Imbila Yaswela Umsila Ngokuyalezela

By Unathi Kondile

It’s 4am.

I’ve been asleep since 3pm.

I suppose this happens when you spend an entire week on the road.

5446 kilometres travelled in one week – distributing Isigidimi SamaXhosa, talking to chiefs, teachers, ward councilors, rural community dwellers, shebeen patrons (oolova baseKasi) and my favourite – children.

The overall experience: I am gutted by how our people have resigned themselves to a life of dependency. It’s as if we’ve become addicted to help. Drive past any SASSA office in the Eastern Cape and you will see hoards of iinkonde neenkondekazi (the elderly) queuing there all day long – for grants and grants to be granted by grantors.

“Bhuti, sicela usiphe imali yedrinki!” were the words three Thembalethu High School girls uttered as I drove past them, in George. I stopped. Gazed at how short their uniform was.

Thought was not: “Damn, that’s sexy!”

Thought was: “All school girls must wear long gray school trousers!”

This thing of showing so much thigh at school is distracting, to put it lightly.

“Andinayo!” was my response, “imali yam igqitywe leliphepha lesiXhosa lam” as I showed them a copy of the newspaper.

“Kodwa uhamba ngemoto entle kangaka!” said one pointing to the rented I20 I was driving. “Sicela usiphe ilift ke; uyosibeka ekhaya!” That’s another thing about our township and rural communities – a car attracts attention like faeces attract flies.

I caved in, gave them a lift but along the way gems came out of their mouths – things like “poverty is inherited bhuti, maybe we will stop asking for things when we are older!” and more was said by these girls. As they got out they asked for copies of the newspaper and promised to write about what’s going on in Thembalethu. I am not going to hold my breath for that.

Throughout my travels in the Eastern Cape one theme kept reasserting itself: girls are easy prey there; especially if you’re driving whatever you’re driving. If you have wheels and can afford a six pack of Red Square or Hunters Extreme you are a woman’s dream-come-true waiting to happen in some parts of this country.

My conclusion: If only all those feminists in big cities would take a break from conferences, art and Twitter, and head down to rural areas and townships to empower young girls there; perhaps change would come.

On the subject of conferences, Twitter and being busy I have further concluded in my head that change will not come from people who are busy presenting in conferences, speaking at breakfasts or people who are locked down in 9-to-5 jobs. Change will come from people who are prepared to down tools or commit career suicide (as Nomalanga would put it). We are not going to change anything in this country if we are resigned to this thing called work. We have to resign first.

This trend of young people finishing school, getting a job, buying expensive wheels and committing themselves to buying things they can’t even pronounce must come to an end. People who are committed to creating debt for themselves cannot possibly be the same people who can commit to changing any society. If there are people in this country who can live on R1200 per month grants I think anyone who earns above that is overpaid and surely can make an effort in terms of saving their money. By this I mean anyone earning above R1200 is in a good position to resign after a few years and go do some good with their savings. This however requires a culture of saving and divorcing the what-will-people-say complex, first.

I have seen many such young professionals gracing activist initiatives like the Education Stokvels and other similar black empowerment initiatives. The reception is great. Everyone comes and pledges their support to initiatives that promise to improve the lives of the majority. A launch is done. Canapes and wine are served. All attend. Within a week it’s as if nothing ever happened. Promises. Promises. Pledges. Pledges. But nothing.

People are way too busy being busy. Busy servicing debt. Busy working towards enriching their employers. Such that doing side social gigs become difficult for them. Look at the dead end jobs we’re in – who do we serve? Do our employers allow us time to go and fix where we come from? No. You’re working, working, working from one pay EFT to the next – never a moment to spare to go do some community work, build a school with friends or so on.

No such.

Tough cookies.

And when it becomes hard for you to do social work it becomes easier for you to look to government. Blame government. You easily develop the Government-Must! syndrome many liberals suffer from. This syndrome blinds you to the reality of “I too, can make a difference, with the little that I have.”

Sadly, it becomes the empowered, well-positioned, too-busy-being-busy types who consistently put the blame on government’s foot.

I am absolutely sick and tired of hearing about government. The problem is not government; it is us. We are the ones who vote. How on earth do we “employ” someone then call them “boss” or a leader soon thereafter? We are the employers. That’s like employing a babysitter and thereafter treating that babysitter as if they were the parent that is you.

This happens. Nannies become the real parents and parents end up bowing down to the very nannies they employed. Why? Because we are too busy being busy. And that being too busy of ours slowly breeds a culture of help and dependency. It breeds a culture of looking up to nannies like president Jacob Zuma for everything. We no longer know how to do things for ourselves. If it itches, we don’t scratch. That’d be too much effort. Get a masseuse to scratch the itch.

If you can’t even scratch yourself or raise your own child, how on earth can you help entire communities? You will inevitably end up looking for nannies to help you with your own problems.

We work, get paid, start debt and leave the rest to nannies called governments.

What on earth is that all about?

Government cannot do much for us. As I travelled the length and breadth of this country it became clearer that government is trying; but we – the parents of our problems – are not. The solution to this country is not a new government or nanny. The very same problems will persist irregardless of which nanny we employ; the problematic child will still be a problem child, even to that new nanny.

For things to work; we must nanny our own problems ourselves.

I have seen communities get together and build mud schools and thereafter roping in the services of retired teachers to teach for free in some rural areas of this country.

I have seen retired nurses coming out of retirement and converting their homes into clinics.

I have seen people who earn close to nothing taking care of the elderly and sick.

I have seen and learnt that no money is needed to help others.

We only need human capital, human care and human time.

How do we raise these three?

It was around 1986, in Cala – 46 kilometres from Queenstown, when learners burnt down Mazibuko Senior Secondary School.  Actually, many a school has been burnt down in our illustrious past. This culture of destroying libraries, schools and other services that benefit communities has long been with us. Its roots are firmly entrenched in defiance. You destroy that which is essential in the hope that it will grab attention. Attention Seeking 101 has never been easier. So when this destructive culture persists in 2012 protests we shouldn’t act surprised nor ask “why?” – that is the only working form of yanking attention, for some. And it works. Why stop doing something that works?

So anyway. 1986. Mazibuko Senior Secondary burnt down. Who rebuilt it within a month? The very same community whose children had burnt it down. Parents, teachers and farmers got together and rebuilt that school within a month. Children were back to school.

There are many more such schools in the Eastern Cape. They were built by the hands of the community with little or no support from government. That was in the 80s. Before 1994 we rarely ran to government when we had problems, we sorted things out ourselves, yet in 2012 we struggle to do anything for ourselves. Even though it is claimed we are free?

What on earth is that all about?

What exactly are we too busy doing? Busy being busy?

Anyway. Back to the Calas. Upon building those schools those that have cars went out and got textbooks from government departments. If said department had none they made photocopies of textbooks until government had. At times they approached the publishers direct and made deals. The point is they did something.

Moral: Just do something. Anything, but protest and running to courts. That is time wasted.

This dependency tendency towards Mr-Delivery-Will-Do-It simply leads to no textbooks getting to schools. In Xhosa we say “imbila yaswela umsila ngokuyalezela” – “the rock rabbit has no tail, because it chose to send someone else to get it for it” – this culture of having someone do something for you is foreign to us Xhosas. We cannot have situations where communities are obsequious to nannies and Mr Deliveries. To get things done, you do them yourselves. Government eventually responds and adds on a few buildings to what you have already built. That is called active citizenry. Especially where education is concerned. Those are our children. If the nanny refuses to change our children’s nappies, we have to be the ones that change them. We’ve become the parents that don’t mind children being in soiled nappies the whole day. Our problems in this country are our responsibility. We cannot sit and wait for things to get done on our behalf anymore. Those that have bakkies must go and get the textbooks for their community schools. What kind of nonsense is this that when a problem emerges no one does anything about it except to point to the nanny that is government?

What kind of culture is this that prefers to sit back and pontificate over its problems?

We all know what our problems are. Listing them and and establishing bitch-and-moan NGOs achieves nothing. We “Do” or “Doing” people. Enough with talking good English and asking the right questions. Do.

What kind of culture is this that is complacent with writing good articles and organizing marches for its own problems?

What on earth is that all about?

Is it because we are too busy? Too lazy? Or that we do not care anymore? The future of education in this country will not be resolved by government. The future of education in this country will be resolved by the resolve of communities like Cala who still are hands-on on the education of their children. If you, the parent or young black, do not care about the education of the future then I am afraid you should be afraid of the future.

Caring or activism is not marching to government buildings. Especially in 2012. Why on earth are you marching against someone you employed, yourself. The employer doth protest against the employee?

What on earth is that all about?

Caring or activism should be about doing. Especially in 2012. Activism should be going to communities, establishing what is missing and going out to get what is missing. You will find that in all this activism that is aplenty there is actually enough money to render services or do get things done. But instead that money is spent on tea, biscuits, venue hire, speakers’ flights and accommodation and so forth. So that people can sit, talk organise a march that they will talk about for days afterwards. That’s passivism. Not activism.

What on earth is that all about?

If we are serious about getting this right, if we are serious about helping one another then we have to get over this government-must-do-this-and-that complex. Government is clearly failing in some aspects of its functioning and running back and forth to their offices expecting miracles simply won’t work. What will work is us rolling up our sleeves and doing this work ourselves. Government will join us along the way. They always do – it’s part of their looking-for-success-stories-we-can-hijack mandate.

Until then, I only have these words to say: imbila yaswela umsila ngokuyalezela. Go and get that tail for yourself.


The hard fight for education in a short-termist political culture.

by Nomalanga Mkhize

I have on several platforms articulated the view that argues that the true crisis in South  African education is not primarily one of “administrative dysfunction” or “curriculum chaos” or even  “policy paralysis”, but that it is a crisis of “purpose” and “value” within Black society at large.

Is education valuable? What sort of education is valuable?

What is the “opportunity cost” of pursuing a longer path to education instead of going straight into the job market?

These are important questions for everyone who is in some form of education, but most important for those whose families are in socio-economic hardship and for whom education is considered one path towards family financial stability.

Similar questions on the “value” of education have been raised by Prof Jonathan Jansen, Rector of the University of the Free State, in a speech  entitled “Seven Dangerous Shift in the Public Education Crisis” .

Reflecting on events in the Northern Cape which saw parents bar their kids from going to school because of local political grievance, he comments:

“I am asking a broader question: why would a community sacrifice the one route out of poverty for rural youth in a socially and economically oppressed community like Olifantshoek and other areas of the Northern Cape? There can be only one conclusion: that the value of education has lost all meaning for these rural communities.”

He further states:

“I have a sense that this negation of the value of education is spreading in the poorest communities of the country, and the reasons are many: the inability to keep enrolled students in school for reasons that include poor quality education; an unpredictable timetable; unreliable teaching; the shortage of basic resources (textbooks and basic science materials etc);the lack of responsiveness from local, provincial and national education authorities; and the visible lack of connection between education and economic well-being in local communities.”

In other words, as he goes on to conclude, and I agree with him – the public good that is education is so devalued in the eyes of South Africans, there is no collective social will, never mind political will from leaders, no social will in communities to truly rehabilitate and restore the schooling system. Instead, what South Africans are learning to value is private education, an alternative which most will never be able to afford.

There are deeper, more sociological questions one can ask about the value of education, relating to the jobs sector and what kind of education it actually respects (formal, experiential, technical, theoretical?) and also relating to confusing and conflicting trends in graduate unemployment.

However, that I shall deal with another day.

Let’s just focus on the question of “value” in the general social sense, the sense that Jansen invokes.

One of the strange experience that i confront in community education activism is the fact that I often feel like I have to persuade the community-at-large that education is important.

But it often becomes clear that my arguments do not wash. This is because these days, when people look around them in the Black community, the most “financially prominent” middle-class Black people are no longer, as it was in my day, the shopkeepers, the taxiowners, and teachers. No, these days it is the municipal councillors, the government directors, the mayors, the ministers etc — in short, the people who are either working for government or representing government.

In addition to these there’s another grouping – the new school wheelers and dealers, I don’t want to say “tenderpreneurs”, because many of them are decent business people. Either way, these are the people who know how to lobby and associate with politicians and state bureaucrats such that it results in them being favoured in state procurement. [I have no problem with this in principle].

Now, of course, many of these people have some level of education, a substantial portion have solid tertiary education.

However, what has become apparent is that this education plays a very marginal role in their successes in their ability to secure a job, a promotion, or a tender.

In and of itself, this is meaningless, education is a multifaceted creatured, one doesnt need to obtain it formally in a classroom.

But one can argue that there is something we can consider as an “educated mind”, one which applies itself according to what it has “learnt” in relation to that specific area of work. Whether that learning took place formally or informally.

The sense that one gets is that in these circles that are associated with access to state resources either by job or by tender, the “educated mind” , the mind which seeks to apply action on the basis of expertise rather than political directive, appears to be valuable in a functionalist sense, but not in the intrinsic sense. In fact, the “educatedness” of the mind seeking employment, appears to sometimes be incidental to the appointment.

Instead, what appears to be more important is whether and how the mind can be politically co-opted for partisan rather than policy ends.

The best is to keep quiet, do your job, which, if my friends working in government are anything to go by, also entails doing the jobs of those who were hired  in spite of their inability.

In our communities, where we all live together, drink together, commune, and on occasion fight each other we are keenly aware of the trends, because we see those we know enjoying the financial returns of political association.

The message we are given is that what counts in the game to get ahead, is political acumen, rather than a display of ability.

I have been thinking about this as I digest the reports on the alleged R200million price tag on renovations of the President’s personal house. What bothered me was not so much the price tag in and of itself, but the justifications by state officials who have labelled the criticism of this expenditure as being “disrespectful” of the Office of the President or just unwittingly “misplaced”.

There was an air of patronising dismissiveness in these response to the uproar as though citizens have no right to be outraged or critical on matters involving public expenditure!

In particular, public expenditure that in this case appears to have enriched the president personally by virtue of his home being refurbished with luxuries (astroturf is a luxury in my book).

And yet here we sit in a country where the majority of public schools have no libraries, no toilets, no electricity, no reliable water, no adequate playing fields, inadequate stocks of reading books and textbooks.

I was somewhat perplexed that state officials were angry that citizens were pointing this out. It almost seems that to them the fiscus is a rigid template and there can be no room for virement or transfer of funds from one thing to another. In another words, well, since this is allocated to the president in any case, what business do citizens have to demand that R200 mil instead be used on poor Black children!

But perhaps I thought, they have not yet had the common sense to see that the fiscus operates on a zero-sum basis, what is spent in area, has deprived another.

It struck me then that there it is almost futile to try and persuade communities that we need to revive a culture that produces “educated minds”, when it is apparent that even at the highest offices of state administration,  there is sometimes an absence of ethical and sensible reasoning when it comes to public expenditure, no display of “thoughtfulness” or “educatedness” and there are no real consequences for those state officials.

I #tweeted the following as I thought through this on my @NomalangaSA account:

– What a new generation, who will inherit this mess, what we must do, is articulate a model of how to exercise just, ethical, open leadership

– The generation before us, they were courageous, they taught us how to challenge power. We must teach them how to exercise power.

– The President is basically saying, show me respect by spending more money on me, not show me respect for being an honourable leader.

– Never underestimate the capacity of your leaders to lose common sense, along with the common touch.

– Er, African Presidents, if you would like houses that appear to be comparable to western heads of states, er, build comparable economies

– And yet, Mwalimu Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Thomas Sankara provided the alternative model. Presidents get simple cars, simple clothes. Qha.