By now it is a matter of history that a painting, The Spear, of Brett Murray’s exhibition “The Thieve II” got the nation talking; a newspaper almost boycotted; the painting itself defaced and also led to a march by the ‘revolutionary’ forces of the republic in defence of President Zuma’s dignity, by extension that of the entire African population. Now, I’ve got nothing against a Gwede Mantashe, Dr Blade Nzimande or even a Zwelinzima Vavi protesting against what they perceive as an attack on Africans’ dignity as represented in Murray’s work. But I do have a huge problem when the selective protest of the aforementioned secretary generals of the African National Congress; South African Communist Party and Congress of South African Trade Unions respectively lead to one believing that others’ dignities are more sacrosanct than others. I say this because there wasn’t, until much later, as much as a word from the ‘revolutionary’ forces and ‘vanguards’ of workers’ interests regarding the lack of delivery of textbooks to certain schools in the Limpopo Province despite the fact that we are at the halfway mark of the academic calendar.
Didn’t the non delivery of textbooks constitute as much an assault on the dignity of the African child as it supposedly did that of the first citizen? Didn’t such a disservice to the affected children warrant as much a spectacle and outrage as the one we witnessed around the Goodman Gallery in the wake of the exhibition, or is the ability to insult Africans’ dignity the exclusive preserve of whites? It’s utterly shameful and a tragic irony that while the governing ANC’s centenary touch makes its way across the country, the flame of quality education battles the gale force winds of tenderpreneurship and shoddy services. But what’s with this sudden consternation at the news that books weren’t delivered on time schools in the township and rural areas? The Limpopo textbook debacle rose to prominence thanks to the efforts of civil society organisation, Section 27, deciding to haul the department of education before the courts for its failure to fulfil its constitutional imperative of providing quality education to the children of that province. How many schools are there in districts that are so far flung from the reaches of Section 27 and whose children don’t have learning material or adequate learning structures for the effective right to education to be realized? The people who sit in tender committees that decide which service provider is to get a government contract to deliver educational materials must be made aware that education is the very engine room of human development and that the forsaking of quality at the alter of political loyalty will eventually add up to a sum quantified by social instability and degradation. Where do we think the many youths who feel failed by our school system end up? Is it not the children in underdeveloped surroundings that smoke nyaope; tik; whoonga and all manner of toxic and destructive substances? Are they not the same people we see rejuvenate the prison inmates statistic with their prime years? It wouldn’t be far fetched to suggest that an unfavourable education machinery has to take its lion’s share of the blame for young people that fall through its cracks that will grow into gapping holes when the proverbial chickens come home to roost.
A City Press editorial put it aptly when it said this on the textbook matter: “Under apartheid, millions of South Africans, particularly black South Africans, went to schools where the provision of books was a hit and miss affair. While unacceptable, it was expected of a government whose stated intention and unequivocal policy was to create a mass of workers who would be no more than hewers of wood and drawers of waters.” The frank editorial went further to say “At the current rate, South Africans will once more be reduced to hewers of wood and drawers of waters. This time it is happening under the watch of a popularly elected, former liberation army. It is a crisis.”
The ministry of education was at pains to explain that it’s not its responsibility to purchase and supply textbooks to schools. Be that as it may but it offers little comfort to the scores of African children whose futures are seemingly made collateral damage in the grander schemes of political patronage. Whether it was a district manager; member of the executive committee or even the minister of education who was supposed to ensure that books are available is irrelevant, it remains a fact that this counter revolutionary non delivery of books happened while the governing party was going on about its “100 years of selfless struggle”. Heart wrenching and tear-jerking narratives of the Struggle, as important as they are, will never deliver on electoral mandates instead they, the narratives, will be rendered redundant should the trajectory of substandard service not only the education sector but also in the public health sphere and other government components continues while tenderpreneurs cash undue rewards without bating an eye lid.
For every young person, especially the African, who isn’t able to finish the basic schooling system because a promised school never saw the light of day; textbooks weren’t delivered; a library was never built within their vicinity or because a teacher nonchalantly performed his or her duties means we must realize that there equally eager and unscrupulous forces of the underworld who are willing and able to entice the young to join their ranks. An ineffective education machinery is a tacit approval of lawlessness; a betrayal of constitutional ideals and most importantly an assault on the dignity of younger citizens, the kind of dignity that the leaders of our ‘revolutionary’ forces seem to think doesn’t, unlike that of the president, warrant a protest in its defence.