POLITICIAN Smuts Ngonyama had to rely entirely on research assistants to make sure his master’s thesis on young people’s views on the creation of common national identity was accurate and balanced.
COPE acting deputy president and former ANC spokesman Ngonyama received his Master of Philosophy in South African Politics and Political Economy degree from NMMU yesterday.
His paper was titled Construction of Common National Identity in South Africa, with the special focus on those born in 1990, also referred to as the Born Frees.
Ngonyama said yesterday he had not wanted his political position to intimidate respondents and, as a result, influence the outcome of his research. That was why he had relied on research assistants.
“They were brutal in answering questions. They were a tough lot,” he said.
“They questioned what race had to do with their studies. Why tick a box to identify yourself as coloured, white or another race group.
“They feel we are trying to pass our anger and divisions onto them.”
Ngonyama explored whether South Africa was truly a rainbow nation and whether, with the country’s “beleaguering past we have managed to do away with it [apartheid]”.
He said those he interviewed – from Western Cape schools – felt it was important to address imbalances. But they questioned affirmative action and black economic empowerment and preferred to be “regarded as a person with his or her own capabilities, who can compete against anybody, regardless of race”.
“They [Born Frees] are much more united than us and become angry when we divide them. People born in the 1990s do not share the enmity that’s still so much with the older generation.
“They want to be regarded as one nation, as South Africans,” he said.
The 61-year-old Uitenhage-based politician says he is passionate about education and has encouraged his children to study.
Eldest son Khanya, 31, has a degree in microbiology from the UK’s University of Surrey, and Qhawe, 27, is studying towards a BA Communications in Johannesburg.
His only daughter, Namhla, 22, graduated with a Diploma in Industrial Engineering from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town, while Sigqido, 22, is studying music at NMMU.