Education with Consciousness

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Mosibudi Mangena

With your graduation, our country is richer; it is gaining more knowledge and much-needed skills that can only be a boon to the economy.

Knowing, as we do, the efficacy of education as a weapon against poverty, we also know that your graduation represents a blow against that phenomenon. What is even more gratifying about your graduation is that your children and grandchildren have a much better chance of being educated. The children of educated parents are more likely to be educated than those of their uneducated counterparts.

This is one of the intergenerational benefits of education. What is more, you are likely to be in a position to make a financial contribution towards the education of your children, rather than depend entirely on the state for the education of your offspring.

Of course, uppermost in the minds of most of you might be the finding of a job that is commensurate with your new qualifications. By all means, that is as it should be. But it might also be an opportune moment to ponder your relevance to your society and country.

It was at his own graduation ceremony at the University of the North on April 29, 1972 that Onkgopotse Ramothibe Tiro launched himself into this question. Onkgopotse was president of the SRC at Turfloop, as well as a senior member of the SA Students' Organisation (Saso).

Imbued, as he was, with the philosophy of Black Consciousness, which, among other things, taught us that we were black before we were students, Onkgopotse challenged his fellow graduands to ponder their relevance to their people. He said: "If your education is not linked with the entire continent of Africa it is meaningless."

Broadly speaking, Tiro was saying if you have education and skills for their own sake, which are in no way connected to the solution of the problems facing your people, you are irrelevant and amorphous. Because of the speech that Onkgopotse Tiro delivered at that graduation ceremony, in which among other things, he attacked the oppressive political set-up of the time, he was summarily expelled from the university. The expulsion triggered a revolt at Turfloop that later spread to almost all universities in the country. He was followed everywhere he went and harassed by the security police until he fled into exile in Botswana. On February 1, 1974, Onkgopotse received a parcel bomb that blew him to death in a village called Kgale, just south of Gaborone.

Tiro lived under conditions of oppression against the black majority, and the relevance he talked about involved identity with the struggles of his people. In addition to pronouncing and mobilising against oppression, by some us, who were his comrades, we identified with the plight of our people in many ways.

I was among university students affiliated to Saso who came to Winterveldt over weekends to teach older people to read and write. Saso medical students visited communities to screen them for common diseases, referred some of them to clinics and hospitals, or advised them on healthy living. They sometimes recruited qualified doctors and nurses to work with them in those communities.

Medical students at the University of Natal, Black Section, who included Steve Biko, helped to dig pit latrines in the poor settlement of Phoenix, in the Durban area. Other students from other institutions, such as Fort Hare, worked in communities that were victims of forced removals, such as Dimbaza and others. There is no book or speeches that can conscientise you more than working in communities, and the emotional and spiritual rewards of helping others are boundless.

That was our reality during our student days and it was the reality Onkgopotse Tiro confronted on his graduation day. His courage and his taking a stand cost him his life. What is your reality, today, as you graduate?

Well, you are sons and daughters of a liberated South Africa where, at least theoretically, you would not be detained or killed for your political views. …