Building malls should not be at expense of universities

Over the last few days leading to Christmas those clever investors who realised the wisdom of opening malls in areas such as Soweto smiled all the way to the bank.

Over the last few days leading to Christmas those clever investors who realised the wisdom of opening malls in areas such as Soweto smiled all the way to the bank.

Shopper, spared the extra burden of commuting or driving outside their communities. spent their money not far from where they live.

It is a good thing and we shouldn't begrudge the mall developers the fruit of their enterprise.

Though I will dwell on Soweto in this column, the experience can easily be replicated in any other former "location", from Gugulethu to Seshego via KwaMashu and Mabopane, where the moneybags are starting to realise that money comes in many colours except black or white.

Soweto has more malls than it has ever had but still the one university and the few higher education colleges it had during apartheid.

What is worse, as with many other universities, openings for adult learners are minimal. It is as if the message is that if you did not go to college when you were younger do not bother.

If you feel strongly about having missed out, then you can choose between quitting your job or studying. This is an untenable choice.

Transformation of higher education should include more than just having the right number of blacks who register and pass their first year.

It should also address ways of availing higher education to those who, through no fault of their own, could only dream of what a lecture hall looks like; and those who only belatedly realised that they had misspent their youth.

I am for the middle-classification of society. I am also for its intellectualisation. Universities help to do both.

I don't know what the Jacob Zuma presidency - especially given the expected working class bias it will have and how his supporters tied Thabo Mbeki to the undesirability of intellectualism - has in mind with regards to these projects.

I do hope Zuma's lack of access to formal education when he was younger will prevail and he will champion the cause of those adults seeking a second (sometimes a first) chance to acquire meaningful knowledge.

I have nothing against malls and the image of a changing society they are supposed to project, but I cannot help but ask myself why it is that, if we can brag about projects to tar all the streets of the ghetto or restaurants and posh drinking places in Orlando West, we would neglect creating a class that will keep such institutions thriving.

I am particularly concerned that there does not seem to be projects to help all those who, just under 20 years ago, were condemned to be the lost generation, improve their lives. Somehow we seem content with the sob stories of 80- or 100-year-old grannies learning to read and write for the first time. Again these are great and important stories but they have little economic benefit for the learners or their communities.

Can anyone imagine what a vibrant society we could be if there were a sudden influx of 40- and 50-year-olds to universities just up their street or one taxi away?

Not only would we create a new cadre of informed and enlightened citizens but we would surely increase the productivity of our workforce. We could show our children that we mean it when we say there are few things in life are as important as education.