Pursuit of knowledge a realm that belongs to us all

Had ours been a normal country, my good friend Bhaba would have most likely spent last Saturday in the studios of the international news stations, forecasting how South Africa would look under a Jacob Zuma presidency.

Had ours been a normal country, my good friend Bhaba would have most likely spent last Saturday in the studios of the international news stations, forecasting how South Africa would look under a Jacob Zuma presidency.

Instead he watched the inauguration of our latest president on television, and whatever thoughts he suggested will never be known beyond the small group of people within his earshot.

Bhaba would most likely be offended if I described him as an intellectual. Yet he is well read and versed about South African politics as any analyst I have heard. I suspect he would take kindlier to being referred to as "an independent political analyst", for that is what he is.

He might not use the same language and tools of analysis as people in the various think tanks, but he has been spot on about almost every possible political development in the country, including that former president Thabo Mbeki would not finish his term. This was long before it was accepted as a fait accompli.

He is not all-knowing or perfect. For example, he supports Kaizer Chiefs.

But like Eugene Nyathi, who almost two decades ago dominated the political economy conference scene until it was discovered that he was not as certificated as he had led on, Bhaba is proof that sometimes we put too much credence on the certificates people hold rather than on the substance of their thought.

Please do not get me wrong. There is no substitute for education. However good you might be without it, you could have been even better with it.

I am also not one of those who wish to believe that nothing good came of the Mbeki years.

Under his watch intellectualism and a pan-Africanist outlook found resonance in the highest office in the land. And that is a good thing.

After Mbeki's unpopularity hit a crescendo, culminating in his being recalled as the president of the republic, an unfortunate tendency started taking root.

There started a disturbing movement against analysts and intellectuals. Just like being "reactionary" was a swear word before 1990, after the Mbeki years, being called an intellectual or analyst became something of a defamatory statement.

It is silly but not inexplicable.

The ascendency of Zuma to the highest office is seen by many to be a victory of "the rest" over the intellectuals as personified by Mbeki.

We in the media are not innocent either. We took the important debates to the town halls and universities in the cities and suburbs.

The very people who had waged the struggle and in whose name we debated these scenarios were largely excluded.

In that way we helped entrench intellectualism as something foreign to the ordinary life led by the millions of people. It was as if unless you have a university degree you cannot fully know what your country requires to get where it needs to be.

It is time to return to intellectualism - the pursuit of knowledge by using reason as our primary tool. That cannot be the exclusive domain of scholars and other professional thinkers.

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