Former South Africa education minister Mosibudi Mangena warns against the culture of verbal and physical violence to resolve conflicts

A recent study to find ways of ending poverty in South Africa found that out of every 100 pupils who enter the education system, 60 will write matric level examinations, 37 will pass, 12 will go on to university, and six will complete their degrees while only four of those will land high-paying jobs.

Although we might have been aware of these facts, the statistic that around 96% of every cohort of pupils are not likely to get into high-paying jobs underlines the extent to which the majority of South Africans are restricted in opportunities; 23 years after the attainment of democracy.

By the same token, most of the unemployed come from that class whose opportunities have been stunted by a poor education system. Consequently their children would be more likely to require child grants and attend No Fee schools.

The study concludes, rightly, that no amount of grants or Black Economic Empowerment would effectively tackle poverty in South Africa.

We have known all along that grants do help the poor to survive, but they do not take them out of poverty. Welfare grants freeze the poor in their poverty state. We need an effective and credible education system to take the majority of our people out of poverty.

We need very deep, serious, honest and frank conversations in this country to help us find pathways out of our present predicament which is characterized by widespread poverty and inequality.

Yet, we seem to be incapable of engaging one another meaningfully and intelligently. Instead, we very easily resort to name-calling, beatings, burning and destruction of property as our method of engagement.

It seems a scorched earth mentality is a preferred approach to every argument. Beat those with a different view from yours into submission or into the ground. And yet a society in which all think the same does not exist anywhere in the world. Insistence that everyone should toe the line is dictatorship.

We saw, in the glare of television cameras, the chaotic break-up of the Higher Education Convention on March 18th 2017. The convention was organized by civil society groups that was led by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke and it brought together student organizations, leaders in higher education institutions, parents, the government and the business sector.

The convention presented a unique opportunity for sharing ideas about the thorny issues pertaining to higher education funding and curriculum content. Yet, instead of intellectual engagements, groups of people started singing to drown out speakers. Some stormed the stage to forcefully remove speakers, while students threw chairs and punched one another.

How is South Africa going to solve it’s serious problems in the education sector if we don’t deliberate with one another?

Some of us cannot understand why young budding intellectuals eschew debate. I remember how as students in the South African Students Organization, SASO, we thrived on debate and relished every opportunity to engage in verbal combat. We read a lot and reveled in out-quoting one another during arguments.

We learnt about antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions, how to classify these and how to handle them correctly. The university fees and decolonized education issues fall under non-antagonistic contradictions that should be solved through debates and discussions, not violence.

The contradiction we had with the white minority regime was antagonistic and invited resistance on our part, including armed struggle.

There were mature adults in the sixties and seventies who looked askance at SASO radical rhetoric and activities. We visited them in their homes in the evenings, to engage them respectfully with the aim of winning them over to our side. In the majority of cases, we managed.

Of late it seems that every disagreement is classified as war. Whether it is disgruntlement with so-called service delivery in communities, or students at our institutions of higher learning having a bone to chew with management, or workers who have a dispute with their employer, or members of parliament who disagree strongly with one another on any issue, verbal abuse and acts of violence are easily resorted to.

Keeping in mind the fact that parliament is one of the highest institutions of state in our country where reason and logic should rule supreme, verbal and physical violence there is particularly reprehensible. In the majority of cases, it is failure to engage meaningfully in debates that leads to civil strife or even civil wars.

If South Africa is to enhance it’s development, we should eschew the tendency to adopt a scorched earth mentality whenever we have a problem. Civil strife and social development are mutually exclusive.