Land, Climate Change and Higher Education the focus of JL Dube Lecture
As part of the four-day John Langalibalele Dube Memorial Lecture series, former political prisoner and author Mr Ngila Michael Muendane and PhD candidate in Political Science at UKZN Mr Lukhona Mnguni discussed land, climate change, and Higher Education.
Muendane noted that land is a crucial asset. ‘Without it, there can be no houses, food, clothes, roads, there will be nowhere to hold water, in short no life at all. The whole of existence is predicated upon land. Our conscience would lead us to establish that it is wrong to deny another human being the ability to at least meet his or her needs.’
He added that South Africa’s land reform programme is part of the wider African struggle against neo-colonialism. ‘Never mind the land, what colonialism took away from us is independence of mind to disable us from finding ways to reclaim it by taking away our power of self-mastery, and instilling the dependency syndrome that is responsible for interpersonal abuse, static thinking, poverty, corruption, and lack of compassion, resulting in disunity, amongst many other weaknesses.’
Muendane also criticised the government for planned changes to land reform and accused the ruling party of lying about returning land to the dispossessed. He said that government’s failure to deliver 30% of farm land to 25.6 million landless people shows that the African National Congress’ land policies are patently wrong and the party is creating a time bomb.
He argued ‘physical colonialism may have ceased but mental colonialism continues to this day and nowhere more starkly than in academia. Africans need to go back to their roots, their own traditions, to find and embrace their own identity. They need to leave this dependency syndrome behind and embrace Dube’s notion of self-reliance.’
Mnguni’s address reflected on the life of Dube through the prism of Higher Education and COVID-19. He argued that Higher Education Institutions in South Africa have attempted ‘to preserve the status quo through virtual platforms with a push for the completion of the academic year and the unethical push to pass students at all costs, undermining the quality and integrity of qualifications. This unintentionally (at least) provides a false sense of achievement among some students.’
According to Mnguni, ‘Dube would implore us to position our institutions to be emancipatory to the most downtrodden, to uplift our communities and to inform the soul of our future humanity as a country. He would be disappointed at the regressive tendencies of selfishness, greed, plagiarism, theft of ideas and poor compensation for excellence that emerges from time to time in the academy.’
He posited that if Dube was still alive, ‘students would continue to be at the centre of our innovative efforts with the need to broker new emancipatory pedagogies that correspond with the challenges of our times. We would not rush to conclude the academic year without being concerned about the future pathways that may not be available to our students.’
Mnguni argued that during the years of Dube and African American leader Booker T Washington there was an intersectionality of scholarship, politics, development and futuristic pursuits. ‘In today’s world these are often segmented, creating the unintended consequence of timid academics who live in bubbles of self-created social realities. For this reason, the usefulness of academia has come under the spotlight.’
His presentation posed questions such as: Where to from here for Higher Education? Why have we not built enough early warning systems for social strife that has perilous outcomes for society? How do we position Higher Education to lead rather than to lag and study the after effects of social evolution? Can Higher Education be visionary and ahead of the tide as it was in the times of Dube or must we be resigned to the inertia it has worked itself into? Have the walls of majestic existence distorted the need for existence?
Said Mnguni, ‘Some of these questions are as ideological as they are practical about the place of Higher Education. I believe Dube would encourage us to keep reinventing ourselves for the benefit of humanity, to embody a lasting industrious spirit that is about the making of the future rather than a reproduction of the present. Higher Education must be at the centre in creating the world we want in the future, unlocking answers to all the intersectional points of scholarship, politics, development and futuristic pursuits.’
Words: Melissa Mungroo