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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
I thank you.