Speech delivered by Comrade Baleka Mbete at the Freedom Charter Forum
17 September 2015, Stellenbosch
Chairperson of the African National Congress in the Western Cape, Cde Marius Fransman
Members of the National Executive Committee of the ANC present
Members of the Provincial Executive Committee of the ANC
Members of the Regional Executive Committee of the ANC in the Boland
Members of the Provincial Executive and Branch Executive Committees of the South African Students Congress
Members of the University of Stellenbosch community: both staff and students
Members of the broader Stellenbosch and Cape Winelands communities
Comrades and colleagues - Ladies and gentlemen
In the next few weeks our Movement will gather for its mid-term National General Council to introspect so that we emerge from this NGC more consolidated where we are strong and better in areas requiring our attention.
What will be different about this NGC is that it will take place in the year when we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter - a historic document that is to our Movement what our Constitution is to our nation.
The Freedom Charter was our battle cry during the struggle, and indeed our answer to every evil thing that defined the apartheid system. When it said "South Africa Belongs to All of us, black and white", the Freedom Charter defied the very definition of apartheid which turned citizens into foreigners in their own country through the bantustan system, and reinforced racial divisions, seeing differences in our racial appearance as the reason to separate us instead of moulding us into the rainbow nation we have been constructing since 1994.
Inevitably, the introspection at the NGC must provide answers to the question that confronted us at our Mangaung National Conference whether we are doing enough to transform our country as directed us to do so in the Freedom Charter. In answering this questions, the Mangaung Conference declared that:
"Inspired by the theme of UNITY IN ACTION TOWARDS SOCIO-ECONOMIC FREEDOM, we reviewed the progress made over the last 18 years towards the building of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa.
We engaged in vigorous and searching debates on the persistence of the legacy of apartheid colonialism, reflected in the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
Responding to these challenges, we are boldly entering the second phase of the transition from apartheid colonialism to a national democratic society. This phase will be characterised by decisive action to effect economic transformation and democratic consolidation, critical both to improve the quality of life of all South Africans and to promote nation-building and social cohesion." (close quote)
Our people demand asnwers to this question, and answers they must get.
In answering this question, we should repeat the profound expression made famous by our President that We have A Good Story to Tell.
Allow me this afternoon though to concentrate on only three clauses, the ones which declare that:
- All national groups shall have equal rights;
- The doors of learning and of culture shall be opened; and,
- There shall be peace and friendship.
You will hopefully agree with us, when we suggest that these particular clauses speak very specifically to the challenges faced by our communities and universities, such as Stellenbosch, and are appropriate to examine during Heritage Month.
This lecture takes place within a context of the recent happenings with the kind of student activism at our universities which we had not seen in the last 21 years of our democracy. These activities by our students, as was the case during the seventies and eighties, should be taken seriously as these young people should be the ones who take the lead in pursuing the vision and values of the Freedom Charter.
The activities over the last few months have brought into sharp question the challenges we face as a country. Questions of language, heritage, race, higher education in particular and social cohesion.
The Freedom Charter, our vision and mission statement as it were, is not to be understood in the abstract. Rather it should speak to the realities as seen in the community of Stellenbosch and the Western Cape in particular.
Stellenbosch is but an example of a number of institutions of higher learning which are experiencing the tensions of these questions mentioned earlier. We may mention the recent Rhodes Must Fall movement and the push to rename Rhodes University.
We saw student movements taking centre stage at Wits University and other formerly White universities. We know of tensions at the University of the North West, particularly its Potchefstroom campus.
All these speak to an almost impatience by our emerging young intelligentsia to the realities happening on the ground and on our campuses. These realities not matching the vision and values as set out by the Freedom Charter.
It is therefore appropriate that the Chairperson of the Province, in his introductory remarks looked specifically at the history and role of Stellenbosch,because what Kliptown is to the Freedom Charter, Stellenbosch was for the doctrine of Apartheid. So then we must be able to assert that if we were to defeat the legacy of Apartheid we must go to the very place of its conception and ensure transformation in this place.
All national groups shall have equal rights
The Freedom Charter espouses that: "there shall be equal status in the bodies of state, in the courts and in the schools for all national group and races." It goes on to declare "...that all people shall have equal right to use their own languages, and to develop their own folk culture and customs. All national groups shall be protected by law against insults to their race and national pride. The preaching and practice of national, race or colour discrimination and contempt shall be a punishable crime and that all apartheid laws and practices shall be set aside..."
Allow me to quote from a scholar of this province, the late Dr Neville Alexander, who in 2004 already wrote on The politics of language planning in post-apartheid South Africa, when he writes that [and I quote]:
"...Most South African students of applied language agree that the most difficult obstacle in the way of the rapid development of the African languages is what Ngugi wa Thiong'o has called "the colonised mind" - that is to say, the fact that the vast majority of black people simply do not believe that their languages can or should be used for higher-order functions even though they cherish them and are completely committed to maintaining them in the primary spheres of the family, the community and the church.
Because we know why and how this situation has come about - Ngugi's famous essay on the matter was the first of a series of analyses that demystified it - the pertinent question is, what is to be done?
In attempting to answer this question, we are led into the heart of the politics of the elite, for the immediate answers are abundantly obvious.
It is essential that the African languages acquire market value in the short to medium term and it is clear that they will do so only if there is bold leadership from the front. While it is wrong to suggest that the political and cultural leaders alone have to break the logjam, it is clear after many years of reflection and intervention at many different levels that political will and commitment are going to be the decisive elements if we are to move from the point where the European languages dominate our societies to a point where African languages do so..." [Quote end]
Let me assure all of you here this afternoon that there is political will to address and ensure the elevation of all our African languages; including the languages of the Khoi and the San peoples.
Dr Alexander was critical of the role played by the political elite in 2004, it is important to note that he adds the cultural elite as well to this category of people who are the cause of this malaise, in the development of indigenous languages.
We have chosen to highlight specifically the question of language in this clause of the Freedom Charter because, once again, it is an issue that has been given attention in the last few months, particularly here in Stellenbosch.
As envisaged by the Freedom Charter, the Constitution of the Republic guarantees the right to culture, religion and language. So serious do we take these rights that the Constitution established a Chapter 9 institution, which is not often spoken about: the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities.
The idea of the cultural elite taking up the challenge as articulated by Dr Alexander must be explored in this forum here today.
While the ANC has itself played a historical role as a leader of society, it is incumbent on us, both as the political and cultural leaders, to encourage others to advance the ideas as set out in the Charter and our Constitution.
While we have seen much opposition to the use of Afrikaans at the University of Stellenbosch, what proposals are being made by both those in management as well as students to ensure that other indigenous languages, such as isiXhosa and Sotho, are developed and are given the "...market value...", that Dr Alexander speaks of; beginning here in Stellenbosch.
For example, while the management of the University of Stellenbosch were at pains to stress to the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training that it was marketing itself as a multilingual institution very little was mentioned on how many lectures, for example, were delivered in isiXhosa given that some lectures were delivered in Afrikaans.
Here in the Western Cape much more attention needs to be given to developing the heritage of our cultures carried through the ages in our languages. We expect our leaders of society, especially those at the four universities in the province, to lead the way in protecting and promoting the language and culture of the Khoi and San peoples. It is incumbent on universities such as Stellenbosch to invest in this kind of multilingualism while at the same time making it into a global institution.
We must be able to enquire from our universities, again especially here in the Western Cape, as to how much they are investing into research, teaching and publication specifically in the areas of these indigenous peoples, indigenous knowledge and how we develop African, our own, tools of analysis and not just concentrate on Western or Eastern models of knowledge production.
Our clergy and leaders of civil society must lead in this process of the decolonisation of the mind. They too, with the political leaders of our country, must ask whether, twenty-one years into democracy, we have been freed from the shackles of colonial thinking.
The doors of learning and of culture shall be opened
The de-colonialization of the African mind, integral to our development as a nation and as a continent, has its roots in the Black Consciousness Movement; for Neville Alexander was a subscriber of Black Consciousness.
As we celebrate Heritage month, we also celebrate the heritage of Black Consciousness and we remember the thirty-eighth anniversary of the death of Steven Bantu Biko.
It was Biko who articulated that all important maxim which said: "the greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."
Today, it would be apt to enquire whether the greatest weapon in the hands of our former colonial masters is our minds as Africans.
The Freedom Charter declared that indeed the doors of learning shall be opened and therefore our government has much to celebrate in terms of allowing for these doors of learning to be opened.
The African child is no longer forced to the vocations of being a domestic worker or a gardener. Coloured children are no longer forced to be brick-layers, nurses or teachers.
Today mathematics is taught to the African child. Equally children are exposed to the sciences encouraging them in terms of how to think rather than what to think.
As the ANC we are proud to state that many inroads have been made into our education system. While many remain critical of the system, the great achievements are hardly acknowledged as we should be doing. In fact, often the impression is given that the system is on the brink of collapse when nothing can be further from the truth.
Yet education and skills training remainour number one priority as the ANC.
Pre-school education has doubled in a decade. South Africa has met its gender parity in school enrolment and exceeded the Millennium Development Goal 2015 targets. In 1994, the average matric pass rate was around 50%, today it sits at 78%; although again we acknowledge we must give attention to both quantity and quality.
In the last 21 years, more classrooms have been built, more no-fee schools have been introduced, thus increasing access to learning. Daily meals have been introduced in schools thus improving concentration and outcomes at the end of the year.
Tertiary education enrolment per annum has doubled from nearly half-a-million in 1994 to just below a million per annum today.
In 1994, African students made up forty-nine percent of the student compliment, today it sits at approximately sixty-six percent. Needy students have benefitted. Money is being channelled to FET colleges and two new universities have been opened.
However, much more still needs to be done especially in terms affordable tuition fees, meeting the demands for accommodation, living costs, materials for studies, etc.
The ANC remains committed to expanding the bursary and student loan schemes to guarantee broader access to our communities and especially our young people.
In as much as we have seen improvements on the education front, we have also seen a continuation of the easy access that White young people have to our institutions of higher learning.
Twenty-years into our democracy, sixty-two percent of students at the university are White while thirty-eight percent are African, Coloured and Indian combined.
Twenty-one years into our democracy, eighty-three percent of academic staff at the University of Stellenbosch are White while a mere seventeen percent are African, Coloured and Indian.
The question we must ask ourselves is: while these demographics certainly do not reflect the demographics of the Western Cape, can the decolonisation of our minds take place or can our minds be freed if the status quo remains?
It is therefore incumbent upon me to remind all of us here present who have the good fortune of having post-matric education whether in university, colleges or technicons that we remain an elite in our country.
And it is fitting then that we pose some very difficult questions to ourselves: are we making the best of our time here at university and applying ourselves or are we doing the bare minim and scraping through?
Do we realise, for many of us we are the first members of our families afforded the opportunity to study at university?
Your generation, in the terms of Frantz Fanon's thinking, is given a unique historical call - that of economic emancipation.
Our generation fought hard for political freedom and while some in our generation will assist you in your quest for economic freedom, you must understand that one of the greatest weapons against poverty is education.
We are pleased to see SASCO, COSAS, SADTU and others doing their bit. However we must ask whether their bit simply entails highlighting challenges or whether together, with government, they, as part of civil society, will contribute to ensure that the doors and culture are opened.
Again, it is important to emphasise that maybe our achievement over the last twenty-one years as a country has been to ensure access to education, especially basic education, and that we now move into a phase where we pay attention to the quality of this education.
The quality of our education must entail producing, among others, patriotic citizens, active citizens and this can only come about if our communities, through our school governing bodies and institutions of higher learning councils, play an active role in ensuring better skilled but transformed young people.
Those of you who are afforded the opportunity, must be able to take up the challenge of calling for more openness and a change in society. You must ensure that transformation takes place within our greater society.
There shall be peace and friendship.
Allow me to conclude, as the Freedom Charter does, with the final clause: there shall be peace and friendship.
While this clause has often been used to explain the internationalist perspective of the Charter, it is important that we reflect on it during this month especially; a month that we celebrate our heritage.
Indeed we are in a province tonight where the Premier of the province thinks nothing of calling our people "refugees".
There should be no doubt that high rate of incidence of acts of racism perpetuated in places such as Claremont, Table View, Constantia and even here in Stellenbosch stems directly from the ideology on which the Premier and her party run this province.
This ideology, based on the swart gevaartactics of the old National Party, stemmed from the Fight Blacks campaign ran in the late nineties. It is an ideology that continues to perpetuate an "us" and "them" thinking.
No doubt, racist incidences happen in other parts of our country but the ANC led provincial governments in those provinces have led the condemnations of such heinous acts. Nothing from this provincial government.
Where has this provincial government or the party that governs this province been and said in reaction to the #Luister video? Where has the governing party of this province been in the Rhodes Must Fall campaign? The deafening silence has only been rivalled by the defence, diplomacy and deferring.
Yet we understand why. The aim is primarily to protect past privilege. The Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town continue to serve as the breeding ground for the perpetuation of protecting past privilege. Blacks, that is: Coloureds, Indians and Africans, must assimilate or stay out.
But let us end off on a good note.
Allow me, Programme Director, to end off in celebrating the heritage that we has the ANC family also celebrate this month - the birth of the Youth League.
In paying tribute to his former comrade, Comrade Nelson Mandela, who with Cde Anton Lembede founded the Youth League, had this to say about the League's first president: [and I quote]
"...[Anton Lembede] has left an indelible mark on developments within our organisation and in the history of the liberation of our country.
As the years went on and one matured in your own thinking, it was inevitable that you would start to develop ideas that may differ from those of your original influences. Our approach to inclusivity with regards to the participation of other national groups and other ideological groupings later departed from those advocated by Lembede; the impact of his influence on our political development can, however, never be doubted.
He remains as a lodestar and an example to the movement of which he was a founding father and the first President.
Today as the Youth League works and operates under the changed circumstances of a non-racial democracy in which your parent body is now the governing party, many of the calls made by Lembede remain as relevant..." [end quote]
Today we have come to Stellenbosch, once a bastion of the Apartheid state and today still a bulwark for those who wish to perpetuate and protect past privilege. Yet we must allow for the lodestar and example of Anton Lembede to lead us in seeking the emancipation and the de-colonialization of our minds.
Be assured that these issues as have been discussed here tonight will be addressed at the upcoming National General Council of the ANC next month. We trust that all of you will participate in reading the discussion documents released and contributed in drafting the policies of our country and shaping the future of our country, based on the Freedom Charter.