“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela
Dear Mr President. I imagine that the African National Congress is scrambling, like many others, to appropriate and monopolise on Mandela’s legacy. His legacy is important to the ANC, and it should be.
Mandela is a symbol of the ANC’s 85-or-so years of excellence. He is a symbol of resilience, commitment and unconditional sacrifice for the greater good of the community. It was those qualities that delivered South Africans (black and white) from the brutally-oppressive apartheid machinery.
You would have recognised by now, Mr President, that the task of appropriating Mandela’s legacy is becoming increasingly difficult. The ANC is consistently being divorced from Mandela’s ideals. In the minds of the people, “the ANC of today” is radically different from “Mandela’s ANC”.
In the months leading up to elections you will find this task even more challenging. It will seem callous to use Mandela’s likeness for mere electioneering. And it is probably in your interest not to associate a world statesman like Mandela with an organisation on the verge of self-destruction.
Fortunately, Mr President, it is within your power (and aptitude) to salvage the great party. If you do this right, you won’t have to chase after Mandela’s legacy, it will chase after you.
There is a simple yet powerful story behind Mandela the man. He was given an education and a clear vision of his service to his people, his community and the nation.
Mandela’s education was not linear learning of book material, it was multifold. He was among the early generations of educated blacks; they were encouraged to strive for excellence. Beyond excellence, they were encouraged by elders to make their education an integral part of their service to the people of South Africa.
I suggest to you Mr President that we should take a leaf from this book and use it to hatch a new plan; a new vision for South Africa. Let’s call this plan “The Mandela Legacy Plan”. The plan will have five layers. I describe them briefly below.
1. Prioritise education infrastructure. If you look at the schools where Mandela was educated (Clarkebury and Healdtown), they were embarrassingly better than the mud schools in the Eastern Cape where our government sends our learners today. Those schools had libraries, water, sanitation, accommodation facilities and highly-qualified teachers. So let us take a chunk from the infrastructure development budget and use it to make sure that, within a space of five years, every public school in South Africa has all those basic facilities.
2. Change the curriculum. Over the past 20 years, our curriculum has been watered down. To compensate for the lack of quality teaching, your government and that of your predecessor decided to reduce academic demands so more students can matriculate.
Instead of a farcical outcomes-based education, make basic education compulsory. Maths, science, history and geography must form the core of the curriculum. All learners must pass these subjects on the same level. Those learners who struggle must get assistance, until they pass. Lowering requirements does not increase the standard of education.
3. Introduce value-based education. The Constitution is undeniably the ANC’s greatest achievement. This commanding document is a tangible outcome of the blood and sweat of your comrades. Independence would have been meaningless without the values now entrenched in the Constitution and the rights entrenched in the Bill of Rights. Yet, paper rights are meaningless if people cannot exercise them. Learners must be taught about the Constitution from an early age, in order to internalise its values. Every child should be able to recite the founding values by the time he or she is 10. The Bill of Rights must acquire a prominent slot in the basic education curriculum. This will encourage children to think creatively about socio-economic challenges facing our country.
4. Establish community colleges. Universities are not for everyone. For that reason, our country has an incredibly high university drop-out rate. Public universities are expensive for the state to run. Also, the poor quality of our basic public school education puts poorer learners in a perpetual disadvantage when they have to compete with their middle-class counterparts. Therefore, while skills-intensive (university) training is good for the economy, we also need labour-intensive (college) training to bolster our manufacturing and agricultural sectors and to absorb those who cannot afford university. Let us encourage students to attend cheaper training-based community colleges, instead of making university the only institutions of higher learning.
5. Subsidise youth employment. As day follows night, young people are the future of the nation. We can gauge our future by the type of skills and training we provide to our youth. What is most discouraging for our young people is the un-ending tunnel of darkness and uncertainly. A young person who does well in school should not face unemployment post-high school simply because he or she cannot afford university. A young person who qualifies with a diploma or degree should not spend years at home unemployed simply because he or she has the “wrong type” of qualification.
Subsidising youth employment means getting the youth thinking creatively about their futures. It means getting the youth off the streets, reducing petty crimes and increasing economic participation. To successfully implement a youth wage subsidy, you will need to take on your comrades at Cosatu. There is nothing divisive about such constructive disagreement. Put yourself in Mandela’s shoes in the early 1990s: How did he successfully convince his comrades to continue negotiations with the apartheid government?
This Mr President must be your new plan to preserve Mandela’s legacy and further his vision for our nation and its youth.