Andile Zulu, columnist and Activate Change Drivers
Andile Zulu, columnist and Activate Change Drivers

Political education is key to building the SA we want

By Opinion Time of article published Sep 15, 2021

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OPINION: The process of rebuilding has to deal with a political education that tries to provide a new consciousness for all South Africans. Political education has to do with the unmasking and unveiling of our true attitude to poverty, inequality and to racism at large.

by Andile Zulu

With local government elections looming next month, political education is key to building a South Africa that serves all its citizens, especially the poor and marginalised.

Without political education, citizens are often unaware of their full rights or the factors shaping society currently that need attention from policy makers.

One of the pivotal questions to ask is what we want to keep in our current society and what is it that we want to discard?

It is crucial that there is a mobilisation of efforts from non-governmental organisations, from grassroots movements, from collectives of activists – in cooperation with South Africans across classes, particularly those who are the most vulnerable – and Government.

It has become clear that our political imagination is quite restrained and that we are still captured by many ideologies which, firstly, stop us from seeing the dysfunction in our society; make us indifferent to the dysfunction in our society; and therefore, stop us from acting against that dysfunction. The Apartheid and racial inequalities are still very much alive.

For instance, it is regressive thinking to call recent protesters and instigators of unrest in the country, “barbaric” or call for harsher policing as a result. This is criminalising of poverty and of grave concern.

It is a tendency we have seen throughout the country – whenever there is resistance from the black working class; whenever there are protests from those who are unemployed or those who are desperately poor … there are often calls for these protests to be violently quashed by the power of the state. And that to me reflects a problem in the ways we think of society, collectively.

The process of rebuilding has to deal with a political education that tries to provide a new consciousness for all South Africans. Political education has to do with the unmasking and unveiling of our true attitude to poverty, inequality and to racism at large.

Such a process needed to happen in conversations at community level through civil society, through student organisations, beyond only the English language, and into the online space.

So, what does this political education look like?

It has to happen in communities and cannot be imposed on people, it has to exist in conversations with vulnerable people. The core things that must be taken into consideration, Zulu said, was that it had to reawaken a sociological imagination.

By that I mean, is when people try to understand why people protest, why people burn buildings, or why crime is so prevalent, there is a tendency to reduce these very complicated issues to the actions of individuals. To characterise those who we have excluded, as ‘lazy, entitled, violent and barbaric.’

There is lack of understanding among individuals as to how society functions beyond their own self- interest. It makes people aware of the fact that history still persists in the present.

“If we want to understand the dysfunction in society, we have to understand the historical episodes that led us here. Often when we talk about the issue of landlessness, it is a problem that has persisted for over 300 years in history, and why homelessness is a problem in the present. It will help us understand issues of the unemployment.

There is a burden on unemployed individuals to see their current state as their failure - when if we see unemployment as a structural issue in society, with an education system that doesn’t equip people with marketable skills; as the outcome of a shrinking labour market; and also as a result of deindustrialisation for the past 30 years - this then empowers the individual to understand the larger constraints that result in unemployment and is motivated to participate in political action that can deal with those problems.

Our lives influence other people and this should be a crucial aim on the type of political education we need in South Africa going forward. This includes honesty about race and racial tensions; and conversations about class and the hierarchy of wealth that allows social privileges and financial opportunity; that poverty and unemployment are not accidental, but a feature of how our economy is designed.

*Zulu is columnist and Activate Change Drivers webinar panellist

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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