I reflect with a deep concern the demise of our country. Demons have not left the country with the promulgation of freedom in 1994. They are still very much entrenched within our public systems and certainly, within ourselves. The difference between pre-1994 and post-1994 lies in that our demons have changed their faces and evidently deepened their complexity. Indeed it is true that all of us have sinned and have come short of God’s glory. We who participated in the anti-apartheid struggle are not holier than chief architects and agents of the then regime. We are simply different in terms of the type of evil we embrace and the degree to which we display it.
There is an element of truth in that we may have not fought against apartheid primarily because we loved freedom and the people, we may have fought against apartheid because we hated oppression and the oppressors. As such, the drive for our freedom has been predominately hatred against the system instead of love for the people. As a result, even when apartheid is officialised away, hatred is still trapped within us and expressed through different channels, primarily against the poor, known and unknown to us.
Within the past decade and a half, we may have missed an opportunity to concretise and complete the building of the foundation of our freedom. During the Mandela dispensation we missed the focus onto defining the stages of our freedom and attending to each with prerequisites and necessities it required. At this stage, we missed that the independence stage as it were, has to be preceded and preconditioned by the emancipation stage. It is at this first stage of freedom wherein the remnant of oppression within us is to be defined, identified and eradicated completely. It is often not material but ethereal in nature. From the Bible, with special reference to the book of Exodus, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt but struggled without success to take Egypt out of them. Through the desert experience, it became evident that Egypt was never taken out of Israelites. As a result, the overwhelming majority of Israelites, including Moses, did not make it to the promised land. Even the generations which made, according to the book of Judges, had perpetual struggles with oppressions of different kinds whose sole cause was traceable to Egypt. The foundation for their freedom was shaky and incomplete — they had not dealt with the Egypt in them.
Similarly, we in South Africa have somewhat skipped the phase of dealing with the apartheid in us. We may have dealt with the apartheid institutionalised in the public systems but we have undermined, deliberately or otherwise, the possibility that by 1994, apartheid may have already transcended its conventional locus — it may have been located intrinsically within ourselves and through a psycho-spiritual osmosis, transferred into our very core. Part of the main reasons for this fatality is that we have overlooked the criticality of our spirituality, the spirituality that informed the anti-apartheid struggle of leaders such as Albert Mvimbi Luthuli and later on, younger leaders such as Frank Chikane.
Instead of building onto it we nullified its revolutionary orientation and dismissed its transformational impact. As a result, we did not introspect as to how much of apartheid was trapped within ourselves, particularly in terms of the spirituality and the mentality. One of the characteristics indicative of the apartheid demon’s effect in us is that we have become driven by the “hatred-against” impetus instead of the “love-for” impetus. It is not surprising that even when apartheid is officialised away, we cannot love the poor among us as we love ourselves.
To illustrate this point, currently as it has been tradition even before 1994, the economic gap between the poor and the rich has been widening. Recently we have even superseded that of Brazil — how come? The dignity of the poor in our hospitals has been incrementally degraded to an extent of human debasement — how come? The education of the poor has been incrementally ravaged by the fierce contestation for political power and economic resources between government and labour, the department of basic education and the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union in particular. This contestation has been perpetuated at the expense, impoverishment and marginalisation of the poor.
These labour strikes in education though legal, are technically incorrect and morally wrong. They reinforce the apartheid’s historical trends and establishments in that, only former black schools are consistently disrupted to the very core. The former coloured, former white and former Indian schools never get disrupted as much and these are schools wherein the children of teachers in former black schools attend without fail. This means that in the current and future scenarios as it has been historically, the majority of the South African poor, will perpetually toil tirelessly in the widening gyre of oppression, it be economic or otherwise.
The bitter truth is that, on one hand, the viability of South African markets can only be sustained primarily by a significantly educated workforce but the reality is that, on the other hand, in the near future as it has already begun, the poor who still constitute the majority in this country will fail to compete for jobs in the domestic economy and the fewer that will be absorbed, will fail to compete for leadership especially in critical occupations. The racial imbalance in this regard, will still be maintained.
The historical fact is that education, at the micro level, is the only way through which the majority of individuals and families can cut and curb the vicious cycle of oppression and at a macro level, it is the only backbone for the lasting sustenance, development and growth of an economy such as ours. The acculturation of labour strikes, whatever the cause, is systematically sacrificing the future of this country and her people, especially the poor, at the altar of a cyclical oppression. This oppression is intertwined with and reciprocated by, among others, illiteracy, HIV and Aids, premature pregnancies, prostitution, armed crime, break-down of marriages and family structures, gender inequality, abject poverty and the slow down and regress of economic development.
As it may be too late already, as a matter of urgency and critical importance, the education provision service by teachers must be categorised as an essential service and government must, readjust her approach to teacher remuneration, capacity building and leadership. Also, we as parents, youth, churches and business should transform the way we approach our conceptualisation, responsibility and accountability in education. We must unite to improve and mainstream our contribution and at the same time, intensify the demand for a structural and consistent justice, peace and progress in the education system.
However, the turnaround of the system is impossible without the spiritual revolution and intellectual transformation of the system. The first phase of freedom is emancipation but the first step of emancipation is spiritual rekindling. It is through a spiritual rekindling that a spiritual introspection is possible. Spiritual introspection affords one an opportunity to critique oneself prior to being critiqued by others — this is the highest standard and moral of constructive criticism.
In the desert Moses could not take out the Egypt in the Israelites because Egypt had already killed the spirituality of Israelites. Israelites needed a spiritual resurrection before they could actualise the releasing of Egypt trapped in them. Similarly, our education system needs a spiritual redemption in order to disengage the apartheid spirituality in itself and allow the conscience, consciousness and intellectuality to precipitate self-reflection, re-organisation and actualisation.
No material condition is possible and sufficient for teachers to teach, only the spiritual revolution, intellectual transformation and emotional transcendence can fulfil these three needs aforementioned. This is a three-pronged premise onto which political, economic, social, technological, environment and legal development can anchor and unleash true freedom.