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Archive for the tag “transformation”

Singapore, colonialism and Helen Zille

A few days ago there was a big tizz-wozz on Twitter about Helen Zille tweeting that colonialism was not so bad because piped water.

You can read more about that at Zille’s career in ruins:

She has a million followers on Twitter and as she waited for her flight she engaged, as is her wont, in some argument with her followers and critics.

And then, for some maniacal reason, at 8.25am, she tweeted: “For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.”

So powerful was the outrage from (mainly) black South Africans, who don’t have quite so rosy a memory of colonial South Africa, that by 9.59am she was obliged to tweet this: “I apologise unreservedly for a tweet that may have come across as a defence of colonialism. It was not.”

Except, of course, that it was. We are all prisoners of our time and our generations.

The timing could not have been better for those who were facing embarrassing questions from the judges of the Constitutional Court for the mess-up of SANSSA and CPS and the possibility that 17 million pensioners and other recipients of social grants might not get paid. That was a big joke, according to the president. Seventeen million people could go hungry, ha ha ha. They could be evicted for not paying rent, Heh Heh Heh.

But a silly tweet about colonialism, and suddenly the pressure is off.

And it was a silly tweet.

Did Thailand (then known as Siam) have no piped water until they were colonised by the Japanese in 1941? And did the Japanese have no piped water because they weren’t colonised? Did Ethiopia have no piped water before they were colonised by the Italians in 1936? Seeing the judiciary, transport infrastructure and water reticulation as products of colonialism is really daft.

But, like the misdirection of a stage magician, that silly tweet distracted the attention of the nation from something much more serious.

And, to give Helen Zille her due, she sometimes says and writes things a lot more useful than that silly tweet, and I think this is much more worth reading From the Inside: Lessons from Singapore | Daily Maverick:

I thought loftily: “What can we learn from Singapore? It’s an authoritarian country. We are the South African Miracle, the rainbow nation, that moved from being the skunk of the world to democracy’s poster child in less than a decade. Our transition was even faster than Singapore’s! They can learn something about democracy from us.”

I had drunk the Kool-Aid of South African exceptionalism.

She writes about how Singapore has changed in the last 35 years, a single generation, and what South Africa can learn from Singapore.

But I visited Singapore a generation ago, back in 1985, when South Africa was still wracked by P.W. Botha’s States of Emergency and Magnus Malan’s Total Strategy to meet the Total Onslaught.

Singapore was probably more authoritarian then than it is now, and though there weren’t Kasspirs and Hippos visibly prowling the streets there was, underneath the surface calm, that knowledge that somewhere behind the scenes Big Brother was watching.

But one other thing impressed me.

Singapore was a small country, and had no natural resources. The only resource it had was its people, and to make the most of that it invested heavily, very heavily, in education.

Back then, in 1985, the South African education system was broken, and had been badly broken for a generation, since Bantu Education and Christian National Education were brought in in the 1950s. The education wasn’t too good before the 1950s either, but at least then the government wasn’t deliberately trying to cripple it, as the National Party regime set out to do after 1948. And we can see the difference even today, when we meet the much-looked-down upon immigrants from Zimbabwe, legal and illegal, who are generally much better educated than their South African counterparts. Whatever else Mugabe and Smith before him (authoritarians both, like Singapore) managed to destroy, they did not set out to destroy the education system as the Nats did in South Africa.

Then came 1994, and all the talk of “transformation”.

But was the education system transformed? Hardly at all.

So yes, listen to Helen Zille when she talks about Singapore.

Singapore managed to transform their education system. We haven’t transformed ours.

 

 

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The failure of transformation

In the 1990s, in the lead up to, and immediately following our first democratic elections in 1994, there was a lot of talk of the need for transformation. We needed to transform the institutions of the old apartheid society so that they became more appropriate for our new ideals of democracy and freedom. One of the institutions that was most in need of transformation was the police.

There were some attempts at transformation, symbolic, but significant. Instead of being called a police “force”, it became a police “service”. The old military ranks were abolished — generals, brigadiers, colonels, majors, captains and the like, and replaced by ones more appropriate for civil police — inspectors and such.

But now it seems that these changes were merely cosmetic. Underneath the new terminology, the police were not really transformed, but were simply the old monster dressed up in more politically correct terminology. And in the last few months there have been several scandals that have been broadcast around the world that seem to demonstrate the truth of this. These scandals include:

  • The lead detective in the murder case against Olympic and Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius was removed from the investigation last week when it emerged he was facing seven attempted murder charges for allegedly opening fire on a minibus full of passengers.
  • Police shot dead 34 striking workers at a platinum mine in August last year – the deadliest security incident since apartheid ended in 1994.
  • The video footage and the man’s death raised fresh concerns about police brutality in a country where more than 1,200 people a year die while in custody.

via Man dragged by South Africa police dies in custody – Yahoo! News.

An old friend, now a retired Anglican bishop in the UK, who used to live in South Africa but was forced out by the apartheid regime, recently wrote:

S Africa has been much in our news recently.  The Pistorius business has been extraordinarily prominent in our media,  including the BBC,  day after day main headline.  It has, among other things,  provoked the attached piece of gloom,  in one of our most respected papers.  I don’€™t like it much,  as it seems to depend too much on innuendo.  But today’€™s news about the police & a taxidriver does seem to confirm that things are bad in that department.

What can I say?

When one reads the news, especially reports involving the police, it seems, well, so pre-1994.

I’m not surprised at the prominence of the Pistorius business. In Oscar Pistorius we in South Africa have our very own O.J. Simpson, whose trial for the murder of his wife became an international cause célèbre in the media a few years ago. even though the sport he played meant that until his trial, he was little known outside the USA. Every nation in the world takes part in the Olympic Games, however, so Oscar Pistorius’s trial will garner even more public attention. Sporting celebrities charged with murder do seem to attract media attention, and when attention is focused on such cases, the police need to be very careful with evidence, which they seem to have been careless about in both cases. Sporting celebrities charged with murder tend to undergo trial by media. O.J. Simpson at least escaped trial by Twitter.

Daveyton taxi driber arrested for parking offence and dragged behind a police van to the police station, where he died

Daveyton taxi driver arrested for parking offence and dragged behind a police van to the police station, where he died

The Oscar Pistorius case is sub judice, and so I don’t want to say anything about the merits of the case, but the police handling of it raises several questions, one of which is the police’s handling of taxi drivers, which also came up in the other instance mentioned by Yahoo! News.

Like many South African drivers, I sometimes with the police would take more action against some taxi drivers, who are often a law unto themselves, turning right from the left-hand lane, and vice versa, or driving straight from a turning lane, forcing their way into the traffic. But what I have in mind by “police action” is a ticket and a fine (not a bribe), not a death penalty without a trial.

The behaviour of the Daveyton police looks too much like the defenestrations in the bad old says of apartheid. It looks like the same police culture, untransformed.

What has changed? What has been transformed?

Are we any better off than we were in the bad old days of apartheid?

Yes, I think we are better off.

Things may be bad, but they are not as bad as they were back then.

Consider this, for example Acting police minister welcomes Daveyton cop suspension – Times LIVE:

Acting Police Minister Siyabonga Cwele welcomed on Friday the suspension of police officers allegedly involved in the death of a taxi driver.

“All police officers have a duty to fight crime and those who are not worthy of wearing our badge and uniform, must know that they have no place within SAPS [SA Police Service],” he said in a statement.

Can you imagine B.J. Vorster saying anything like that when he was Minister of Justice, Police and Prisons back in the 1960s?

Back then, if anyone dared to criticise the police for such actions, Vorster would publicly denouce them as unpatriotic communists and liberalists trying to besmirch the good name of our noble and upright police force.

In 1960 Philp Kgosana led a protest march of 30000 people into the middle of Cape Town, a few days after 69 people had been killed at Sharpeville. Philip Kgosana met and discussed the matter with a senior policeman, and after their speeches the people all marched peacefully home again. And that was the end of that policeman’s career. He got no more promotions, because the members of the cabinet wanted another bloodbath like Sharpeville and he didn’t give it to them.

Ok, a Facebook friend of mine takes a somewhat more cynical view. He wrote this morning:

So the police drag a taxi driver after hand cuffing him to the back of a police van. This is what happens when police are deployed by the ruling class to enforce and defend the most unequal society on the planet, to defend a cheap labour economy that dehumanises and criminalises the working class and the poor. This is the fruits of neo-liberalism!

I think he has a point, but, again, Vorster never said anything like this Zuma Calls Daveyton Cop Footage ‘Horrific’ – MSN ZA News:

“The visuals of the incident are horrific, disturbing and unacceptable,” Zuma said in a statement.

“No human being should be treated in that manner.”

He was referring to a video, taken by an eyewitness, showing police officers dragging Mozambican national Mido Macia, 27, behind a police van on Tuesday.

Macia was later found dead in the holding cells of the Daveyton police station.

Zuma condemned the death. He said the police were required to operate within the confines of the law in executing their duties. He extended condolences to Macia’s family and directed Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa to investigate.

There may not be much transformation in what the police do, but there is a transformation in what people in government feel they ought to say publicly about it. That must count for something, mustn’t it?

Toll roads: it’s not the price, it’s the principle

Back in the 1970s all roads in South Africa were paid for by car licence fees and a fuel tax.

That is the “user pays” principle. The more you use the roads, the more petrol you use, and the more you pay. It’s simple.

And the collection is simple too — back then there was no VAT or sales tax, which are more complicated systems. But the fuel tax was much simpler than either of those systems.

Then the National Party government decided to raid the road fund to pay for its invasion of Angola and its destabilisation of Mocambique. And to compensate for that they decided to convert some existing roads into toll roads. So we had to pay twice. We had already paid for the roads through the fuel tax, and now we had to pay tolls as well.

Now we have an ANC government, which talks about “transformation”, but their idea of “transformation” is to continue to old NP policies, and even to extend them.

And that reminds me of this:

And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?

And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever.

But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him:

And he said unto them, What counsel give ye that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, Make the yoke which thy father did put upon us lighter?

And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins.

And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.

So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had appointed, saying, Come to me again the third day.

And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him;
And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.

Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the LORD, that he might perform his saying, which the LORD spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat.

So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents (1 Kings 12:6-16).

The old men, people like Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Joe Slovo and Chris Hani, are cold in their graves.

But the young men are the tenderpreneurs.

The NP chastised us with whips, and now the ANC, on the advice of young men who knew not Moses Tambo, has decided that their little finger will be thicker than the NP’s loins.

Cosatu march to protest against eTolls

The problem is not just the eTolls on the Gauteng freeway system (a system they want to extend throughout the country), but all the toll roads everywhere. They should all be abolished, and we should revert to the “user pays” system, where roads are funded out of the fuel tax.

It’s actually easy — next time the fuel price drops, as it recently did by 70c a litre, the government just needs to drop it by 50c a litre instead, and use the balance for the road fund. No one would notice, no one would complain. They’d be so glad of a 50c drop that they would not be agitated over the remaining 20c.

The problem with the Gauteng eTolls, of course, is that most of the money we will be paying is for the collection system, and for the tenderpreneurs’, bribes and kickbacks that went to setting it up. And it is that that is causing the government to dig in its heels.

So don’t buy eTags, not now, not ever.

And voice your objections to MphahleT@dot.gov.za fax 0123093134 (if there’s a better address than that, please let me know). So even if the consultations are “a mere formality” (‘E-toll consultations a mere formality’ | ITWeb), have your say anyway.

Where to get the Government Gazettes to comment on eTolling

 

South Africa Needs Thousands More and Better Teachers Every Year | NGO Pulse

South Africa Needs Thousands More and Better Teachers Every Year | NGO Pulse

An examination of teacher supply and demand leads to the conclusion that South Africa urgently needs more and better teachers and that the country’s teacher management and training system needs radical overhaul.

According to Ann Bernstein, CDE executive director: “Many existing teachers are poorly managed and are not teaching effectively. This is partly because many of them have been badly trained. In addition, SA’s teachers are often poorly utilised. For example, there is a shortage of maths teachers, yet many qualified maths teachers are not teaching maths – despite being willing to do so.”

These are among the key findings of a new report by the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), Value in the Classroom: The quantity and quality of South Africa’s teachers.

“South Africa’s education system is underperforming, especially in terms of maths and science results. When compared to many other developing countries, our expenditure on education is not being matched by results, and research shows decisively that good teaching is vital for better results,” said Bernstein.

Now they tell us!

That should have been one of the highest priorities of the first democratically elected government in 1994 — the transformation of education.

Children who were born in 1994 will be leaving school at the end of this year, and the education of an entire generation of entire generation of school children has been compromised.

We knew that the education system was underperforming back then, and nothing was done, other than introduce OBE (Outcomes-based education) which makes hugely increased demands on teachers, who were for the most part undertrained and badly trained. Instead of introducing a new system, priority should have been given to training and re-training teachers, but “transformation” was merely a buzz-word in the mouths of politicians, and made little difference to the education system.

Certainly it needs overhauling, but we knew that back in 1994. Why have we wasted 17 years? And what hope is there that we won’t waste the next 17 years too?

And so it ends


For a month we’ve had the soccer World Cup, and last night it ended. In some ways we’re sorry. As far as the matches themselves were concerned, we watched them all on TV, so it might just as well have been anywhere else in the world. We did try to get tickets to the Serbia-Ghana match in the local stadium at Loftus Versfeld, but the online booking system kept saying that there were no tickets available, though when we watched it on TV, there did seem to be some empty seats — perhaps those were the more expensive ones.

But even so, it had an effect on local life, and now that it is over we’ll miss it. We’ll miss meeting foreign teams and fans in shopping malls. One of the advertising slogans was “Feel it – it is here” and it was. There was a palpable air of excitement. And it also became the subject of jokes. The World Cup is usually held in the northern hemisphere, but here it was midwinter, and some fans in Polokwane (normally one of the warmer towns in South Africa) carried a sign saying “Feel it — it is cold”. A local radio station commented on a news report that 46000 sex workers would be converging on South Africa for the World Cup, said “Feel them — they are here.”

People drove around with flags on their cars, and yes, they probably wasted a bit of petrol, but they also were conversation starters with strangers in the street, the newspaper sellers, the garage attendants, “Who will win?” and when South Africa was out, “Who do you hope will win?” It broke through the urban reserve, and made people more friendly. And it was good to see two teams that had never won it before in the final.

Our neighbourhood crime watch predicted an increase of crime durung the World Cup, as police were redeployed to match venues. But the police who were left seemed to be extra-vigilant, patrolling more, and actually there seemed to be less crime than usual during this period. There were warnings of child abductions by human traffickers, but there didn’t seem to be a great increase in those either.

The dire predictions in the overseas press (especially the British) about how disastrous it would be were never fulfilled. Some British newspapers produced an “expert” who predicted earthquakes in Durban and Cape Town during the World Cup, even though no part of South Africa lies in a major earthquake zone. In fact the 2012 Olympic Games in London are more likely to be disrupted by volcanoes. The London Daily Mail in particular appended to every report of crime in South Africa the observation that South Africa was to be the host of the 2010 World Cup. Well, there were no earthquakes, and no terrorist bombs wiping out Spanish and Dutch royalty and other VIPs at the final.

Among the high points was the referee from Uzbekistan, who reffed the opening match. Kudos to him. Among the low points was Uruguay’s cheating to reach the semi-finals. We listened to the 3rd/4th place playoff on the radio as our son was watching a movie on TV, and the booing when Suarez (Uruguay’s cheater in chief) got the ball was audible above the droning of the vuvuzelas. Among the entertaining diversions was Paul the Octopus’s uncannily accurate predictions of the results of the last few matches, which coincided with the feast of St Euphemia the Martyr and so provided material for my sermon on Sunday morning.

The opening and closing ceremonies seemed pretty good as such things go, but then we’ve had experience of such things before, having hosted the rugger World Cup an 1995 and the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament in 1996, both of which we won, and temporarily, at least, they helped to foster a sense of national unity. Those for the cricket world cup a few years ago were also quite memorable, even though we didn’t win that time. And for this World Cup they were at least as good as the extravaganza put on at Beijing for the Olympic Games two years ago, without going on for too long.

At the closing ceremony I first became aware of the World Cup theme song, “Waka Waka”, sung by Shakira (whom I’d never heard of). The song that I associate with the World Cup is the Coca Cola advertising song, “When I get older, I will be stronger”, which seemed to be much more prominent, and probably shows just how commercial the whole thing is.

And here are some assessments of the World Cup by foreign journalists, some positive, some negative, noting that the core of the World Cup is big business.

Celizic: World Cup well worth the cost for South Africa:

Despite dire predictions, the stadiums were finished on time, the infrastructure improvements got done, security was leakproof and, other than some minor hearing loss, no one got hurt.

Spain won the Cup for the first time, the final was an entertaining — more so for all the fouls — match, an octopus became the Edgar Cayce of soccer psychics and the folks who keep track of such things say that as many as a billion people watched the final match.

Yeah, South Africa needs a lot of improvements in a lot of areas, just like most other countries in the world. Yeah, there are other places the reported $4 billion it took to build all the new stadiums could have been spent.

But this was money spent on an event that riveted South Africa’s attention for years and consumed it for a summer. It was money that made people feel good about themselves and their nation. It brought people from all over the world to a place they otherwise never would have visited. For the past month, I’m sure, life was pretty exciting in South Africa.

And, on the minus side: Bye South Africa, thanks for being had by us – The Irish Times – Mon, Jul 12, 2010:

And the corporate partners know how to use the muscle. In the World Cup zone you can only use an ATM if you have a Visa card. McDonalds are everywhere. This column attended a domestic league match here during a working visit eight years ago and the walk to the stadium was a long ramble and graze through a never-ending line of street vendors. For the World Cup, that particular flavour of Africa has been disappeared. Sponsors’ tents are the only thing selling anything within the commercial exclusion zone around the grounds.

The humourless nature of this pin-striped Mafia pervades everything. The heavy-handed treatment of the brewer Bavaria Beer for its amusing skirmishes was no surprise to those who had watched the local budget airline, Kulula, suffer the threat of legal action for using the mildly amusing slogan “the unofficial national carrier of you know what”. Even the acts which opened and closed the tournament to such high visibility were bought in from a international promoter with just a token smidgin of African music thrown in.

But even being aware of that, I think the positives outweighed the negatives. And some of the positives were apparent even before the opening match. Loftus Versveld rugby stadium in Pretoria needed to be prepared for the World Cup, so the Super-14 rugby matches were transferred to Orlando Stadium in Soweto, 50 miles away. The supporters of the Blue Bulls, the Pretoria rugby team, are largely Afrikaans-speaking, and twenty years ago most of them would have been supporters of the National Party. And what took place was a minor transformation.

Our transformation challenge: The Blue Bulls show the way! – South Africa – The Good News:

“Transformation is first about behaviour and second about attitude,” a sweaty, vuvuzela-blowing, horns-in-hard-hat Blue Bulls supporter said as he offered me a Captain and Coke in a shebeen deep in Orlando West. “I used to think it was the other way around, but crossing the boerewors curtain, coming to Soweto and watching die Bulle, my manne, wen has changed my life forever” he enthused.

“And if they’d lost?” I innocently enquired.

“Ag, voetsek man!” he laughed.

But therein lies the rub. But for the change of venue 60 000 Bulls supporters would not have made it to the semi-final and the final in Soweto. They would have played at Loftus and their attitude would have stayed north of the curtain.

When residents of the still largely white suburbs of Pretoria braaied on the streets with residents of the still overwhelmingly black Soweto, something has changed, and some of the wounds inflicted by apartheid are beginning to heal.

It’s time to abolish toll roads, not extend them

Toll roads were introduced by the National Party regime so that they could rob the Road Fund to pay for the invasion of Angola and the destabilisation of neighbouring countries.

Part of the democratic transformation process should see the phasing out of toll roads, and the restoration of the road fund. The fairest way to pay for roads is through a tax on fuel. And in that way all roads can be maintained, and not just a few selected ones.

African Energy News Review – Poor will be most affected by N1/N2 toll road proposal

Capetonians have until 30 April to comment on the National Roads Agency’s (Sanral) controversial plans to build toll roads on the N1 and N2 freeways outside Cape Town.

The move would further increase transport costs, which are already rocketing because of significant fuel price increases.

Sanral expects to put out the project to tender with the aim of starting construction within two years if the plan is approved by Minister of Transport Jeff Radebe.

Transformation in education — or the lack of it

For the last fifteen years or more there has been talk of the need for “transformation” in education. One of the things that was done was to introduce “Outcomes-based Education” (OBE). And what was the outcome?

Mary Metcalfe, former Gauteng MEC for Education, and now head of the Education Department at Wits university writes The Times – Article:

Every year on average for the past four years, of the learners who reached matric, only 17% achieved the standard necessary to proceed to university. A third failed matric

TEN years is a short time in education. It takes four years to train a teacher, seven years to pass through primary education, and many years for changes in curriculum intention to take firm root in classrooms. It may be that the annual matric media circus has focused our attention narrowly on the expectation that for this nation of “miracles” there might be a quick-fix solution after the ravages of apartheid education; that our exceptionalism will mean that because we wish it, “next year” will be better. The hard reality is that we are not making the progress we need in the two most critical dimensions of education performance: quality and equity.

Part of the problem is the resistance of educational institutions to transformation, or for transformation that is too narrowly defined, and inadequately measured.

The biggest tertiary education institution in South Africa is the University of South Africva (Unisa). In the 1990s there were about 30000 school teachers registered there as students at any one time, hoping to improve their qualifications. When I began working in the Editorial Department at Unisa in 1986 I was told horror stories about the Faculty of Education by my colleagues. One was of a translator, translating a study guide from Afrikaans to English. She went to see the lecturer, and said she was unable to translate some of the text because she could not understand it. And the lecturer said, “You don’t have to understand it, you just have to translate it.”

I thought this was an apocryphal story, an exaggeration for the sake of effect, until I was editing a study guide for Fundamental Pedagogics 101. After labouring through the first chapter I went to the lecturer to try to clarify some problems with the text, and showed her the text as I had edited it. She got very angry: “Who crossed this out?” “I did.” “Why?” “I couldn’t understand it.” “You’re not supposed to understand it. This is specialised stuff”.

Bear in mind that this was a 101 course, and many students who would be taking it would have come straight from school. If I, having two degrees, could not understand it, how could a school leaver be expected to? The story I had heard was not apocryphal, it was perfectly true, and it goes a long way to explain the malaise in education in South Africa today. It begins with the way that many teachers were trained in the apartheid years, and, because of the failure of transformation, for many years afterwards as well.

Unisa needed to be transformed from a Broederbond institution into one that could do something to improve education for the whole country. People in the Education Faculty kept talking about the need not to “lower standards”, but there was no danger of that: their standards were as low as they could possibly get. There was only one way they could go, and that was up. The trouble was that most of the lecturers had themselves been trained in the pseudo-scientific discipline of “Fundamental Pedagogics”, and were incapable of transforming anything.

One lecturer finally came to the realisation that “Fundamental Pedagogics” was no longer politically correct, as it had been under the apartheid regime. So what did he do? What was his effort at transformation? When his study guide needed to be revised (Unisa demanded revision of study materials every three years) he simply went through the text with a word processor and used the search and replace function to replace every instance of “fundamental pedagogics” with “philosophy of education”. Hey Presto! His study guide was now “transformed” and politically correct in the new South Africa. Never mind that he had not read through the text to see the effect of his changes — that in many places he had used the word “pedagogical” to refer to the “pedagogics” that had now by word magic become “philosophy”, so that it made even less sense than before. But that didn’t matter. The students did not have to understand it, they just had to learn it.

Much of the activity of the Education Faculty at Unisa was devoted to devising complicated terminology for ordinary things, to make it sound more “scientific”, on the principle of “bullshit baffles brains”. “History of Adult Education”, for example, was called “Temporal Andragogics”, which, quite apart from being bullshit, was also sexist, since it referred only to adult male education.

What Stanislav Andreski said of his own discipline (sociology) applies equally here too:

Sometimes the verbal substitutions masquerading as contributions to knowledge are so inept and gross that it is difficult to believe that the authors really think they are revealing new truths (which must be the case), and that they are not laughing up their sleeves at the gullibility of their audience. One of the crassest examples of such delusions is the recent vogue for the letter ‘n’, chosen to deputize for the common word ‘need’ because of its status-bestowing properties stemming from its frequent appearance in mathematical formulae. So by scribbling the letter ‘n’ all over their pages some people have succeeded in surrounding their platitudes with the aura of the exact sciences in their own eyes, as well as those of their readers who might have seen some books on mathematics without being able to understand them (Andreski Social sciences as sorcery 1972:63).

The attraction of jargon and obfuscating convolutions can be fully explained by the normal striving of humans for emoluments and prestige at the least cost to themselves, the cost in question consisting of the mental effort and danger of
‘sticking one’s neck out’ or ‘putting one’s foot in it’. In addition to eliminating such risks, as well as the need to learn much, nebulous verbosity opens a road to the most prestigious academic posts to people of small intelligence whose limitations would stand naked if they had to state what they have to say clearly and succinctly (Andreski Social sciences as sorcery 1972:82).

Eventually the head of the Editorial Department could take it no more, and he said that the Editorial Department would refuse to accept any more study material from the Faculty of Education for editing and translation unless the quality improved, as it was defrauding students, getting them to pay fees for worthless study material. He was warned that disciplinary action would be taken against him. I went with him to see Mary Metcalfe, who was then Gauteng MEC for Education. There wasn’t much she could do, but at least she could be aware of the extent of the problem. Ten years later, she’s still in it up to her neck, and I wish her luck with it. She needs it, South Africa needs it.

The Broederbond rallied round, and the head of the Editorial Department at Unisa was fired. This was in 1996, in the “new” South Africa. He was fired for wanting genuine transformation, and not a farce. He was fired for wanting to raise standards in education, not merely in Unisa, but in the country.

Don’t get me wrong. Unisa has produced a lot of good courses. In the Editorial Department we were the last line of defence in the way of quality control, and we saw both the good and the bad. Some was good, some was very good. But the output of the Faculty of Education was very, very bad.

Before ending this rant, perhaps one more story. A few months after the sacking of the head of department an education study guide came up for review. It had been available for three years, so needed to be revised. It was exceptional; it was clear, well-written and useful. I spoke to my colleague who had worked on it the first time round. She said the lecturer had been cooperative, and they had worked hard on it together. I spent a couple of weeks trying to improve it further, and found it a pleasure to work with a text that actually had something to say rather than the usual meaningless platitudes wrapped up in obfuscating language.

A couple of weeks later we got a complaint from the university administration. Why had we wasted so much time and resources revising that course, when all the stock of original study guides were sitting in the despatch department untouched, because not a single student had registered for the course!

Oh the irony of it! The Education Faculty produced one decent course among dozens of bad ones, and no students registered for it.

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