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It is an indubitable fact that children are the future of every society and that securing their future is at the heart of the survival of societies. One way to guarantee this future is through the right to education, recognised as vital to other aspects of a child’s life: food, clothes, shelter, health care, sanitation, and safety. Over the years, however, the importance of this aspect of children’s rights has continued to dwindle, plunging the future of South Africa into precariousness and uncertainty.
This CAI paper takes its cue from the ideology of Black Consciousness, as heralded by Steve Biko (1956 – 1977) and the South African Students Organisation (SASO) group, and acted out pragmatically in the Soweto uprising led by the Soweto African Students’ Movement (SASM) on 16 June 1976. This discussion is situated within contemporary discourse around the right to education and within the context of the Soweto uprising, as one of the bravest acts of defiance against the sophisticated racist apartheid system and its unequal educational system designed to subjugate ‘Blacks’ forever. Indeed, the condition of education at the grassroots level continues to raise questions concerning the ability of the Black Consciousness ideology to enhance the emergence of ‘Blacks’ who are conscious of the uniqueness of their existence and identity – something that remains intrinsically obscured within an educational system that is but a shadow of what it is meant to be. The imperative to improve the quality of education and to destroy all barriers against effective and wholesome self-actualisation in South Africa remains solemn. The drive for solidarity in the deconstruction and unseating of all forces designed to continue the repression and denigration of black people is key to this project.
The core of this CAI paper questions the extent to which this Black Consciousness goal is achieved and argues that its achievement depends on the extent to which rights and access to quality education is recognised in South Africa.
Black Consciousness – a politico-philosophical and historical ideology
The ideology of Black Consciousness owes its roots to the SASO, formed in 1968 through Biko and his cohorts who were by then dissatisfied with the unequal relationships that characterised the different multiracial groups involved in the anti-apartheid rhetoric – mainly the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and the University Christian Movement (UCM). Premised on the idea that the “... history of South Africa can be viewed as the history of black resistance to white conquest and white domination.... The forms of ... resistance were determined by changes in African needs and consciousness, and by the transformations in the economic and political systems.”(2) The ideology of Black Consciousness finds its place in this understanding and works to make Africans the masters of their own thought processes and development – this is clear in the famous saying ‘Black Man you are on their own’.
Black Consciousness involves both psychological and physical liberation from an apartheid structure that has plunged black people into self-hate, low self-esteem and perceived inferiority through an attack on everything African – education, history, values and beliefs. It is within this context that Biko insisted that being “black is not [just] a matter of pigmentation [but] the reflection of a mental attitude ... [because] mainly describing yourself as black, you have started on the road to emancipation. You have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being.”(3)
This animates that description of Black Consciousness as “the realisation by the black man of a need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.”(4) It is clear that in “recognising that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed, Biko was speaking of the needed self-liberation of the black people. And far from being [merely] a psychological exercise, he was speaking of the liberation of the whole person: a quest for a new humanity.”(5) From this view springs the urgent need for a process of psychological emancipation, a metaphysical revolt, and a political mobilisation against those oppressive forces and their manifestations. This is the essence of Black Consciousness ideology: the rejection of all that enslaves black people and the understanding that as a cohesive block they will be socially, politically, and economically invincible.(6)
Children in South Africa vis-à-vis the right to education
Children’s rights have become almost sovereign since the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the African Child (ACRWC). These instruments, as well as a plethora of emerging instruments and mechanisms within international and domestic circles, inadvertently point to the truth of a concerted quest towards entrenching the rights of the child as the future of every society. The right of the child to quality education comes to the fore in this discourse, particularly in relation to the children of South Africa.
It has to be noted that, within the structure of legal instruments and mechanisms, South Africa stands out as one of the best countries in Africa with regards to educational policies. Funding towards education remains generally high in the country, with the 2012 National Budget Allocation setting aside ZAR 207 billion (US$ 25 billion) for the sector with a projected rise of up to ZAR 236 billion (US$ 28.6 billion) over the next three years.(7) Pursuant to the entrenchment of the rights of children, the South African Constitution defines the child as any person under the age of 18 years old – a definition upheld by the ACRWC. With regards to the right to education, Article 29 of the South African Constitution provides that every child is entitled to compulsory and free basic education and, to a reasonable extent, to tertiary education. The School’s Act of 1996 provides for funding and feeding schemes for underprivileged schools and children, while the National Child Care Protection Forum (NCCPF) continues to discuss the advancement of children’s rights in the country. These are fundamental steps that demonstrate compliance with international and regional documents, emphasising the rights of the child to education and other necessities required for a fruitful, healthy life and development.
These are very important steps in terms of policy and legislation, but there remains the fundamental gap between theory and praxis. This is the bane of the actualisation of the right of children to education in South Africa and it is at the heart of non-governmental organisation (NGO) critiques of the educational system and the role of Government.(8) The condition of the educational system at large is in crisis; the current media frenzy over the situation of schools in the Limpopo and Eastern Cape provinces is but the tip of the iceberg within the broader context of a dilapidating South African educational system. The affected majority are black South African children from predominantly disadvantaged households and peripheral communities. The question that then follows is: To what extent are the policies and legislation, as well as allocated finances, being practically turned into effective tools for the promotion, protection and propagation of the right of the child to education in South Africa? The answer to this question is blowing in the wind, hence Bishop Tutu’s declaration: “if Nelson Mandela knew how poorly the country’s schools are performing, he would be reduced to tears.”(9) This is against the backdrop of the latter’s declaration that “never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will experience the oppression of one by another” – a statement that affirmed his knowledge of previous atrocities against human dignity, equity and justice before the dawn of democratic governance; a statement that now appears no more than a historical cliché when viewed in relation to the current status quo.
There is a preponderance of conditions that are pointers to the dire situation of children’s right to education in South Africa. Included are issues of hunger among school children; the lack of learning materials (for example text books, as is the current situation in Limpopo); the refusal of school enrolment for children (either because of the lack of fees or proper identification); the lack of uniforms and means of transportation culminating in children undertaking risky, long walks to school; and the lack of adequate reporting mechanisms to assist children, teachers and other stakeholders in bringing issues to the proper quarters in Government.
The problems in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, which emerged in 2011 and prompted the department of basic education to take over the running of the departments in both provinces, signal just one serious aspect of this fundamental problem. The crisis is anything but over; the brunt of the matter has been borne by the poor, predominantly black, children. The question that follows therefore is: How can the Black Consciousness ideology be made relevant in this condition of things in South Africa with regards to children’s right to education?
Locating Black Consciousness Ideology in contemporary South Africa: What is new?
Thirty-six years ago, a throng of students in Soweto stood up in defiance against an unequal and dehumanising educational system – a system that ensured only inferior education and limited career opportunities for blacks.(10) These events occurred during the dark days of apartheid when all the National Liberation Movements (NLMs) were barred in the country and the SASO emerged. However, the impetus for the Soweto uprising developed from the seed sown through the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and its ideology for black pride. It was a new phase of the struggle – a phase of physical and psychological liberation that led the students to declare “our parents are prepared to suffer under the white man’s rule. They have been living for years under these laws and they have become immune to them. But we strongly refuse to swallow an education that is designed to make us slaves in the country of our birth.”(11) This statement was the signifier of a rebirth of pride in their identity and of psychological liberation, leading to the event that changed the life of the apartheid state forever. But what does it mean now?
Indeed, the current picture looks bleak. It appears that the discourse of Black Consciousness disappeared with the death of Biko and the premature, bastardised co-optation of the non-racialism of the current African National Congress (ANC) discourse. The ideology has been perceived as too idealistic and lacking in real substance, with its projection of a distant future in which a non-racial and egalitarian society will emerge. These are phantasmal visions devoid of any reality. The construction of a black identity remains problematic because the overarching focus on African cultural heritage, pride, and values, removed other groups that formed part of those defined as ‘Blacks’ based on similar experiences of suffering. These are broad areas wherein a discussion about the ideology of Black Consciousness remains suspect and is perceived to be untenable in a real contemporary South Africa, where inequalities and exploitations are perceived to remain part of the political and economic life of the country.
The relevance of this ideology is, however, vital in the deconstruction of a socio-political and economic system that has ensured inequalities remain. In relation to the right of children to education, the ideology deconstructs and criticises a system in which children are “being taught, under the pretext of hygiene, good manners ... to despise their mode of upbringing at home and question the values and customs of their society.”(12)
The current education system risks the black child losing touch with his family and erroneously viewing himself or herself as white. The condition of children who are unaccompanied minors, unregistered (either because their parents are illegal migrants, illiterate, or dead, as a result of which the child has no documentation), disabled, or heading households, forms another major anchorage for current day discourse for Black Consciousness. There is a danger that these children – deprived of education – may become menaces on the streets. In this regard, the Immigration Act (2002, sections 39 and 42), which stops school officials from enrolling these children in school, stands against a constitution that provides free education for all.
Clearly, the forces that seek to keep ‘Blacks’ oppressed forever are still very active in different shapes and manifestations. These forces impinge upon South Africa’s socio-political and economic structures and they must be effectively counteracted through a radical ideology such as the Black Consciousness, in the drive to reform the degrading situation of education in South Africa. If children are not adequately educated, the future is bleak. If they are not allowed to attain their full potentials for growth, development and self-actualisation, the price will be paid in social unrest, violence, and hate.
Children are vital to the socio-political and economic life of South Africa and their rights must be protected. Since education remains one of the most effective and efficient means of achieving this goal, it must be pursued with determination. The ideology of Black Consciousness is centred on cohesion and pride in the self and ‘unified identity’ against all oppressive forces. In the education of black children, attention must be paid to combating those forces that tend to alienate the black child from his or her roots and create a disdain for the good cultural and historical values of the African society. Just as it is provided for in the ACRWC (Article 31), the 1996 South African Constitution (Section 29) and the Children Act of 2005 (Section 16), the rights of the child must exist alongside emphasis on the responsibilities of the child to his or her family, community and country. This is the root of growth and development.
Written by Kingsley Orievulu (1)
(1) Contact Kingsley Stephen Orievulu through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Rights in Focus Unit ( email@example.com).
(2) Fatton, R., 1986. Black consciousness in South Africa: The dialectics of ideological resistance to white supremacy. SUNY Press: New York.
(3) Biko, S., 1978. I write what I like. Penguin: Harmondsworth.
(4) Hirschmann, D., 1990. The Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 28 (1), pp. 3- 4.
(5) Gibson, N., 1988. Black Consciousness 1977 – 1987: The dialectics of liberation in South Africa. Africa Today, 35 (1), pp. 5-20.
(6) See ‘The relevance of Black Consciousness (BC) in the new South Africa’. An address by the Deputy President of AZAPO CDE PandelaniNefolovhodwe to a culmination of Biko Week, Lenesia, 16 September 2000, http://www.azapo.org.za.
(7) In his 2012 National Budget Speech, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan averred that investment in people is at the development strategy in South Africa, and as such education will remain one of the largest categories of expenditure over the MTEF period ahead. See http://www.treasury.gov.za.
(8) In June 2012, a human rights organisation named ‘Section 27’ launched an urgent lawsuit against the Minister of Basic Education and the Limpopo department of education because of the complete failure to procure and deliver textbooks for learners throughout Limpopo. These drives show NGOs critical actions against Government in relation to the rights of children in South Africa. For a brief summary of litigations concerning education also by the Legal Resource Centre, see, http://www.lrc.org.za.
(9) ‘South Africa’s poor education would make Mandela cry: Tutu’, Radio Netherlands Worldwide Africa, 18 July 2012, http://www.rnw.nl.
(10) Hirschmann, D., 1990. The Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 28 (1), pp. 2 – 3.
(11) Boddy-Evans, A., ‘16 June 1976 Student Uprising: Part 2’, About.com, http://africanhistory.about.com.
(12) Biko, S., 1978. I write what I like. Penguin: Harmondsworth.
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