93RD ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE NATIONAL TEACHERS’ UNION
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY PRINCE MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI MP PRESIDENT OF THE INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY
DELIVERED ON HIS BEHALF BY
MR NAREND SINGH MP
FORMER MEC OF EDUCATION: KWAZULU NATAL


 

NATU Conference Centre, Empangeni: 14 September 2011 

 

I am delighted to participate in this year’s conference of the National Teachers’ Union. As the President of the Inkatha Freedom Party, it is my privilege to address principals and educators from across South Africa, as we gather to consider not only the state of education in our country, but our role in raising the bar for the sake of every learner.

 

NATU has found a unique way to discover that role. Rather than hearing only from the National Department of Education, or only from academics, you have chosen to gather leaders from five political parties, giving no specific guidelines about what we should address, and allowing us each the opportunity to inspire this conference. Unlike what happens in the national House of Parliament – and in every other forum for that matter – you have given us each the same amount of time to speak.

 

I think this is wonderful, for it expresses NATU’s all-inclusive spirit, shows that there is no political bias, and – most importantly – acknowledges that the field of education can best be enriched when every stakeholder can make an equal contribution. I am pleased to offer the contribution of the IFP. It is not possible to overemphasize the importance of education for the future of our country. And it is not possible to underestimate the damage which is being done to our children’s future by the insufficient levels of education which they are being afforded.

 

My commitment to making education a real priority is not new. Considering something a priority means putting this value before everything else, and I did so when such a political choice was politically incorrect, painful and costly. You will remember that one of the slogans through which other components of the liberation movement conducted the struggle within South Africa was that of “Liberation Now, Education Later”. This slogan supported a strategy of taking youth out of schools to transform them into cannon fodder for an ill-conceived armed struggle, which was impossible to win and self-defeating in its purposes.

 

I knew that this strategy would create an entire generation of under-educated youth, while damaging the most vulnerable segments of our education system, placing on them a legacy of backwardness which would last for decades; as it has. I also knew that the damage inflicted on our youth would create what has now become the “Lost Generation”; an entire generation of uneducated and unemployable youth.

 

For this reason, for ten hard years of political confrontation with other components of the liberation movement, I promoted amongst our youth the slogan of “Education For Liberation”, identifying that education is one of the tools through which final and sustainable liberation can be achieved. Since then, I have promoted the notion that there is much more to liberation than merely achieving political freedom and the establishment of a democratic system.

 

The real liberation of those who have been oppressed by discrimination, racism and disenfranchisement will only come when their shackles of ignorance for lack of education are broken, and they can stand tall and free on the same level of intellectual skills and educational horizons as any other citizen of South Africa and the world.

 

I transformed my commitment to education into complete government policies pursued through the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, of which I was the Chief Minister. These choices were equally politically painful and costly, but equally right and necessary. At the time, my Government was being underfunded and received the lowest per capita allocation of any of the TBVC States and Self-Governing Territories.

 

This was done explicitly to punish and undermine me for my refusal to take the KwaZulu Government into nominal independence, which would have completed the grand scheme of Apartheid. Once the Zulu nation, as South Africa’s largest ethnic component, was no longer holding South African citizenship, Apartheid’s statement that the white minority was no longer ruling over a disenfranchised black majority would have rung truer.

 

Confronted with such underfunding, I made education a priority. I diverted the meagre money we had available into salaries for teachers and textbooks only, calling on communities and traditional authorities to build and furnish the schools. This effort was aided by an international campaign which I drove to mobilise the support of NGOs worldwide. The result of these efforts remained tangible for decades. Even a decade after liberation, the matric result of the area of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government remained much higher than comparable areas.

 

Some might say I am boasting; but I have reason to boast. When my Party was at the helm of the KwaZulu Government we received a shoestring budget. After democracy, when we led KwaZulu Natal, we still did not receive enough for education. But the more than six thousand schools that exist in this province were built by us, and we established colleges of education in every region of this province to train teachers.

 

Today, there is a shortage of teachers across South Africa. But when the ANC took over KwaZulu Natal, they shut down teacher training colleges for no better reason than that they were built under the leadership of the IFP. When President Zuma was elected as the future Head of State, he announced that these colleges would be reopened. But we then saw media reports quoting the Minister of Higher Education reneging on that commitment.

Our system is not producing adequately trained teachers, especially at lower levels. Added to this is the high rate of attrition of teachers through retirement or HIV / Aids. The estimated 5.5% teacher attrition rate, the insufficient production of teacher graduates by universities, and the increasing number of teachers ready and willing to leave the teaching profession for various reasons is a cause for concern. Thus the IFP continues to advocate for the reintroduction of teacher training colleges.

 

I am not speaking merely as a theoretician. Education is in my bones and I have a substantial track record of protecting and promoting education. I recollect all of this to explain that the harsh words I intend to speak today are not new to me.

 

What I have to say today may not be politically correct and may turn out to be politically costly. But I have not run my political life as a popularity contest. Rather, I have been concerned with being able to defend in the future what I have done and said in the past. Today, I can proudly defend the difficult political choices I made thirty years ago.

 

Let me therefore say that, at present, our children’s education is not just a challenge, as many people wish to put it by resorting to euphemism. It is a huge problem, about to lead to a national disaster. If one reads carefully, as one should, the Diagnostic Report of the National Planning Commission headed by Minister Trevor Manuel, one will reach the same conclusion. That is, once one has stripped that document of all its polite euphemisms and reassuring declarations of intent, and hope, that things in the future may become better.

 

Albert Einstein famously defined madness as expecting different results by doing more of the same. If we need to fix the severe problems affecting our education system, we must change the paradigm in which we consider such problems and envisage possible solutions. We need to have the courage of speaking painful truths to one another, and accept the political cost of doing so.

 

The truth is that we will not be able to redress the legacy of ignorance, obscurantism and backwardness created by oppression and Apartheid, unless we have the courage of educating our children way ahead of the level of education, awareness and exposure not only enjoyed by their parents and communities, but also their teachers. This means having the courage to forge a new generation that, to a certain extent, grows up being disconnected from the educational milieu of both their communities and their own teachers.

 

We cannot rely on a process of organic and lineal growth from past to future to achieve within one generation a journey which people in other parts of the world perform in many generations. If we are to free our children and grandchildren from the legacy of the past, we must accept the need of leapfrogging them into the future, in a context in which their education will need to rely to a much greater extent than ever before on resources other than teachers, and on their own initiative and God-given talents.

 

The issue therefore becomes how we go about resourcing schools equally across our national territory, so that even in the most remote rural areas children may have access to the same resources as children anywhere else not only in South Africa, but in the world. For the first time in history, this can be done. If we make education a real priority, money is not a problem, for the necessary investment will yield dividends of a thousand-fold.

 

Making education a priority goes beyond throwing money at it. Our compound national and provincial expenditure in education is one of the highest in the world, and yet our educational outcomes are poor and vastly differentiated between affluent and poor communities. We need to build a new infrastructure to make the future become the present, before our lethargy and inaction causes our future to bypass us. Let us not wake up to a time when we can only say that we have a great future behind us.

 

Apartheid built one of the best networks of roads. Our Government must, without delays, build one of the best networks of universal and free broadband Internet coverage, so that even in the most remote rural area children may have access to the Internet and, through it, to the resources it offers. Any child from the age of four has the innate, instinctual capacity to interact with an iPad or an Android, or learn from it and grow through the process, even when his teachers may not even know how to operate such tools.

 

This is the reality of the new world we live in. My grandchildren have skills which are way beyond my capacity of ever acquiring. I play recorded music or make it from instruments, while they synthesize it out of computer programs through techniques which, I have accepted, I will never be able to fully understand in my lifetime. We must operate within this paradigm of new generations being in a technological disconnect with the preceding ones, in an environment in which the youth may end up teaching the teachers, as they learn beyond the teachers’ own sphere of knowledge.

 

The question is often asked whether children in rural areas could undertake such a leap. I do not believe that there is anything innately inferior in them. Their conditions hold them back, not their God-given talents. All we need to do is observe them, to observe how quickly they familiarize themselves with and use the ever-growing features of cell phones which become accessible to them. It is not what is in their brain that holds them up in life, but the conditions which we are contributing to create for them.

 

On several occasions, the Deputy Minister of Education, Minister Surty, has remarked in Parliament how much we are damaging children from rural areas and underprivileged backgrounds by bringing them into our schools only by the time they are five or six. His words to Parliament have been clear and uncompromising. He stated that, by that time, it is too late for the school system to redress any deficiencies in their cognitive processes and capabilities.

 

Especially in rural areas, it is of vital importance to bring children within educational structures as early as possible, so that they may develop the same cognitive skills as children develop in affluent families where they receive a constant stream of higher level intellectual stimulation.

 

The problems of our schools can be solved if there is the political will to do so. We are sinking in problems of our own making, when solutions exist to solve them. It is saddening that often the implementation of such solutions is hindered by corruption and because too many people benefit financially from the existence of such problems. One example can be made in respect of a thousand cases.

 

One of the most problematic aspects of our educational infrastructure relates to the distribution of textbooks, which smacks of underdevelopment, backwardness, inefficiency and grand scale disorganization.

 

The fact is that, in the twenty first century, the need no longer exists to distribute books. The world goes through watershed changes from time to time. The writing on stone tablets so prevalent in civilizations such as the Sumerians was replaced by writing on papyrus in Egypt, which remained in use until parchment was developed, which in turn was abandoned as paper was invented. We are now at the twilight of the use of paper. If we are to leapfrog our new generation into a better future, we may very well accelerate the process and create paperless schools, in the same way as the largest corporations in the world are now creating paperless offices. This will obviate all problems relating to the present madness of paper book distribution.

 

We all know that nowadays books are purchased online and delivered by Internet to any electronic book reader in a matter of seconds and at a fraction of the cost of a paper book. At the retail level, these electronic readers cost less than a thousand Rand per unit and, like computers, they can be read under conditions of full light on the same level as one could do with paper, or in darkness. They need to be recharged anywhere between once a month and once every ten days, and the recharge time is only half an hour. This means that even if children have no electricity at home, they can recharge their reader at school during a break.

 

By providing each of our children with an electronic reader, in a school located in an area covered by universal free access broadband Internet, we will create conditions way above anything else we can do to improve on their education. Textbooks can be sent to children at a fraction of the cost with absolute efficiency and reliability. Children will develop their own library and be able to pursue their own interests without hindrance. They will become familiar with new technologies, leapfrogging ahead of their communities and teachers alike.

 

There are opportunities today which never existed for any prior generation. Ignorance is becoming much more of a personal option. The Gutenberg Project has made the knowledge of the world available. It can be downloaded for free in any format from ManyBooks.net. Any student can have his personal library and, if he so chooses, has access to an enormous library of audio-books which can be downloaded also at no cost from LibriVox.com. This means that the child in a rural area, provided with very basic and inexpensive Internet technology, can have an endless amount of books read to him, even though in his community or family people may not be able to speak English.

 

Things have changed and we must all change with them. In today’s changing world, having a classroom without a flat-screen connected to a computer, connected to broadband Internet, would be like having a classroom in my days without a blackboard and books. A simple Internet connected flat-screen enables any teacher to have instant access to the resources available anywhere in the world, so that, when an issue arises, the teacher can instantaneously take the entire class on a virtual tour of the relevant section of the relevant museum, ranging from the Smithsonian in Washington, to the British Museum in London, to the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

 

The tragedy of the present world is that a much sharper divide is developing between those who are technologically clued up and those who are forced to become increasingly technologically clueless. This is the context we must operate in. We cannot choose a different context, nor can we change this context. We can only ignore it, not just at our own peril, but to the failure of our future generations.

 

The World Bank recently published a study indicating that fifty percent of the jobs likely to be advertised in thirty years time do not yet exist. This means that we must train our children with skills which will be required for positions which do not yet exist, in a context in which, in all likelihood, those skills have not yet been developed. Not only do we need to train them to be able to develop skills which, by definition, neither a teacher nor anyone else yet has, but they must also be able to compete for those job opportunities with a population of young people of what will, by then, be about four billion.

 

The negative side of the global village in which we now live is that it will be unavoidable for job opportunities to be globalised and filled by the most qualified people in the world. In South Africa, we will need to follow the same path, lest we want to place our country in an irretrievable downward spiral towards backwardness, underdevelopment and world marginalization. Our migration laws will need to change, to comply with international obligations such as those set out in the so-called GATS Mode 4, which requires the free circulation of people who provide services.

 

In the end, there will be world competition for the best jobs and even for decent jobs. We need to choose now whether a child who is being educated in my own community of Mahlabathini shall or shall not have an opportunity to compete for any such job opportunities in twenty years. If the answer is in the affirmative, we have no choice but to walk the path of accelerated transformation which I have alluded to.

 

This path is arduous, uphill and difficult for everyone, including teachers. To face the challenge, we must all adjust, including teachers. It is not a matter of being tough on students alone, but we must also be tough on ourselves as well as on teachers. We must accept that when a large portion of a class fails, the teacher has failed. By the same token, when a large number of classes have failed, it is the principal and the education system that has failed.

 

As we hold students accountable for their performance and fail them when they do not work to expectation, so should we have the courage of holding teachers accountable and failing them when their classes do not perform. We must do the same in respect of principals.

 

If we are serious about education, we also cannot continue to regard teachers as less important civil servants. It is a regrettable but real element of our society that the level of remuneration reflects social consideration and esteem. We should have the courage of ensuring those who raise and educate our children are among the best paid members of our society, because their efforts are the most crucial to the shaping of our future. All teachers know that it is much more difficult and demanding to teach younger learners, than university students. Yet those who are called upon to perform this most delicate task are paid the least. I accept that this is the case around the world. But that doesn’t make it right.

 

Another factor which has bedevilled our education system is the ruling party’s policy of cadre deployment. Through this policy, people have been placed in positions for which they are not qualified. It has seen competent people, from unions which are not aligned to the ruling party, being overlooked for positions and promotions. This is a very serious matter to the IFP. The policy of teacher employment must be reviewed. Presently, unions such as Sadtu have an unfair advantage and influence over the interviewing process. The whole process has become partisan and damaging to the provision of quality education for all.

Our education system should not be controlled by a few unions, or even by a few policy makers and thought-leaders at the top. If one considers the situation pre-1994, it becomes clear what I mean. The Nationalist Government had too much control over what was taught, how it was taught and to whom it was taught. And this power was abused. The entire system of Bantu education was intended to suppress the oppressed by keeping them in bondage to ignorance. The Bantu Education system, which was introduced in 1952 by Dr Eislen, had at its core the aim of providing an inferior education to blacks.

 

The introduction of Outcomes Based Education once we attained democracy was, to me, the pendulum swinging to the other extreme. Where before democracy black children had been taught little, particularly about maths and science, and white children had been taught nothing about politics or the constitution, with OBE our teachers had to find a way to bring a discussion of human rights into a lesson on acute angles.

 

OBE’s emphasis on tolerance and inclusivity embraced the notion that truth is not absolute, but subjective, and somehow contradictory statements could hold equal value. This was particularly true for the teaching of religion, which offers perhaps the best example of how the necessity for a foundational belief system was removed, opening a divide between the individual and the information.

 

I am a lifelong learner. I do not pretend to know everything about anything, and I am continually reading and listening to expand the limits of my own understanding. As I do so, however, I realize more and more that we must have a foundational system of belief to underpin all our learning. We must be able to position ourselves within the information we are presented with. I therefore find myself at odds with the worldview that underpinned Outcomes Based Education, that there is no absolute truth.

 

I worry that even now that we have abandoned OBE we are still of the mindset that equipping teachers with information that is too specific is the equivalent of indoctrination. So our teachers are left with vague lesson goals and open ended questions. I fear our teachers are being left in limbo by our education system as much as our learners. The absence of absolute truth also poses a challenge when one is trying to teach maths and science, where the veracity of a theorem is not subjective. The immutable laws of physics apply whether they offend or not.

 

I am aware as I speak that Dr Wilmot James, who has just delivered such a thought provoking address, was a friend and advisor of the late Professor Kader Asmal, who championed the system of Outcomes Based Education. To me, the mark of a great leader is willingness to change course when the path one has taken proves to be wrong. OBE was not wholly wrong, but it discarded much of what was good in South Africa’s education at the same time as ridding us of the bad. It was, as I said, the pendulum swinging to the opposite extreme.

 

That is perhaps a natural phase in the course of correcting past wrongs. But there was a cost to our OBE experiment, and it was paid by a generation of young people who were educated under a system that did not properly prepare them to enter a competitive labour market. I was pleased to read Dr James’s article in the Cape Times following the shocking results of the Annual National Assessment Tests for literacy and numeracy in our schools. Dr James pointed out that if a learner scores three out of ten on an exam, they clearly have not understood the subject matter. But thirty percent is a pass.

 

Where I disagree with Dr James is the assertion that we are creating a culture of mediocrity. I fear we are creating a culture of incompetence, for the brilliant students are only required to be average, while the average students sink to the low standard our education system sets. Of course there are many exceptions. There are schools in South Africa that proudly produce excellent results and value high academic performance. But the exception is outweighed by the disgrace of the norm.

 

The issue of standards is the litmus test of our good faith and seriousness of intent when it comes to our commitment to education. If our nation continues to drop educational standards, it will be committing suicide by generational instalments. Our children and grandchildren will compete in the global village in an ever tougher competitive environment and with ever narrowing opportunities. By dropping standards, we condemn them to failure.

 

For me, the issue is not even that of maintaining standards. We must be committed to elevating standards and pursuing a culture of excellence at all levels. This does not mean creating limited opportunities for our children, or leaving any child behind on the path of growth and development.

 

The Bishops school in Cape Town provides us with a good example of how striving for excellence can be combined with a culture and methodology that ensures that every learner expresses and learns the full measure of what his God-given talents enable him to do, without being left behind if he has been endowed with less than others.

 

At Bishops, there are different speed tracks for each subject, so that each student can find himself on the fast, medium, or slow track in respect of one subject matter, but not another. He can be on the fast track in respect of mathematics, where he has greater aptitude, but on the slow track in respect of literature, where he has a lesser natural inclination.

 

These techniques are not beyond the reach and capacity of what a school of the future could achieve, if sufficiently supported with computer– and educational programmes and infrastructure. The direct relationship between learner and computer resources on the one hand, and the group class dynamics on the other, both facilitated by teachers, can breach any gap in resources and adjust the learning pace of any student to his vocation and capability.

 

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves afresh; what are the core responsibilities of our education system? Are we trying to do too much, and so failing to do what is important? In terms of the Revised National Curriculum Statement of 2002, our education system seeks to create (and I quote) “a lifelong learner who is confident and independent, literate, numerate and multi-skilled, compassionate, with a respect for the environment and the ability to participate in society as a critical and active citizen” (end quote).

 

Ensuring that learners can “read, write, count and think” is but one among 16 strategies for creating the kind of learners we want. It is placed on par with strategies like, “Infusing the classroom with a culture of human rights”, “Nurturing the new patriotism” and “Freeing the potential of girls as well as boys”.

 

What does this philosophy look like when applied to the actual curriculum? In the Assessment Standards for Grade 5 Mathematics, the phrase “human rights” appears four times. One assessment standard is that a learner must know the various ways of writing numbers in different cultures. This is why we are not surprised by the poor literacy and numeracy results.

 

As the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and Director of the World Bank, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, put it, “We have chosen the worst curriculum policy you could ever imagine. Canada tried it, they dumped it. The UK, the Netherlands, and New Zealand tried it, they dumped it. But not us." It was therefore a bitter-sweet victory when, one year ago, the Minister of Basic Education announced that OBE would be phased out.

 

At the time, the stats told us that under the OBE system more than 5 million learners had left school unable to adequately read or write. Turning the results around, however, will take time. Time which, of course, we do not have; because for every under-educated learner who finds themselves unemployable, there is both a social and an economic cost. We need to get back to the basics of teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, and we need to do it quickly.

 

Another aspect of our education system that I am concerned about is the overarching need for teachers to present the minority view as the norm, in order to achieve inclusiveness. So, for instance, when discussing families, teachers are encouraged to focus on single parent families, child-headed families, families with several step-relatives, or same sex caregivers. These are certainly realities of our society. But let us not be so politically correct that we lose empathy.

 

Telling a child from a broken home that it’s normal to have a broken home doesn’t take away their pain and anxiety. It is a fact of human nature, by God’s design, that a child is most secure with two parents who love each other, and love their child. There is trauma in divorce, separation, death and the creation of new familial relationships that should not be dismissed simply because such things are a common occurrence. I think we do children an injustice when we expect them to cope with adult issues.

 

There is one instance, of course, in which children must face an adult issue; and that is the area of sexuality. The HIV/Aids pandemic leaves us no room to be coy when it comes to sex education. But here too, I feel we must be cautious of creating a sense of normality about adolescent and even pre-adolescent sexual activity. I was appalled by the Love Life campaign which proceeded from the basis that every young person is sexually active, nothing can change that fact, and the best we can do is ask them to wear a condom.

 

I recall that when I was Minister of Home Affairs, the First Lady of Uganda, Mrs Janet Museveni, visited our country and addressed leaders in Pretoria. She quoted her husband, who had spoken in Italy about Africa’s response to the HIV/Aids pandemic. He said, “If we are to depend on a piece of rubber, we are already doomed”. He was not condemning the use of condoms, but condemning our total reliance on them in this life and death battle.

 

I shall never forget the remarkable statistics which Mrs Museveni gave us. The HIV/Aids pandemic in Uganda had risen to 30%, but they had managed to reduce it to just 5%. Uganda’s success story is worth emulating. It was based on a strategy of reviving some indigenous norms and returning to biblical teachings of abstinence and faithfulness. It relied on more than promoting the use of prophylactics; instead encouraging a nation to a complete change of lifestyle.

 

When it comes to teaching our children about HIV/Aids, morality, human rights, religion, or anything else for that matter, the most important thing we can do is to equip our teachers. I was surprised to read a teachers’ guide published by the Department of Education that suggested some lesson ideas and how they could incorporate aspects of different subjects.

 

This guide was distributed to Members of Parliament, along with a poster for school children titled, “A Bill of Responsibilities for the Youth of South Africa”. As I paged through the lesson guide, I continually wanted to turn to the back page to look for the answers, because the guide offered more questions than guidance.

 

But there were no answers on the back page. I could not help thinking that our teachers must find themselves in a similar predicament. So much is expected of them, but little is provided in terms of how they might deliver it. The Bill of Responsibilities poster posed eight questions that learners could discuss. The first is this, “Your friend is being forced to steal money for an older friend. He/She is afraid to lose the friend because it protects him/her from the actions of bullies. How would you advise your friend?”

 

Bullying in school is a serious issue, particularly combined with the problems of drug abuse, gangsterism and school violence, including rape. It is therefore obvious that a debate around bullying must be carefully guided by the teacher, and the message of the lesson must be unequivocal and easy to understand, as well as being in line with our Constitutional values. But after posing this loaded question, the Bill of Responsibilities poster offers no answers, no suggestions, no guidelines or even hints at how the subject could be dealt with.

 

I must admit, I was rather amused by the fourth question on this poster, which read, “What steps would you take when you are surrounded by people who believe that violence is the only solution when faced with challenges?” How I wish the Department of Education had printed an answer to that one. I was faced with this predicament in 1979, when the ANC’s mission-in-exile called on Inkatha to support the armed struggle. I stood against it, refusing to endorse bloodshed as a means to liberation. I endured decades of vilification by the ANC for taking that stand.

 

We cannot expect our teachers to know exactly how to handle every situation without equipping them with clear guidelines. I am, in fact, in awe of teachers, for it seems you walk a daily minefield of uncertainty over whether what you are doing is right or wrong. But it is likely that we have less reason to be concerned about the teachers who worry about getting it right. The ones we should be concerned about are the ones who are doing it wrong because the system gives them too much leeway, or because their behaviour goes unchallenged.

 

The best interests of learners must always be given priority. There is a sticking point when it comes to teacher strikes. Our teacher unions are becoming too politicized. During election periods, teachers are often involved in campaigning or other election activities. They seem to suffer from a conflict of commitment, torn between the interests of the teacher and the interests of the child. Thus we see teachers abandoning their classrooms and their responsibilities. The IFP has always championed the cause of unions, but we do not encourage reckless unionism, especially to the disadvantage of the child and our education system as a whole.

 

There is one more aspect I must address. I recently spoke at the University of Stellenbosch to graduate students of international politics. I had been asked to speak about our transition to democracy and I included the history of the IFP in our liberation struggle. Many of the students were surprised by the facts I recounted for, they said, they did not learn about this at school. The South African history we are teaching our children is not the complete version, but the authorized version. To me, that is unacceptable.

 

While history is always written by the victor, we cannot allow history to be rewritten in a way that negates or manipulates the truth. The next generation needs to know what our generation accomplished; not the romanticized version in which there is one sole liberator, but the honest version in which many components gave their contribution to bringing South Africa out of Apartheid and into democracy.

 

In 2009 I found myself in litigation against the Minister of Education over a history textbook for Grade Nine that contained a defamatory cartoon implicating the IFP in the bloodshed of our past. The accusation was not accompanied by any explanation, contextualization or disclaimer, it was simply put forward as fact. After a protracted intervention, we eventually obtained the Minister’s commitment not to distribute this page. But it remains of deep concern to me what our children are learning.

 

There is no doubt that politics shapes education. When I consider the lack of discipline among our youth today, I cannot help but think that the ANC’s chickens have come home to roost. The ANC’s call during Apartheid to make South Africa ungovernable urged school children towards aggression, disruption and disobedience. What we see today is simply a culmination of those tendencies. Our schools lack discipline, our students are aggressive towards their teachers and, too often, chaos reigns.

 

I warned the ANC that they were creating a future devoid of respect for authority and the rule of law, but I was taunted and vilified for speaking the truth. Now we see an ANC Youth League that burns images of our country’s President on national television. I am appalled that learners were taken out of school and bussed to Johannesburg to boost the number of supporters for the ANC Youth League President as he faced disciplinary charges. But Mr Julius Malema has been allowed to insult elders and leaders of our nation for years without anyone in the ANC calling him to order. We should not be surprised that the ANC Youth League is now attacking the President himself.

 

Much more could be said on this important occasion. However, beyond anything that can be said must lie the will to move in a direction different from that which has characterized our endeavours in the past. We must proceed from the painful acknowledgement that the present situation is not acceptable.

 

Let us not find easy solace in comparison with other countries, even if those comparisons show that much wealthier and more developed countries than South Africa have educational track records worse than ours. We have challenges in our society which are greater than theirs, yet we must place our country on a path towards success.

 

We cannot rely on the rest of the world to help us. We have now reached a point where we must rely on our own strength to gain the final measure of that liberation towards the achievement of which so many generations have dedicated their efforts and made untold sacrifices.

 

I thank you.