Xenophobia not the solution Don’t cut off the nose to spite the face

NEWLY ELECTED UNISA chancellor Thabo Mbeki has raised grave concerns over recent xenophobic attacks, warning that none of the country’s problems will be solved by attacking immigrants.  Last week violence erupted in Tshwane during an anti-immigrant march, where foreign-owned shops were looted and police had to intervene. Mbeki was inaugurated on Monday at UNISA’s main campus in Pretoria. He says he is concerned about the events that took place last week.  We reproduce part of his speech in which he implored South Africans not to forget the enormous sacrifices that were made by the people of Africa to help the country achieve its liberation. Read on

By Thabo Mbeki

I have cited comments about the vital role of higher education in the effort to achieve Africa’s development imperatives to emphasise the point with which I agree that everything should indeed be done in our country to ensure that this sector discharges its responsibilities in a sustainable manner.

It is in this context that we must express our appreciation and understanding of the actions taken by our university students in the context of their #Rhodes Must Fall and #Fees Must Fall campaigns, without approving the completely unnecessary and counter-productive violence and destruction of university property which occurred during these campaigns.

Needless to say, the student movement and our society as a whole must decisively turn its back on forms of protest rooted in the logic of “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face” as illustrated by a plethora of incidents in which we burn down clinics to demand better health care, or destroy lecture rooms because we want free education, or lay whole schools to ruin because we do not like a proposed municipal or provincial boundary.

However, before I conclude I will return to this matter of student activism in the context of our national historic tasks.

I would now like to advance some general propositions.

One of these is that I hold firmly to the view that as Africans we have a shared responsibility to strive continuously, whatever the challenges, to achieve the renaissance of Africa.

As all of us know, literally the word ‘renaissance’ means ‘rebirth’.

For us as citizens of Africa, of which South Africans are a component part, that renaissance means eradicating the legacy of centuries, and perhaps a millennium, of a demeaning European perception of Africa and Africans, as well as the stubborn material and subjective consequences of slavery, imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism.

The eradication of that legacy necessarily means the corollary possibility to construct something new, such that as Africans we define ourselves according to our image of ourselves, exercising our inalienable right to self-determination.

Thus would we, among others, visualise our Continent as one at peace within itself and with the rest of the world, free to determine its destiny, internally empowered to allow the people to govern, to put in place programmes to eradicate the scourges of poverty and underdevelopment, to define the African identity through respect for our history, languages, cultures and arts, and to secure Africa’s place as an equal among the nations and Continents.

It is the achievement of all this and more which would contribute to Africa’s renaissance.

In the context of everything I have said, I must express my grave concern at events which took place in this city last week in the context of what was reported as “an anti-immigrant march”.

As South Africans, we should never forget the enormous sacrifices that were made by our sister peoples throughout the continent to help us achieve our liberation and cannot now behave in a manner with which treats these other fellow Africans who are now resident in our country as enemies or unwelcome guests.

Neither should we commit the offence of viewing or characterising the African migrants in our country as criminals.

When our communities discover or suspect criminal activity in their areas, regardless of the nationality of the alleged criminal or criminals, they must report this to the police service. The police service itself has an absolute obligation to follow up on these community reports, thus to avoid the people taking the law into their hands.

All of us know that our country faces many socio-economic challenges such as poverty and unemployment. Not even one of these problems can or will be solved by attacking fellow Africans who have joined us as migrants.

Those who organise and participate in these attacks, which must stop, should know that there is absolutely nothing revolutionary, progressive, patriotic, acceptable or of service to the people in what are in fact criminal activities.

Earlier I detailed some objectives we must pursue to achieve Africa’s renaissance.

I believe that it is obvious that none of these can be achieved without the determined, sustained and committed input of an African intelligentsia.

Put simply, this means that the African universities, including UNISA, have a special responsibility to strive to occupy the front trenches in terms of producing the ideas and knowledge, cadres and activists who will drive Africa’s effort to realise that renaissance.

It is exactly in this context that the UNISA Vision – Towards the African University in the Service of Humanity – assumes particular importance.

I am certain that many of us present here today will recall the important statements made by our Vice-Chancellor and Principal Prof Mandla Makhanya during his investiture in 2011 concerning this important matter of being an African University, that:

“When it comes to Africanisation, the development of globally relevant education is particularly important, because the negation and discounting of one’s humanity, contexts, peoples, creativity, inventions, technologies, languages, sciences, achievements and struggles, is antithetical to development and denudes lives of their dignity and existence. Africanisation is about engendering education that is completely relevant within the context in which UNISA exists and in which it provides education. This implies that whilst UNISA will remain committed to the diversity of knowledge systems evolving and deriving from the global context and global communities of knowledge, Africanisation will foreground its ethos, work and praxis. Africanisation thus constitutes one of the key ontological expressions of UNISA’s culture…”

As all of us would know, or at least guess, there has of course been much discussion among the educationists about what exactly this Africanisation means and therefore what would constitute an African University.

For instance, in his instructive 2010 paper, ‘Some Reflections on the Africanisation of Higher Education Curricula: A South African Case Study’, UNISA’s own Prof Paul Prinsloo cites Joseph Mensah as having said, among others, that:

“The African curriculum should in the first place arise from, and contribute to African canons of knowledge and praxis, not as exclusionary and opposing Western canons, but as equally worthy and scientifically rigorous and valid…, and,

“An African curriculum has to do with the manner in which the curriculum encourages students to apply their learning to the unique challenges they face in their local communities impacted by global changes. How does an African curriculum allow students to use a language of possibilities (Freire 1989); growing out of cultures of blaming and dependencies to become active participants in pedagogies of rage and hope, critique and possibility? (Hoppers 2001; Giroux 2002).”

For his part, in his 2004 paper on “African Academics and African Universities in the Twenty-First Century: Needs and Responsibilities”,

Emeritus Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones of the University of Sierra Leone said:

“(The) division between the privileged and the under-privileged (in Africa) has resulted in social and political instability which is bound to continue as long as a significant section of society is left out of the full participation for and enjoyment of the benefits of development.

“What then are some of these challenges that our academics must face if they are to fulfil their role in the surrounding society?

They are to produce men and women who in addition to their particular skills as scientists, engineers, teachers, social workers, priests, artists etc., must be sufficiently aware and committed to eradicating this social scourge…

“Our aim in teaching should be to produce men and women who are both critical and creative. Our students should be encouraged to be thinkers and doers rather than accumulators of facts and received knowledge.

This must be so if they are to be instruments of change, working towards the realisation of a just and consequently, stable society.”

I believe that the point made by Prof Jones that the African University should encourage students “to be thinkers and doers rather than accumulators of facts and received knowledge” is very important because it speaks to the challenge for our universities to educate the change agents, the producers of new knowledge which Africa needs.

As the educators among us know, the very concept – to be educated – as it applies to University graduates, surely means the acquisition of the vital capacity rationally to question established truths, rather than being merely “accumulators of facts and received knowledge”.

If I may, in this regard, I would like to cite the eminent scientists, Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, outstanding creators of new knowledge in the 20th century and winners of the Nobel Prize in the sciences.

Einstein said: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.

Never lose a holy curiosity.”

He also said: “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as judge in the field of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods…Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”

Bohr advised that “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

In his 2011 Investiture Address Vice-Chancellor Makhanya cited comments that had been made by Prof Paul Zeleza in which he said:

“I dream of truly decolonised, democratised, and decentralised African universities that are autonomous yet accountable, committed to the pursuit of intellectual excellence yet rooted in their communities, effectively managed internally yet working closely with all stakeholders; universities that are Africanised in their staffing, values, pedagogy, epistemologies, and instructional languages, yet are capable of competing globally, contributing to the global pool of knowledge, and responding quickly and effectively to global changes and emerging local needs; universities that attract students and faculty from across the continent and the diasporas, and that participate in extensive academic exchanges with universities in other parts of the world; universities that provide inclusive education…”

In 2010 I was privileged to address a Summit Meeting of African Student Leaders who had asked me to speak on the topic – “The role of Africa’s student leaders in developing the African Continent.”

On this occasion I referred to the comments made by the Ghanaian novelist and thinker, Ayi Kwei Armah, who had said during the same year, 2010, that:

“To wake up from (the) spell (of Eurocentrism) and remake our society and our continent, Africans will have to retrieve our suppressed ability to conceive of our wholeness in both spatial and temporal terms;…we can begin doing this by rearticulating our dismembered society and remembering our suppressed history, philosophy, culture, science and arts;…for this awakening, all necessary intellectual information exists here and now, though in scattered form;…it requires the work of groups of determined researchers to bring it together, to process it, and to make it widely available in forms accessible to all – these being the requisite preparations for Africa’s intellectual awakening.” (New African: February 1, 2010.)

I then went on to say to the African student leaders and I repeat this today addressing more than the students:

“The regenerated African university must be the principal driver of that intellectual awakening, which awakening will empower the peoples of Africa to remake our societies and our Continent.

You, our student leaders and the students you lead, must, through your actions, place yourselves among the principal architects of the new African university.

“Were you to succeed in this historic task of the renewal of the African university, with the benefits that would flow from this, all of us would rise and sound an ovation that would reverberate across the oceans, proclaiming that you, our student leaders, had succeeded to lay the foundations for Africa at last to rebuild Carthage, more than two millennia after the Roman Senator, Cato the Elder, declared that it must be destroyed and with its destruction, that Africa should be attached to the rest of the world as a hapless appendage.”

Thus it is that the historic and therefore strategic task we face as a University community is to join hands as the Council, Management, Professors, Lecturers and Researchers, students and workers together to respond to the call made by Ayi Kwei Armah “To wake up from (the) spell (of Eurocentrism) and remake our society and our continent…”

I thank you for your attention.

March 2017
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