Creation of a neo-colonial state
At the weekend I observed the 39th anniversary of the assassination of the prominent black professor of history from the Caribbean, Walter Rodney, who obtained his PhD in African history at the age of 24 from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
At the weekend I also observed the anniversary of the death of more than 70 black people killed by white people employed as police by the apartheid government, for protesting against pass laws 59 years ago, in a township that is currently known as Sharpeville.
To put a sleeping tablet on our black memory with the hope of ultimately erasing it, the post-apartheid state that enforced the principles of reconciliation and non-racialism on black people decided to name that day as Human Rights Day.
My observation of these two important events in our black memory brought me to the pressing questions that Rodney raised on the quality and form of education in his great intellectual work called How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, published in 1973.
Going through that book would make one think that he was still with us and he asked those questions only yesterday.
I will place my focus on just two of the current challenges that engulf the higher education sector.
Students, especially the black youth who are the grandchildren of the proletarianised people who were killed in Sharpeville, demanded an introduction of free education and decolonisation of institutional cultures in universities.
In response, the neo-colonial state put forward NSFAS grants that should be received by students who came from a family that earned an annual income below R350,000.
The response to the decolonisation of institutional cultures has been left in the hands of individual universities, who currently cannot point at practical actions they have taken to resolve this question.
I call it a neo-colonial state because although colonialism has formally ended, its social, political, cultural and economic power structures are still entrenched, visible and sophistically reproduced in the current order of our society.
Therefore, although the state is constituted by our electoral participation, its daily practices on health, education, the proceeds of our mineral wealth and land ownership still resemble the colonial patterns of white masculine privilege and black subjugation.
The curriculum in our universities still teaches our youth about European economies and it imparts an individualistic culture of personal accumulation.
The fabric of the education is attached to the fundamentals of consumption in the market wherein the quality and value of a person’s qualification are measured by the monthly instalment of the car that person will qualify for from the wages he or she will earn in his or her first job.
Culturally, it is still possible in our universities for a black person to complete his or her four-year degree without his or her African name ever being pronounced properly by his or her white lecturers.
The language of learning, research and teaching is not the home language of the numerical majority of the population enrolled in universities.
In addition, one is likely to write an entire master’s thesis about Sharpeville without referencing any African scholar yet still pass that master’s with a distinction.
The education that one obtains from these universities cannot be applied to the socio-economic problems facing their communities such as Zwide because the bulk of the curriculum was framed around knowing the innovative and technological prestige of London, Madrid and New York, and the chronic diseases of Harare and Mogadishu.
The neo-colonial state is pouring money into these universities through NSFAS without having an economic plan.
Minister Naledi Pandor announced a R1bn injection into a system that keeps producing honours degree graduates who are unemployable.
Our neo-liberal economy is structured in a “qualification inflation” model wherein an entry-level job that was done by a person with a matric in 2001 now requires a person to have a master’s degree to qualify for it, unless one is structurally lucky to be a son of the Van Zyls who will inherit their insurance company.
Requiring a family income of R350,000 for one to qualify for a NSFAS grant shows how trapped the neo-colonial state is on capitalism.
Financial requirements for a public education are placed on the individual low wages of the working class.
This is instead of the state shifting its governance systems to progressively focus on how much of the corporate profits derived from the wealth of the country’s resources could be used to educate a nation without any pressure being applied to the low wages of the very same citizens who create this country’s wealth.
An education whose funding is premised on the consumption value of an individual’s wages through loans is a demonstration of a state that is occupied by a leadership that advances right-wing neo-liberal policy positions.
The consistent bucketing of billions of rands into a culturally alienating and low performing undergraduate system administered by unregulated universities who set their own fees according to the market is also a policy position that Rodney would have labelled “an education for underdevelopment”.
Pedro Mzileni is a PhD sociology candidate at Nelson Mandela University.