That one time the former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela wrote about me. Like a little bit.

Now I don’t usually do this, because I am super low key and I never imagine that things like this could ever happen to me. Anyway, I was invited to speak on a Panel at GIBBS a few weeks ago. The topic was Millenials and leadership in Africa. Something like that.

Me speaking at Dr Reul Khoza’s panel about Millennials in Africa and how they should lead.

Anyway you can click here to see what I said on the Panel, which caught Thuli Madonsela’s attention and she went on to mention me in an opinion Piece that she wrote about the panel.

The acid test of freedom.

Thuli Madonsela

‘Our parents fought for freedom, but all we got was democracy … We don’t want democracy, we want freedom.”

This was a bold statement made by Nomatter Ndebele, one of four erudite and passionate millennials who shared a platform with businessman and leadership advocate Reuel Khoza at a Gordon Institute of Business Science public forum recently.

While other young panellists used different language, sometimes reminiscent of 1976, there was a pervasive sense that they too felt let down, particularly by government and adults. I was left with the distinct impression that young people feel they are being made to bear their burdens alone or are being forced to take on responsibilities that should be borne by the state, business and adults – particularly when it comes to addressing historical socioeconomic disparities in the pursuit of social justice.

I wanted to speak to Ndebele about what she’d said, but I stopped first to congratulate one of the other panellists, my daughter Wenzile. She was surrounded by her posse, many of whom wanted to take selfies and talk to me about their appreciation for the work of the Public Protector team during my tenure at the office.

Wenzile had spoken about the vision and philosophy of the foundation my colleagues and I have established, and several participants at the forum, mostly millennials, wanted to know more about how to get involved. The foundation will focus on a democratic leadership approach that is ethical, purposeful, impactful and committed to service.

It was encouraging to see that what resonated with them was the emphasis on community leaders solving the problems they could before holding government and other decision-making structures that failed to play their part accountable.

True freedom remains elusive

Side conversations that followed about democracy and freedom culminated in a dinner table conversation that morphed into a democracy dialogue with a handful of millennials.

The general view was that true freedom remains elusive for many historically disadvantaged citizens. There was also agreement that many were left behind in respect of being allowed to enjoy basic freedoms, such as having one’s potential freed to compete meaningfully with others in the market. It was argued that many of the rights promised in the Constitution mean little or nothing to hopelessly disadvantaged groups and communities.

Access to quality education, passionately mentioned as an example of elusive freedom by Ndebele and her fellow panellists Lovelyn Nwadeyi, Yusuf Randera Rees and Wenzile, emerged as a common concern in the dialogue. There was also some agreement on Wenzile’s point that children from communities that are trapped in abject poverty and the related dysfunctionality, including drug and alcohol abuse accompanied by systemic violence and fear, faced extreme barriers regarding dreaming expansively enough to realise their full human potential.

Khoza’s point about the absence of a clear and compelling vision that should be inspiring and guiding social transformation actions to leapfrog South Africa into a successful and inclusive society also found resonance.

Equally supported was Ndebele’s point that business was not doing enough. She argued that, after Nenegate, which struck at the heart of the economy, the South African elite expected young and poor people to march with them in protest against executive misconduct, yet they had abandoned young people during the #FeesMustFall struggle.

There was consensus that socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, crime and structural inequality reflected in gross disparities regarding access to quality education, healthcare and economic opportunities, coupled with vulnerability to violent crimes, limit the freedom to meaningfully pursue many human endeavours by affected groups and communities.

A passionate philosophical conversation ensued on the meaning of democracy and freedom, and the relationship between the two. Olivier argued that there is a difference between freedom and democracy, and that there are different views on the meaning of democracy. Mbusowabantu argued that democracy and freedom are not mutually exclusive, and that, when properly understood, democracy incorporates freedom. Khulekile concurred, adding that the reason some are left behind is not because of the failure of democracy, but due to the failure of political leadership and the paradigm that confines the meaning of democracy to people’s participation in periodic elections.

The conversation ended with agreement on the need for a public dialogue on the meaning of democracy and freedom, as well as on the various roles that should be played by individuals, communities, government and business in ensuring that all equally enjoy the fruits of democracy.

Nurturing the youth

After the conversation, I came across a pertinent reference to freedom in former president Nelson Mandela’s inaugural state of the nation address on May 24 1994, tweeted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation on Wednesday. Mandela said:

“The purpose that will drive this government shall be the expansion of the frontiers of human fulfilment, the continuous extension of the frontiers of freedom.

“The acid test of the legitimacy of the programmes we elaborate, the government institutions we create, the legislation we adopt must be whether they serve these objectives.

“Our single most important challenge is therefore to help establish a social order in which the freedom of the individual will truly mean the freedom of the individual.”

Mandela continued: “The youth of our country are the valued possession of the nation. Without them, there can be no future. Their needs are immense and urgent. They are at the centre of our reconstruction and development plan…

“Building on this base, the government and the [National Youth Development Agenda] would then work together to ensure that the nurturing of our youth stands in the centre of our reconstruction and development, without being consigned to a meaningless ghetto of public life.”

It seems to me that Mandela saw the expansion of the frontiers of human fulfilment and freedom as the acid test of government’s fulfilment of its responsibility in our democracy, and justification for being in power. This, in my view, is in line with the Constitution, particularly section 237, which requires constitutional responsibilities to be given priority and to be performed diligently.

I wonder if the acid test of programmes that government has been giving priority to, and the institutions created or dismantled and legislation adopted in the past few years, has been the expansion of the frontiers of human fulfilment and freedom for all. How do we reconcile the anger of millennials such as Ndebele at seeing wasted young talent while a few prosper on the wings of social injustice and, in many cases, corruption, with Mandela’s iconic inaugural state of the nation address and, in a sense, promise to all?

Ndebele may not be the only young person who feels that their parents’ fight for democracy was betrayed by exchanging freedom for democracy. If so, our democracy is in peril unless all groups and communities see meaningful progress in their experiences.

There is a saying that goes: “If they do not eat, we can’t sleep.” From the millennial voices, the message seems to be: “If we cannot sleep, none of you can.” What’s comforting, though, is that young people, particularly millennials, are not only demanding accountability for social justice, they are already acting as midwives for the inclusive South Africa of their dreams by rolling up their own sleeves. They are leading us regarding the urgent need for dialogue on the meaning of democracy and freedom.

Madonsela is a Harvard Advanced Leadership Fellow, former Public Protector, and founder and chief patron of the Thuma Foundation

Ps. We’re besties now. Obviously.

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On Bursaries, discrimination, disillusionment and a bunch of lawyers who’ve hated everything since 1994.

Dear: Democracy, constitutionality, equality and Solidariteit.

Remind me what was June 16th for? Because it’s been 41 years in, and very little has changed.

How is it, that in 2017. 23 years into democracy, Black students all over the country will (by representation) head to the North Pretoria High court to challenge Solidariteit , as they question the constitutionality of the Fundza Lushaka bursary scheme, which was initiated by the Department of education in order to address the inequality in access to higher education for Black children.

The bursary scheme is a measure that was put in place specifically to give us, Black students the dignity of being able to learn in our mother tongue, as well as teach others in their mother tongue.

A measure that was created specifically to allow us as black students  to go back to the communities that raised us , particularly in Rural areas and make a difference. A measure  to sow us back into our communities as  changemakers, who will inspire further change.

Why is it that as Black children in this country we must continue to fight for our right to live in dignity, in a [ Democratic, equitable, constitutional]  space that was supposedly created for us to prosper and not suffer the indignities that our parents endured under Apartheid.

May I remind you, Solidarity that in apartheid, your government created laws and regulations that specifically  advanced the interests of white people. White people had higher end Jobs reserved specifically for them. They were also the recipients of resources that kept them at the top of the ladder and has done so systematically to this very day.

What Fundza Lushaka is doing, is merely getting us off  of the ground that you kicked in our faces everyday, and onto that first step on the ladder. How dare you question that. How dare you cry foul, when faced with similar circumstances that you subjected us too. You? The very people who actually tried to force us to learn and speak Afrikaans, now have the audacity to cry foul, when we want to speak in our indigenous language.

How quickly you forget solidarity. But look at every sector in this country and you will still find your own, sitting at the highest levels.Comfortable as comfortable can be. But still, that’s not enough for you is it? What is that you actually want?  our lives? just a few more because sharpville, June 16, and boipatong were not enough hey?

But I suppose that is how democracy works isn’t it, it allows every man (as immoral as you are)  to cry foul and be attended too.

To say we are angry, is an understatement. Everyday my friends and I, eye democracy, constitutionality and equality from the other side of the fence clothed in poverty dreaming of the day when we when we will touch the garment of either one, just for a minute so that we too may prosper.

But in our view, there stands Solidarity and Afriforum. Always. Reminding us that Democracy in whatever shape or form it may come, was never for us.

You say our songs are hate speech.
You decide how successful we may be. Just smart enough to be ‘not like the other blacks’
You say our Indigenous language is discriminatory and disadvantages you. (Lets laugh together, lets laugh in apartheid)
You say our need to give back to the communities that raised us is outlandish.

In 2017, you still say we will never amount to anything. And you actively pursue that ideal.

What hurts equally, if not more is that the very pillars that should empower us and set us free. Taunt us everyday. From the bottom of pit toilets, through the cracked windows of what they call our schools. From the back of police Vans, where we shout “Fees must fall”  in the very streets that we walk. We are forced to look past out circumstances and fix our eyes on democracy.

We’ve heard many things said, all in the name of Democracy.
But when will this democracy, that was created for us,  ever be about us and for us.
When will equality reach us.
And this constitution that you argue over (while we watch from our shacks and broken RDP homes)  when will it actually free us?

Many of us have waited an age for these three wise men. We’ve watched from a distance as Democracy, equality, and constitutionality slowly make their way to us, but hardly make it to us.

But no more.

Freedom is calling.

This freedom that is ringing in our ears, sounds like democracy, it looks like equality, it looks like constitutionality.

but this time.

This freedom, is actually for us.

And guess what Solidarity, its starts with a simple Bursary Scheme called Funza Lushaka.

You mad? Stay mad.

 

 

This Youth month, can I get a little bit of respect please??

We need to stop the bullying and abuse of young people in the work place under the guise of teaching them and initiating them into the work place.

If you have to belittle someone, and break their confidence in order to assert your seniority that is a failure on your part, It is a lack of leadership and mentoring skills. It must also be said that being a senior or having been in an industry for a long time, does not automatically make you a ‘leader’ or  give you the qualities of being a mentor.

As a society we have normalized the abuse of young people in the work place. We tell young people that they must break their backs working if they want recognition, that they must give their all and still understand and be okay when they aren’t recognized for their work. That they must deal with both the internal and external politics of feeling undervalued privately, but still show up for work at 8 in the morning without a question.

As young people coming into various industries, be it journalism, Accounting or Medicine, we are well aware of the importance and value of hard work. We know that you’ve to start somewhere and work your way up.

However, what young people (or anybody actually) need in any place of work is a supportive environment and holistic  mentorship to be able to grow. Show me, teach me, give me responsibility and trust in what capabilities I have. We do not profess to know it all, but there are some things we know from our lived experiences, things we have learnt from each other and none of that should be disregarded in the name of seniority and experience.

It always amazes me how we are expected to go into work places, with a certain level of ‘start up’, we are expected to be the picture of innovation, we are expected to speak up and bring fresh ideas to the table. Where is this ‘start up’ supposed to come from if you are constantly being second guessed and made to feel as though you know nothing?

I think to many people this may be misconstrued as the mentality of a young person in the work place who is entitled and somewhat self-important. Perhaps. But still, I will not be ashamed for seeking gentleness. Every step that one takes to transition into the work place is both oppressive and repressive. Many of us, must go through a schooling system that makes you us believe that if we do not think, or function in a certain way we are inadequate.

We then have to make our way into a university system that was never designed for us to prosper. We have to somehow make our way through four to five years of university with minimal financial resource, and in a pool of 30 000+ students we have to find something that will make us desirable in the work place- despite the fact that we are all receiving the very same qualification. If we make it out of university, we then have to enter the job market, we find ourselves in a space where we are expected to be all things, even though we have come from nothing. Only to be torn apart at the hands of people who are supposedly mentoring you.

In my journalism year, we had a guest speaker who said to, ‘I want to tell you now, that at this point. you do not matter and nobody cares about you.’ A seasoned journalist said this to this to a room full of young hopeful journalists, who in a matter of months were expected to go into the industry and ‘perform’,  even after being told that we did not matter. How can you tell me that I do not matter, and still expect me to produce work that matters?

This experience was a complete contrast to the one that I had with Former City Press editor,  Ferial Haffajee. In my journalism year, Aunty Ferial was assigned to be my mentor. The relationship that we had, was one where my career aspirations were encouraged, but also realistically ‘managed’ for  lack of a better word. Aunty Ferial allowed me to share my ambitions with her, and at the time,  when I told her at that my interest was in war reporting, she did not immediately shut me down. Instead she told me to read, to do research, to speak to people who were been in the industry, she even offered to put me in touch with her own connections. Four years later, I have found myself in activism and not war reporting, but I do not view that as a failure, I see it simply as having taken another path. I did not fail as a person or a journalist because I didn’t follow my initial a career path. I have grown in different ways and I have learnt different things. In retrospect, I believe that  Aunty Ferial wanted to make me actually think about what it is that I thought I wanted to be. She allowed me in the gentlest of ways, to figure out the direction of my career.

In that same year, a financial Journalism lecturer remarked that I was going to die if I chose to go into War reporting. It so happened that I spent a year in the financial journalism sector, and it’s safe to say it was the worst year of my life. I died. Not dodging missiles in a war zone, but rather sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned office in the northern suburbs , every day from 9 to 5.

For six months I worked for a man whose only positive remark to me was “You look like you are half smart”. Everything that I learnt in that place, was from all the other ‘plebs’ on the ground who were patient with me, were willing to share their knowledge and encouraged me every day to learn, to try harder and to do better. From the man who was the Head of TV for an entire continent though, I learnt nothing about the craft of News TV, I learnt nothing of managing a team and perhaps more devastatingly I learnt nothing about myself.

It is time for people who are leaders in various industries and sectors to re-imagine mentorship. It need not be a violent process marked by belittling and bullying. It is okay for mentorship to be gentle, it is okay for mentorship to be nurturing, it is possible to shape and mould a young professionals career path without imposing your own insecurities on them and tearing them apart. And there are many people who have done that. I myself am a product of strong women, who were gentle with me.

So some unsolicited advice, young people in 2017 are ambitious, we angry, we are a revolution-in-waiting, we are not afraid to do the work, but unfortunately we are also accustomed to having to exist in a system characterized by poverty, inequality and injustice. We are now wired to resist, our very existence is a constant act of defiance and if you choose to break us down and stilt our development for your own interests, you are not helping us. You are by no means harnessing our power for the greater good, you are only pitting us against you. In a system riddled with inequality and injustice, it will not help either of us to be at odds with one another. We are better together.

 

The following article first appeared in the Daily Maverick and is written in my personal capacity. 

Sometimes I am also a fallist despite my proximity to privilege

In the past couple of months I have grappled, perhaps selfishly, with the fees must fall movement. I have listened, I have watched and I have tried to engage with various ideas around the movement,in an attempt to locate myself within the movement in the hope that figuring out exactly where I stand would give me more clarity on what it is I should be doing about/for/or even against the movement.

My name is Nomatter Ndebele and I am both an example of what it means to be the daughter of a Migrant domestic worker, who would never have been able to pay my university fees. I am also an example of a girl who has lived and still lives within a close proximity to privilege.

I am child number three of a family who has provided me with incredible support and put me in a position to access opportunities that I may never have even dreamed if, if my Grandmother was left to raise me by herself.

My proximity to privilege meant that I was fortunate enough to have my university fees paid in full every year, from undergrad right through to postgrad. It meant that I never had to worry about getting the textbooks I needed, it meant that I never had to worry about not being able to print an assignment, I never had to worry about finding a computer to do research or type up/submit my assignments, I was able to join whatever clubs and societies I was interested in.  I can say that socially and financially my experience of university was always uplifting and constructive. Despite this however, I was not immune to the harsher and more destructive  experiences from other students.

I had friends who were dependent on NSFAS to get them through their degree’s. But the thing about NFSAS is that although it is supposed to be an empowering process that provides opportunity, people will tell you that getting through that process is one of the most frustrating and demoralizing things you will ever have to go through. It is standing in cue’s for hours, when you need to be in class, it is the loss of paperwork that you submitted weeks ago, it is the continuous follow up’s about your application, it is the uncertainty of being accepted or not. And where you are not, it is a new frustrating process of trying again.

For successful candidates, one then has to go through the process of finding accommodation. For foreign students this could be argued to be the most harrowing time to be at University. Your bursary has not been finalized, you are in another country and you may not have anyone else that you can stay with while you wait the process out. You are forced to sleep in the library/ in an empty classroom. Those who depend on stipends are faced with even further uncertainty every month, am I getting a stipend this month? What will I eat when I run out food? Where I will I go if I cannot pay my rent?

And while I was fine, my experience juxtaposed with the realities that my friends had to face made me realise just how hard it is, to get your hands on a degree. And all this before you even sit down in class or start working on your first assignment. But still, with very little choices students struggle on.

The harshest reality of all though, which I have experience of is leaving university with a degree and then having no plan. It worries me that people think that leaving university with a degree almost immediately bumps you up into a different class. There is this belief that once you have your degree- you’ve made it out.

But guess what? At that point you have only made it out of solitary confinement. Now you have to resocialize yourself back into the poverty you had managed to “actively fight” for the duration of the degree. You are right back where you started.

My proximity to privilege and the fact that I am now considered to be middle class has not changed the realities that I lived before I got my degree. My Grandmother is still a migrant domestic worker, she (now we) still have to send money home, we have to step in for family members who need to be bailed out in whatever crises. When death comes around, we’ve got to step up for people who have no funeral plans and now have to be buried in Zimbabwe.

And it is  these two experiences that I live simultaneously that leave me questioning my own legitimacy as part of this movement. I agree that free education is a possibility and must be made available. But I do not believe that it is something that we can achieve tomorrow. I think that the call for this action needs to be implemented through policies, there needs to be a plan. If we are redirecting funds, where will the money come from, how will we ensure that we have a steady flow of money to keep free education as reality, because we cannot in 5 years then go back and say – Sorry we can’t do it anymore.

And while I think these are legitimate concerns, I am overcome by guilt even by just articulating them. I have a degree, I have a job, and my contributions to black tax are significantly lower than other students, so how do I sit here and say “we can’t do it”.  If I had not had my family to support me through university- I probably also would be making the demand for free education right now.

Then I am even further conflicted about the methods of protest. One the one hand, I (think) I understand why students would shut down a university- if they cannot gain access to it without such struggle then why does it exist? But then I start to think about the end goal- if the question is one of access, if we shut down the university “they” win right? If it was never designed to be a space for poor black students, and then we decide to stay away- well, it’s served its purposes hasn’t it? Surely our biggest priority should be to occupy and claim the space.

And then there’s the stone throwing and the burning. My first instinct is to condem that behaviour. In my mind, problems are solved through engagement and a man holding a gun cannot engage a student throwing a rock at them. How?

And then another thought, maybe this is all we have. Our Freedom was born out of violence, and no doubt It was terrible terrible time in our history, but it was also one of the catalysts of change right? So. It works, in a way.

I have many questions and I find myself anxious because I know that there isn’t one clear cut answer for any of them. If fees fall tomorrow, there will be more questions, if they don’t fall, there will be even more questions.

Just yesterday I sat in a political discussion with an Academic who claimed that the movement was self-destructing, that there was no legitimate organization from the students ( apparently the decisions to march into Braamfontein are ad hoc), apparently this all populism and the students do it because they know that there are camera’s and the world is watching.

Before this conversation, I was sympathetic to the students but I had my criticisms. But when I heard this man say these things, I felt an internal rage. As though, this was MY movement being belittled. And when it was time to engage four young hands shot into the air, my colleagues and I were ready to engage- we had come backs:

“You can’t compare FMF to the TAC movement- it was a different time, a different and clearer enemy”

“You really think this for the Camera’s? You think students take their bodies to places where they will get shot because they know a camera will be there?”

“You think that when those students come down De Korte street, singing in unison, walking in clear formation- that is disorganized. That is adhoc? Just kind of happened, along the way? ”

The only thing I could not respond to was the claim that the movement was self- destructing. Because here I am, doing the exact same thing. I pulling myself apart and then putting myself together again, I am taking a side and then moving back to the other, I am literally falling apart at the seams, trying to figure this all out- and I have a degree, I don’t have to worry about the 2016 academic year.

Last night, I bumped into Vuyani Pambo and I asked him how things were going- and without skipping a beat, he looked at me and said “fees will fall this year”, but when he said that I was not inspired, in fact I was afraid- what certainty does he have that the rest of us don’t? I know faith, because I have carried it all my life, but that wasn’t faith. That was an unwavering almost dangerous certainty.

Do I wish I had it?

Yes.

No.

I don’t know.

I don’t know anything really, only that sometimes I am also a fallist despite my proximity to privilege

I won’t get my money back, but I’ll take a refund in the form of a Decolonized Education.

In 2011 my world changed. Everything I knew, or thought I knew,came undone. It was a simple conversation with a fellow student, who turned to me and said: “You do know that Mandela sold us out right?”

For 20 years of my life, I had never once heard someone say that. I was horrified, shocked, angry and basically offended on Nelson Mandela’s behalf. I mean, we all knew that this man had given up 27 years of his life, fighting apartheid so that we could be equal. This man facilitated the creation of the rainbow nation that I lived in. The rainbow nation that I was raised in, the rainbow nation that I believed in. It was unfathomable to me that someone could even think that he. Nelson Mandela. The father of our nation sold us out. That is not what we learnt in school.

But I realised that day, that maybe I had actually learnt nothing in school.

I did history in high school and at the end of  my matric year it was one of the subjects I got a distinction for. So as far as I was concerned, I knew my shit. My History teacher went above and beyond, history was more than just going through notes or textbooks, there were pictures, we watched films, we spoke freely about the horrors of Hiroshima, the Holocaust, and Apartheid. We interrogated the Watergate scandal, we spoke about the Jim crow laws, we discussed June 16, we spoke about the IFP and the third force, we spoke about CODESA, we read about Anne Frank. My history essays flowed easily, I was always confident about what I knew about what the world was like before I came along.

I will admit, the only thing I knew very little about was Black consciousness. Steve Biko’s “I write what I like” was one of the supplementary texts we had to read while we were learning about Black consciousness, but I never read that book. I read a few pages, decided I didn’t like it and stopped reading it.

I didn’t like it, because it was uncomfortable. I did not like the way Steve Biko spoke about “The white man” and “the black man”. All my life I went to multiracial ex Model C schools, and categorizing people by race was not the norm for me. In fact, Steve Biko angered me. I did not understand why this man was going against the grain. The ANC’s policy was non-racialism, so who was he, to write about “the white man” and “the black man” and although I had heard that he had some legit things to say, I was unable to get over my discomfort and so to this day, I’ve never read that book.

(Miss P- This was not at all a reflection of your teaching)

Right now in this time of change in South Africa, I wish I had read that book.

One of the things that the current Fees must Fall Movement is calling for is a decolonized Education. And many people have started to interrogate what a “decolonized” education actually means. Before I continue I must make it clear that I am not the keeper of  the concept of decolonized education. I dont have the answers, only ideas and a few questions. So take from this what you will.

I was born in Zimbabwe and I have lived in South Africa all my life, and after having sat through 18 years of formal education I think it is both problematic and worrying that I know close to nothing about the continent I live on.

I cannot tell you what the National Anthem of Zimbabwe is, I cannot tell you which countries were once merged as one in Southern Africa, I cannot tell you why Samora Machel was angry and I cannot tell you why the DRC is in crises. I dont know how trade unionists in Zimbabwe and South Africa shaped the struggle.  How is it that I went to “a good school”, but I don’t know any of this information. And this not just random information, it is information that is the very core of my being. It is information that I need to understand in order to fully understand myself and to be able to conceptualize and exist in this world that I live in.

Decolonized Education, (whatever, we decide it will be. Because that is how it will happen, it will be a decision that we make) should start at the level of basic education, because If I had never had the opportunity to go to University, which is a reality that many people in this country face, when would I have been exposed to different ideas, who would have casually mentioned that Nelson Mandela sold us out? when would have I read “things fall apart” and how would I have ever understood what Achebe was actually talking about- How would I have ever known that maybe things were actually just fine before colonization came along? How would I have known that  African people had their own beliefs and value systems that did not centre around religion- but that worked perfectly fine for them.

Change is difficult and it is uncomfortable, but sometimes what is more uncomfortable than the actual act of change is the language that precedes it.

This may be an overly simplistic and perhaps naïve understanding, but does the call for a decolonized education simply not mean a change of curriculum. Are we not asking for a curriculum that will allow people to live a dignified life? A curriculum that will teach people about themselves, to give them an opportunity to understand who they are,  why they are, where they come from and what they could be.

If we think back to Bantu Education, Black children were taught in Afrikaans and only allowed to learn subjects that would educate them just enough for the menial work that they were expected to do in South Africa. And so they asked for change. To learn more, for opportunity, for equality, for dignity. So how is this different?

I don’t understand why or how people can be so resistant to a request of self-definition. I want to learn, I want to know more about the world, but I also want to know about my world. And if that was a thing, then maybe the students who gathered around #TakeWitsBack would have understood how hurtful and angering that sentiment could be to black students who have come from a history of disadvantage, a history of always having had things taken away from them- the right to move freely, the right to organize, their fathers, family members, and essentially the right to just be.

For me, it’s as simple as that really. A decolonized education (or just a different curriculum) is not an insurmountable task and it really isn’t the most outlandish request. I mean, let’s be real if Donald Trump can actually ask people to vote for him, I think it’s pretty chilled that people can ask to learn about themselves.

One day my kids will learn about 9/11, about Israel and Palestine and that’s okay. But they also have every right to learn about the Garrissa attack, they must learn about the murder of Emmanuel Sithole, they must learn about Mugabe and the 5th brigade and even more importantly in this moment in our history, they must learn about how Senate house at Wits University was renamed Solomon Mahlangu house.

Finally, if you google the definition of education you will find the second entry to be:

Education (noun) : An enlightening experience.

I am here for that, how can you not be?

 

 

 

 

What being part of a collective for 9 days taught me

Transformation is a messy business, and no. this is not a revelation, I have always known that change in shape or form is uncomfortable, but what  I guess what I haven’t realised is that Transformation is more than just uncomfortable, it is ugly and it is hostile.

South Africa is changing. At every corner there are people engaging in change, either by calling for it, resisting it or facilitating it. But the thing about change in South Africa is that it is everything, sometimes for the wrong reasons.

It is sexy to be a revolutionary now. The cool kids used to be the fashionable kids on the corner, but now it’s the woke crowd. The pseudo intellectuals and pseudo revolutionaries who grace our local bars and sit together in groups throwing ideas of the revolution between them. The woke crowd dictates who is in who is out, whose struggle is worthy and whose is doesn’t even need to be engaged. With this crowd, the lines have long been drawn, you are either with them, or a sell-out. You must be the example of radical at every interaction- otherwise who are you really?

My greatest frustration with the self-appointed “leadership of the movement” is that they genuinely seem to think that a person can only be one thing. Apparently you cannot date a white girl and be part of the movement, you cannot be too close to white people and think that you are a legit voice in the movement- apparently it doesn’t work like that. But its okay to be problematic in other ways, you can be the quintessential example of sexist, but for as long as you are the movement, you will have a home anyway.

Anyway, I digress. This is about collectives and transformation.

So a few days ago, I found myself part of as part of a collective. A movement of young people who wanted to lead the call for transformation. But I guess what we didn’t realize is that transformation is not one thing. And so the cracks started to show, I found myself looking from the outside in, completely mortified at what I was supposedly representing.

Collectives are complex things. For one, they provide protection. For those who want to speak, but whose voices are a little shakey. But at the same time they provide protection for people who will make sweeping statements, knowing that they cannot be held accountable as individuals. After all, this is a collective right.

Collectives become even further complicated when you realise what it is that you are actually aligning yourself too. On the one hand, you align yourself to often very legitimate struggles (A call for transformation), but by virtue of being part of the collective you also align yourself with their unreasonable demands.

Transformation is many things, but it should never be a “Them vs Us”- because that sets a hostile tone for any sort of engagement. It also baffles that people imagine that we can have conversations of transformation without engaging the very people whom we imagine to be the “keepers of transformation” that we so desperately want to be a part of. I am not here for a hostile takeover, I’m here to build a country.

And herein lies another complexity. What kind of transformation are we looking for? Because to seek a solution that caters for an exclusive group of people, is not actually a solution. And in this country, we know better than anyone else how dangerous solutions aligned to exclusive groups can be. Surely the call for transformation needs to extend further than the corridor of your own office, because otherwise, why are we doing this really? Because in a few years, all we will have is a group of young black professionals who have reaped the benefits of transformation, but at its core. The country we live in will remain unchanged. There will be hundreds of people in the streets who will always be incredibly far away from transformation. And if that is what this is- Just a start? Then we must be honest with ourselves and say what it is.

So, in the words of the great philosopher Banksy, keep your coins. I want real change.

In conclusion, this is what being part of a collective has taught me:

There are certain battles that we must all fight, but we must pick them carefully. Because sometimes our energies can be better used elsewhere. When you align yourself with a collective, you align yourself with the good, the bad and the ugly. And while there is strength in numbers, sometimes there is even more strength in standing alone.

 

20 Things I’ve learnt in my first year of changing the world

  1. You are not alone. There are a whole bunch of other crazies who believe they can change the world too (Most of them work at SECTION27)
  2. Where lives are at risk, it is okay to be impossibly impatient
  3. When there’s a knock on your door at 3AM to tell you that you need to drive to lord knows where because 115 people need to be fed by 6am. You get in the car and drive. No questions asked.
  4. You can’t do it all in one day, but you can try a little bit every day.
  5. There will be cases that shake you, but you must NEVER let them break you.
  6. You better learn to speak Tsonga and Venda. Or at least fake it till you make it.
  7. You don’t go to conferences to “discuss change”- you only demand it or create it.
  8. You will wear HIV+ Tshirts all the time and people will stare.
  9. You must never give up.
  10. You must learn to speak up, and every day you must speak a little louder
  11. It’s okay to disagree about HOW we change the world.
  12. Not everyone is going to get it. It’s not your job to make them.
  13. Sekuyoze kube nini sizabalaza?  
  14. Always answer your phone.
  15.  Believe,that will always be enough to get you through the day.
  16. Turns out you can get nominated for awards just by doing the thing you love the most.
  17. Deal with your cons, before they deal with you. There will be many marches.
  18. Dont leave the banners to the last minute
  19. Most people will view you as an inconvience, forget them. You’ve got a world to change
  20. My mother was wrong- Not all lawyers are the scum of the earth.

There are many experiences  that have touched my heart during this past year. But there are two that come to my mind when this very world that I am trying to change chews me up and spits me out. These are the stories that I have told, but they are also the stories have that made me.

Mamma Yvonne- Bloemfontein

Last year during the People’s commission in Bloemfontein, we received a frantic text message from one of my colleagues in the late evening, saying there was a woman who had just arrived with an injured leg, and there was no way she would be able to get up the stairs to her room.

We rushed to the scene and found a woman rocking back and forth on the couch in excruciating pain. She had an abscess in her leg for 17 years, and none of the hospital facilities she had been to, had been able to help her. When we left Bloemfontein, TAC assigned a community health care worker to the woman to help her wash and dress her wound everyday.

A few months later, I was sitting in my office and the phone rang.

“Nomatter- Its Mama Yvonne I wanted to say thank you. My leg is healed, I can walk again, I can do anything and there’s no more pain”

I had not changed the world- but we changed her’s and that was enough. That was enough to get up the next day and do it all over again.

William Thamagana- Limpopo

In September last year I went into Limpopo with Photographer Thom Pierce to interview learners who had no access to their Textbooks. One of these students was Grade 12 learner- William Thamagana, he had started his final exams two weeks before and was walking at least 45 minutes every day to try and share textbooks with fellow classmates. But still, he was optimistic about passing his Matric and going to law school. But things didn’t work out that way. William stayed up all night looking for his results online, but they weren’t there. He had not passed. So what did he do? He went back to school and redid the subjects he had failed.

A few weeks ago, My phone rang.

“Nomatter, Its William Thamagana, I wanted to tell you that I wrote again and now I have a Diploma, and it’s all because of you”

I didn’t change the world- but I helped change his.

And  that is why when Vuwani started burning, I didn’t have to think about anything. I knew that was where I had to be.

It’s been a tough year, sometimes we don’t always get it right. Sometimes the wheels of justice move too slowly, sometimes people just don’t care. And I won’t lie, those moments are difficult, but nomatter (haha) how hard it gets, there is still work to be done. Because if not me, then who? And if not now? When.

I don’t have much to give the people that I meet everyday, and often when I show up on their door step I don’t even have solutions, but still they let me in. Both into their homes and their hearts. My only hope is that the people we work with , be it for an hour or even a year ,are moved somehow. I hope they see our passion, persistence and drive and that for a moment they understand what it means to love. I hope that even if we never see them again, they will find us in their hearts and know that they were loved and that we never stopped fighting for them.

And for you,

I hope you see that tattoo and that it reminds you every day that you are alive, and that you can start again. You will always be my person, and there are parts of you that will stay with me forever.

Bae. Always!

For the rest of you! I’m sorry in advance for the birthday’s I will miss, the dinners and the picnics. It doesn’t mean I love you any less- it just means I love you enough to make this world a better place for you.

Here’s to SECTION27, here’s to changing the world!

“Dont you know,  their talking about a revolution, it sounds like a whisper”

– Tracy Chapman