Clarity of thought and articulate intellectual leadership is neither a product of holding a PhD nor the result of spending years to acquire one-dimensional professionalised knowledge to be an expert or a guru.
Rather, it comes from a deep-seated passion and love for what America’s leading thinker Cornel West defined as the “life of the mind”.
When one studies Pallo Jordan’s background, it is easy to see that he comes from a tradition and family of creative intellectuals who possessed academic qualifications. There is no doubt that his father, Archibald Campbell Jordan, and mother, Priscilla Phyllis Ntantala-Jordan, were highly gifted intellectuals and critical thinkers.
Without a vibrant tradition of critical engagement influenced by reading and a culture of debate at home, there can be no nurturing of a future critical thinker. Only academically qualified individuals who cannot think or pronounce beyond their field of expertise.
Where there is no culture of critical engagement that has resulted in the production of knowledge as in writing books like the Jordan family, for instance, there can be no youngsters who grow up to love ideas, knowledge and discourse more than acquiring academic qualifications.
When one considers Jordan’s family background, there is a credible sense of intellectual pursuit and academic achievement. If you stop to think about it, Jordan was at a university in the US in the early 1960s until he was deported by the state for being vocal and critical of the role of the rogue state and speaking truth to power.
It becomes clear to anyone who has been following the “debate” about his qualifications that the focus is not on his intellectual pedigree but his academic qualification from some western universities that were founded to uphold, promote and preserve white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy through the control of knowledge and wielding power over who can be granted a PhD or not.
If you think about the agenda of exposing Jordan’s academic status, it is predictable and monotonous. There is a lack of genuine appreciation and absolute disrespect for African insurgent creative intellectuals who display passionate love and commitment to the life of the mind without approval, validation or affirmation from white, capitalist-controlled universities.
The absence of a formal PhD is not an issue, here. For many, it has become clear that perhaps none exists. So what? This preoccupation to grant some non-existent academic qualifications as a symbol of achievement to outstanding intellectuals in the liberation struggle was a symptom of giving the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy what they wanted. It probably emanates from a political strategy of engaging white business, academia, politicians, media professionals and other activists on their own terms. They wanted highly western educated and “qualified” leaders. So they were given what they wanted.
When the likes of Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, Alex Boraine and a host of other white “educated” leaders started engaging the ANC to prepare for negotiations, there was expectation or pressure to portray and project the liberation movement as led and directed by sophisticated and highly educated men and women instead of uneducated and ignorant firebrands who wanted “to kill and drive the white man to the sea”.
Much as Chris Hani, for instance, was a communist firebrand, there was great focus and emphasis on the fact that he studied at Fort Hare and was this authoritative figure on Shakespeare. Nobody knows whether he got a degree or PhD from that university. Thabo Mbeki was projected as this pipe-smoking intellectual who studied economics at some Ivy League university.
This preoccupation with academic validation and professional affirmation is not a creation of the liberation movement. It was a tactical strategy designed to live up to the expectations and subtle dictate of supremacist expectations, methinks, by giving a sense of credibility and legitimacy to brilliant minds who had chosen to pursue the struggle than to be co-opted into a system they fought against.
The quality of leadership in the liberation struggle was not a matter of academic qualifications but a deep commitment to principle and ideals characterised by intellectual capability and rigour. It was either you were intellectually convincing in your ideas or you were not. And if you were, you could easily end up being accorded the status of a “Dr” or even “Prof” by peers and colleagues who appreciated your thinking and philosophical analysis.
The problem with African political leadership is that it has allowed itself to be defined by PhDs from western universities. Look at how “educated” Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is. Without taking anything away from genuine PhDs, it does not necessarily signify a deep commitment to ideas, knowledge and critical thinking but mere acceptance and validation by “the system”. But an “educated” African who thinks and behaves like Mugabe is a conundrum.
If you stop to think about it, Jordan gave his credibility, intelligence and integrity not to be “acceptable” but convince (through hoodwinking) white supremacists who expected and demanded that the calibre and type of leadership that led the ANC and the liberation movement as a whole must be educated. Greater sacrifice can no man make for the freedom of his people than to wear a “borrowed crown” or academic status to be used as a Trojan horse to win over and influence the minds of your enemies and thus deliver justice, equality and democracy.
The allegedly controversial case of “Dr” Jordan calls for the realisation that African people do not need approval and affirmation by their oppressors to do what they have to do, that is, to be true to themselves and their ideal of a truly free society. To be a true intellectual who lives the life of the mind you do not necessarily have to possess a PhD unless you want to specialise in a specific field. This crude and poor attempt to blemish the integrity of Jordan is totally unfair to the man and, above all, his family and history.
What stands out most strikingly about Jordan is that he is almost always outstanding in his intellectual robustness and engagement. When one is at a seminar or conference where he is going to speak or be on a panel, he projects at an intuitive level the face of a man who has, throughout his life, lived the life of the mind.
As for me, give me an intellectual of the calibre of Jordan than an African who holds a PhD, which means nothing else but the bureaucratisation, professionalisation and specialisation of knowledge to gain status, affirmation and access to the white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal super-structure. Tsek!
Sandile Memela does not have a PhD. He is a former spokesperson for Pallo Jordan as the minister of arts and culture.