the pain of the more than 4-million young people who are unemployed and walking our streets and villages? Where is our outrage at the millions who find solace from humiliation and despair in substance abuse? Where is the outrage against this monumental destruction of the seed of our future by our education and training system?
Rebuilding our Re-imagined Country
Securing an emotional settlement is a prerequisite to citizens recommitting to working together to rebuild the country they re-imagine. Our failure over the last 22 years to build a democratic, non-racial, inclusive, prosperous society can be attributed largely to the lack of a shared co-created vision and the flow of empathy that would give content to the rhetoric of Ubuntu. The acceptance of the “I am because you are” by all citizens inevitably leads to a passion and desire to see everyone being enabled to contribute to the emergence of our envisioned society.
The moral ethos of the society would become intolerant of any missed opportunities to fundamentally transform our society.
Such a society would be characterised by the unleashing of the talents of all citizens to energise our political, social and economic development processes. Socio-economic restructuring under such circumstances becomes a shared high priority national effort by both black and white citizens. The moral ethos of the society would become intolerant of any missed opportunities to fundamentally transform our society. Reliance on compliance, as in the current inadequate Black Economic Empowerment programme, becomes the exception and not the rule.
Imagine the impact of an announcement that we will no longer leave any one of our children and young people outside the walls of privilege. Imagine what a fully funded and transformed education and training system could achieve over the next 10-15 years. Imagine what transformation of our constrained apartheid geography cities and towns would do to unleash the commercial, innovative entrepreneurial and vibrant cultural life in our society.
Imagine transformed corporates with young black professionals led by confident men and women CEOs from a diversity of backgrounds in our society. Imagine our agri-businesses engaged in sustainable diversified productive ventures – large and small – to make us food secure and trade to our advantage. The sky is the limit.
We are at a pivotal moment in our history. We have all the ingredients for success. The choice is ours – whether we recommit to re-imagining our country into the great society it can become, or continue to hesitate at the threshold of a new, brighter future.
Coming to terms with the burden of our history would free us to re-imagine ours as a democratic, inclusive, prosperous society where everyone celebrates our true unity in diversity.
Mamphela Ramphele – activist, physician, academic, businesswoman, and political leader
This is an extract from an article published in The Daily Maverick on 4 October 2016.