It is not clear whether Solidarity’s decision to establish an Afrikaans university is aimed at exclusion or building a more inclusive society. That said, a community building its own institutions is without doubt the best way to express patriotism, writes Ralph Mathekga.
Some of the best developments in our society will be brought
by those we suspect have the most sinister intentions. This saying, which I
heard somewhere, summarises the story of human development; a series of
accidents and innovations, some of which were not well intended, ultimately
finding their way into good hands. The ultimate end becomes the betterment of
I can give an example of the innovations that came through
the military, with the aim to fulfil the task of what militaries are there for,
namely, to kill or neutralise the enemy. Some of those innovations have become
part and parcel of civilian life in an astonishing manner. The internet is a
good example of such a development, having originated in the military.
When it comes to human development, at times innovation is
not backed by good intentions. The intentions can be sinister. Yet, such
innovation can evolve or grow beyond its original intention to become a
catalyst for development in society.
In real life situations however, it is never easy to tell if
the intention behind the innovation is outright sinister. There may be doubts
across the society about the intention of the innovator. The doubts can be
formed because of the past behaviour of the innovator. Yet, those cases are
often difficult to resolve because they are political in nature and they do not
really involve an assessment of facts at hand. Facts only speak in context, and
the context is always political.
It is from this position that I want to look at Solidarity’s
decision to build an Afrikaans medium university. I want to give this question
the respect it deserves because it is a complicated matter that should not be
simplified into a YES or NO response.
Firstly, I find it very innovative of Solidarity to initiate
the project of building a university by sourcing funds from concerned communities.
I believe that this model is the future of development in society; communities
taking responsibility for their own development and committing to such
projects. If communities take responsibility for their infrastructure, they
will ensure that those facilities are managed properly.
I completed my primary and secondary education in the oddly
named village of My-Darling, in Bochum, Limpopo. Both the primary and secondary
schools I attended were built by small funds collected from the community in
Days were set aside by the community to go prepare bricks
for extensions of the schools in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Those who did
not show up at the community works programme were fined a small amount. The
money was collected to build a secondary school in the village. We no longer had
to walk to another village to attend a secondary school.
I matriculated from the school built by the community,
meeting government halfway. Our parents were very much engaged in the
decision-making processes of the school because they built it with their own efforts.
Government provided teachers and the parents ensured that the school ran
After 1994 communities were told that they no longer had to
pay school fees since government was coming up with a fee-free school. A new
beautiful block was then built by government in my old high school started by
the community. The community began to disengage with the affairs of the school
as local government councillors sank their teeth into community structures.
Things did not go very well, as we all know.
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With this history at the back of my mind, I am of the view
that when communities build their own infrastructure, the society thrives. Part
of me wants to see Solidarity’s innovation in this manner; efforts by the
community showing that they are engaged with their surroundings and they want to
do something about it. I often imagine where the community of My-Darling would
be had they not stopped in 1994 and carried on and built a technical college.
We would be far as a community, as a society, and as a nation.
Whatever the reason behind Solidarity’s move, some communities
such as those who were ignored by the state during apartheid did exactly what the
trade union is trying to do today. It is not clear whether Solidarity’s
decision to make the medium of instruction at their university Afrikaans is aimed
at exclusion or building a more inclusive society. That said, the model of a
community building its own institutions is without doubt the best way to
Such a model should be emulated by other communities. Perhaps
we ought to wait and see how Solidarity’s university will operate and how it
will contribute to the national dialogue. In the meantime, the idea of
communities building their own educational infrastructure should be welcomed.
– Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa’s Turn.
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