Tomorrow, 16th June, South Africa will be commemorating the revolutionary sacrifices and gains made by the generation of 1976, when young school students rose up and took a stand against an oppressive government and an exclusionary education system. Their resistance was rooted in their pursuit of liberation through Education and governed by Black Consciousness.
However, post 1994 we have been fed the narrative of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ which was founded on principles of multi-racialism, forgiveness and reconciliation. This Rainbow Nation however, maintains/harbours majority of the power dynamics of pre-94 and, furthermore, it seeks to delegitimise and undermine the daily struggles of the majority. Today, to be Black is still to be landless. To not be male is to be inferior. Should you not be able-bodied, there’s no room for you.
Challenging the status quo leads to accusations of being stuck in the past, of seeking excuses to validate one’s laziness or, further still, of causing disunity. I am constantly left wondering – have we forgotten the nature of our past; and are we blind to the realities of the present? Or perhaps we are only allowed to remember and see certain distorted aspects of them. We have a history of struggle and the only way to challenge the current power dynamics in society is to reclaim our heritage of struggle, our heritage of true unity and our loyalty to the ideology that “There is no compromising on justice”.
As Muslims we should be at the forefront of the struggle for an inclusive and accessible education. An education that speaks to our material conditions living in this society. It is ironic that whilst we find ourselves celebrating and romanticising 1976 the doors to education still remain firmly shut and inaccessible to the larger majority. We have been led to believe that the struggle for education ended with the Soweto uprisings and the end of the Bantu Education system in the 80s. Yet our current education system continues to fail us.
An education system built upon neo-colonial, neo-liberal, capitalist foundations will always sharply contradict the lived experiences of the colonised and it should then come as no surprise that we find ourselves faced with such high levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment. Surely within this context we ought to question our so-called freedom and the validity of the label ‘Born-Free’ that has been given to the youth born post ‘94.
How is it that in this day and age Black girls are forced to chemically straighten their hair to comply with the White conceptualisation of what a female student must look like and, furthermore, they are only given a platform to be heard after being driven to protest at their schools. At this very school, in these very classrooms, black students were repeatedly called ‘monkeys’, by their White teachers and they too were left with no choice but to bring classes to a stop so that their concerns of institutionalised racism were given attention.
The Fallist Movement, which reached its zenith between 2015 and 2016 in the form of RhodesMustFall and FeesMustFall, has re-introduced the concept of decolonisation as a tool of liberation. University students took to the streets at a certain point bringing the country to a standstill in their call for a Free Decolonised Afro-centric Socialist Education. Yet these students, who were following in the footsteps of the Generation of 1976, were painted as lazy, violent hooligans. The Fallist Movement identified Pan Africanism, Black Consciousness, Black Radical Feminism and Intersectionality as the core principles in their struggle. Special attention was given to the BC theory of mental emancipation and the key to this was self-identification. Drawing from Biko’s teachings that in order for you to self-identify as black you would need not only to be a member of the colonised BUT also adopt a political commitment to end white supremacy. And it is in the latter that we have continuously fallen short. Whilst many might dismiss this as petty identity politics, Identity Politics remains crucial more so because of the context in which we find ourselves where race was been the primary determinant of personhood in this country. In many cases the move to dismiss Identity Politics is due to people trying to avoid and hide from pertinent issues. We often forget the history of Intersectionality in our struggles. There is the famous saying “Student Wars are labour Wars, and Labour Wars are Land Wars”. The Student uprisings of ‘76 cannot be viewed in isolation to the broader liberation movement. In the same way, the call for Free Decolonised Education cannot be separated from the call to end the outsourcing of workers. It is vital that we are able to find the intersections of the different struggles and be in solidarity with one another for a more inclusive and complete liberation.
It is clear that we need to reclaim our heritage of struggle to further the fight for a decolonial education system and the broader decolonisation of society. For the struggle to move and grow beyond the ivory towers of the university space, mass community participation is needed. It requires us to start having these difficult conversations in our social gatherings and becoming more politically aware.
There is also a need to understand how we become complicit in the actions of others – by maintaining certain relationships. For example, by having any political ties with Israel we are complicit in the sufferings of the Palestinians or by continuing to give a space to those with a proven track record of spewing hate and inciting violence upon the innocent we become complicit in their ramblings. We need to urgently move away from a very individualised social outlook and show the next generation of youth that our purpose in life should not be the accumulation of wealth for the benefit of individuals. We need to interrogate our own internal conflicts as well as become more observant to the external micro-aggressions playing out around us.
It becomes the responsibility of the elders in the community to expose the youth to the realities of this society. The forming of Consciousness starts from the early childhood developmental stage where children are most receptive and pick up the subtle queues from the adults around them. Therefore, in order for the next generation of Youth to lead us into a brighter future, we have to clean up our act first and ensure that the foundations are in place. We cannot fall into the trap of sitting back and putting the burden of progression solely on the shoulders of the next generation. We need to realise that in order for us to truly progress there needs to be a constant agitation for change, and that each generation will have its role to play throughout its lifetime.
I conclude with a final quote by Robert Sobukwe emphasising the importance of Education in the struggle for Liberation. “A word to those who are remaining behind. You have seen by now what education means to us: the identification of ourselves with the masses. Education to us means service to Africa.”