'Books not rocks'
There is a worrying notion in South Africa that material prosperity can be achieved without an education, says Free State University rector Jonathan Jansen
“The desperate route to power and privilege that bypasses education and training is amply on display in the political arena,” he said at an SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) discussion in Johannesburg.
“The institutionalisation of corruption in some provinces and the profitable linkage of party deployees to jobs simply confirm in the minds of ordinary citizens that there are other, more immediate routes to escaping poverty.”
Jansen said two of the country’s most influential politicians were semi-illiterate.
“That the most charismatic among our national leaders have themselves accessed enormous wealth and privilege without personal investments in education and training must be enormously attractive to millions of young people failed by the school system before and since 1994.”
He said even the workers at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, where 46 people killed, had understood that they could gain material benefit without pursuing the long, hard road to education and training.
“A demand of R12,500 after tax is more than what a beginner teacher with a degree and teacher’s diploma will take home after deductions,” Jansen said.
“Of course, this demand for massive financial reward makes sense when the union bosses themselves drive expensive cars and lead luxurious lifestyles.”
The workers were not against the ostentatious display of wealth; they wanted the same material things.
Jansen said the boldness of the Marikana demands had spread like wildfire.
Some union members on his campus had come to him to demand a salary increase. He was given the gentle warning of: “We don’t want another Marikana”.
“I told him to f**k off,” said Jansen, to giggles from the audience.
He quoted African National Congress national executive committee member Joel Netshitenzhe, who said: “With the flick of a pen, a man can go from long-term unemployment to a job, house and car.” Added Jansen: “Once again, without the labour of education and training.”
He said there was also a shift in the value of public education, using the example of schools in Olifantshoek in the Northern Cape, which had been closed for three months because the community was protesting.
“What kind of society closes down its schools for months on end because of demands for a tarred road and for the ejection of a single person — the mayor?” Jansen asked.
“How do you explain 'tarred road now education, later’ or 'mayor fired, education later?”
Jansen said the only conclusion he could reach was that value of education had lost all meaning for rural communities.
He said he had interviewed the man who was organising the protest in Olifantshoek and was disturbed.
The man said he was prepared to continue keeping his child out of school, until 2020 if necessary, just because he wanted the mayor out.
Political infighting in the Northern Cape had become more important.
“Now, I understand the hyperbole of South African politics, but the notion that children could be kept out of school for months for causes that have nothing to do with education is something worth pondering,” said Jansen.
In these, now routinely, violent community protests, education was no longer given the same value as in the previous century. It was not seen as the route out of poverty.
Jansen said these were some the consequences from having a socially and educationally illiterate society; “where emotions triumph over logic, where reason is displaced by wrath, and where books take second place to rocks”.
The only way out was a social revolution that once again put education at the centre of the agenda for change.
This should happen “not in the form of yet another round of rhetoric by the powerful, but through a social movement among ordinary people that urgently confronts the rot in the school system before it is too late”, Jansen said.