When Siyabuswa, a township in Mpumalanga, was thrust into the nation’s consciousness during what has come to be known as service delivery protests, the locals’ conduct wasn’t exactly new. We had seen the likes of Khutsong going up in flames some three years back. However, it was the news of the torching of a library in Siyabuswa that set it apart from all preceding protests. So, recently, in the City Press, a youth of the said township was quoted as saying “this building(referring to the burned library) should be turned into a tavern as there’s no hope it will be a library again.” Why would a young person see it more productive to have a drinking spot replace what ought to be a reservoir of information, other than the feeling of disempowerment as far as the social contract between the governing party and its electorates is concerned. More importantly, and perhaps of graver concern, the youth’s nonchalant recommendation regarding the tavern speaks to a lack of awareness. To be aware is, in the simplest terms, to know, to be conscious.
Something must’ve gone terribly wrong for a young person to think that another liquor place would better serve the community than a library. Can the audacity to reduce to ashes, what ought to be an information hub of a community, be seen as a lack of consciousness and foresight on the part of the arsonists? We may not know who profits from such a heinous act but I think we can guess who doesn’t benefit from it. Regardless of how under resourced a library may be, it still stands a better chance at producing a critical thinker than a tavern. When people are aware of their surroundings they are able to act, or react, in a manner that suits the situation. When the Black Consciousness Movement of swept across South Africa, it had been against the backdrop of what historians have termed the ‘political lull’ because of the lack of political activity as a result of the banning of the African National Congress, Communist Party of South Africa and the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania. The Black Consciousness Movement led by amongst others Dr Mamphele Ramphele, Prof Barney Pityana, Strini Moodley and Steve Biko, realized that they were dealing with people who’d lost their self-esteem and self-worth and were practically unconscious of their legitimate status as member of humanity. So, the BCM, inspired by the winds of change that were blowing from Dakar to Maputo and Black Power movement in the diaspora, said “Black Is Beautiful!” as a way of destroying the negative perception that had been fed to blacks, Africans, Indians and coloured, about their history. While delivering the fourth annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture, the world acclaimed Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiongo, said: “Within the overall context of economic and political domination, race could and was and is often used as a means of diminishing the self-evaluation of the dominated. In that context, racial self-assertion was a necessary first step in the reclamation of a positive self-awareness. A person without a consciousness of his Being in the World, to use the Heideggardian phrase, is lost and can easily be guided by another to wherever the guide wants to take him, even to his own extinction.”
Would one be jumping the gun in linking the latter part of wa Thiongo’s message to the young person in Siyabuswa? I think wa Thiongo’s sentiments ought to resonate with us. Can you wake up tomorrow and open your own tavern in suburbia of George, Waterkloof, Three Rivers East or Hyde Park? If you can’t, why, then, can you effortlessly do the same in Kwa-Mashu, Kagiso, Botsabelo and Khayelitsha? Are the double standards of local municipalities’ enforcement of by-laws a tacit endorsement of the Aparthied era policies of purposefully allowing for the proliferation of shebeens all over townships with the intention of subduing inhabitants of those surroundings? An aware person has to ask these questions every now and then. Consciousness Magazine, as a publication that prides itself as a platform that engenders critical thinking, has to be more aggressive in its pursuit of publicizing ideas that may not necessarily find space on the mainstream pages. In doing so, the publication may find itself, if it hasn’t already, being somewhat of a ‘pariah’ of sorts. But uncomfortable questions about the lax approach to enforcement of by-laws in the townships of South Africa ought to be asked even if they may upset the political establishment. As others’ surroundings decay further into hell zones, who gets the rewards from that at the end of the day? Quoting Edward Said, the writer and political analyst, Ronald Suresh Roberts, in The Thinker published piece, “The Thinker (is, and ought to be, a “conscious pariah”.), says “Nothing,” (Hannah) Arendt’s Palestinian fellow spirit, Edward Said writes in Representations of The Intellectual (1993), is more reprehensible, “than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take.”
Said’s words ought to guide Consciousness Magazine as it seeks to reinvigorate itself and its pursuit for links between scores of young people from Phoenix, Mitchelsplein, Joza and Evaton who are languishing behind bars and incoherent family structures. It’s true that the individual is ultimately responsible for their own life but when the said individual isn’t guided properly through the, usually, murky and harsh waters of reality they may be overwhelmed. It’s the disempowered young people that messages of publications like the Consciousness Magazine ought to reach because when one is better informed, in other words conscious, one is better placed to make a complimenting choice. But when one is in the dark, so to speak, one is most likely to act based on that which they know and it may not be much. The Social Development ministry recently released figures about teenage pregnancy and the most hit of all the teenaged mothers were black and coloured. This, again, speaks to the need of a more concerted effort to make both the boy and girl child aware of the challenges of parenthood. Although having a child at an early age isn’t a train smash, it ought to be avoided at all costs. We can’t just say “these children they aren’t supposed to do that”. But what of those who don’t? And the responsibilities of parenthood sadly almost end up being shouldered by the teenaged mother.
The five-year-old Consciousness Magazine has its work cut out as it seeks to be a literary inspiration especially to the young people whose spirits may be have crushed by the experiences of life thus far. To destroy the spirit is essentially to kill a person, put differently to lose consciousness. But the spirit has been known to be stubborn even in the face of what seems the most insurmountable of circumstances. The quest for consciousness is process that is without end because to be aware doesn’t have limits as long as there’s room to learn. And there’s always room for that.