RECENT REFLECTIONS

2023

ENHANCING A CAREER FOR BETTER CONTRIBUTION
01 January 2023
 
Often, we spend more time at work than elsewhere – for those who are fortunate to have a job. Indeed, for some, work is a calling. Work is love made visible, as the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran makes us believe. Viewing work as a calling, Elizabeth Jeffries makes a point that “if we only did what felt comfortable, the work of the world would never be accomplished.” According to Joe Batten, love is a powerful, unifying, integrating, healing, renewing, fulfilling, stimulating, reconstructive and reassuring life force. It should be at the center of all that we do. One of the most important lessons I have learnt in my career is to always choose love. Caring, kindness and compassion get so much done. Even at times when the tough is going, love shows the way. It is through love that we remain to be of service to others. Humility should keep us grounded.

To make a career more meaningful, to make it significant and to ensure that we contribute better to our communities and societies through our careers, self-leadership is critical. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tsue puts it better when he says “mastering others is strength, mastering oneself is true power.” For me, it starts with figuring out what is most important in life. Others view this as a necessary dream in order to be able to live a meaning full life – dare to dream big but be realistic. Others see the desire to make a meaningful contribution in life and career as life’s purpose or one’s goal in life. I have come to understand that it is very important to be clear about what is most important in life in order to make a better contribution at work and in life in general.

We often confuse happiness and meaning. We also generally view wealth in a wrong way. We sometimes dream of wealth of other people – all the monies, the possessions and the assets. Happiness without meaning is meaningless, as Marshall Goldsmith argues. I have come to understand that to live a fulfilled and fulfilling life, nice things do not help. Find your mojo – find that which gets you (and keeps you) going, both in your career and in your personal/private life. Cultivate relationships that matter. Learn to let go. Be patient. Be kind to yourself.

Although we spend more time at work than in other places, it does not seem that we take enough time to understand our work environments fully. To function well at work, take time to better understand your work environment. Indeed there are many things that we cannot change where we work, but we can at least control how we react or respond to others and other things in our work environments. Over the years, I got to appreciate how critical it is to map the various networks wherever I work or positions I occupy and have a better sense of who is connected to who both professionally and socially. In a leadership role, also make time to know those that you lead in order that you can support them better. This is always work in progress because there is usually not enough time to do proper scanning of the work environment, and never enough time to get to know colleagues enough.

Linked to meaning and purpose in life and in our careers, those guided by certain values and principles do better. For those in leadership roles, values and principles should be connected to credibility, integrity, consistency, accountability and related guiding lights. This comes handy when difficult decisions are made, and in complex situations. I have come to appreciate how important it is to lead by example. Accountability without integrity is pointless. Values and principles also guide us in how we relate with people in general, not only at work. If we accept that no one is perfect, we can focus on strengths that others have than their weaknesses. We learn that everyone has an important role to play, in life and at work. Always care for your loved ones and all those around you.

So much has been written about finding one’s voice. Like power, we all have voice no matter where we find ourselves. If we keep this simple but powerful fact in mind, we come to the conclusion that we can make changes we consider important – be it at work or in life in general. It helps to understand your environment. One of the most important lessons I have learnt is that everyone can lead no matter the position. It is important to know that, like voice and leadership, everyone can play power up or down or straight depending on the situation at hand. One may not have significant influence in certain environments, but we all have voice and power. Keep the eyes on the prize.

Overall, staying focused and being authentic can go a long way. It begins with knowing who you are and what matters most for you as many studies confirm. Indeed, we evolve as human beings and our environments change. It can be hard to stay true to who you are, but remaining true to who you are will always help you to sleep peacefully. This is true even for those who think they have many weaknesses. Vulnerability and frailty, as an example, are part of who we are than weaknesses. It is about being human. Being always yourself helps you to be consistent. For those in leadership roles, followers or direct reports observe whether you are always true to yourself. Leadership is not only a process, but also it is an example – it is what you do that would count for many. Live your life in a way that does not contradict how you lead. Value everyone.


When all is said and done, as Oprah Winfrey puts it:
 Each of us has a personal calling that is as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.

2022

LEADERSHIP, ETHICS AND COMPASSION
24 November 2022
 
I am fortunate that I occasionally run marathons, as grueling as they often are. The atmosphere, the support and the relief at the completion of 42 kilometers are among the things that make runners torture themselves as we do. Completing is the ultimate prize. It is the triumph of the human spirit. It is the test of endurance. It is proof of resilience. It is evidence of tenacity.

Runners are also ethical, in many ways, at least during the marathons. Of course, like in all endeavors in life, there would be those that let us down at times. In marathons, we see leadership, ethics and compassion all at play. Leadership, ethics and compassion must indeed go together at all times, at least for those who are in positions of power and influence.

Leadership involves influencing others to achieve a particular goal. It is also about supporting others. It is also about caring and many other things such as listening attentively. We see this in many sports codes, but perhaps more so in running particularly in long distance races. There are “buses”: the “driver” leads a group of runners who aim to complete the race, usually in particular time.

Indeed, anyone can be a leader. However, leaders should be guided by certain principles and values. Integrity is probably one of the most important values. The sacrifice that athletes in various sports codes make involve deciding what is more important, and what to do less of in order that there can be more time and discipline for the required training.

Leadership roles have power, influence and authority which should be used carefully. How would or is a leader remembered when he or she has left the particular leadership role is important. In marathons, those of us who are average road runners, we never forget the “bus drivers”. In the 2022 Soweto marathon, where I probably needed a bus more than ever before because I had not sufficiently prepared for it, we appreciated the bus driver greatly. We probably do not remember his name, but we remember him fondly. Our bus driver used power to the benefit of the many. Power usually has a negative connotation, and many people want power for wrong reasons. During marathons we see amazing positive use of power. As Deborah Gruenfeld puts it, “power – at least that lasts – comes from doing what is best for the group, in terms of advancing shared goals and interests…”

Ethical leadership is the process of influencing others through principles, values and beliefs that are shaped by what is considered to be right behaviour. The world needs more of this. At times ethical leaders might come across as weak or too nice. It is important to be true to who you are. To be a proper leader, there is no need to be abrasive and definitely no need to bully anyone. These are lessons we learn from some of the great leaders; people who have left indelible marks and have had significant impacts on others. All such leaders earned respect, even when they were viewed as too nice, because they beat others on results. These are leaders who lead by example. They delegate. They support. They have empathy and compassion. They are genuine leaders. They lead by example, so to speak. That said, it is important that leaders are firm and decisive as and when contexts demand such.

Ethical leadership is leadership that is involved in leading in a manner that respects the rights and dignity of others. Ethics are principles, values and beliefs that define what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior. Ethical leaders demonstrate integrity and they are trustworthy. I link ethical leadership with thought leadership and critical consciousness. Thought leadership is about better understanding of the critical issues and the ability to come up with possible solutions to the challenges. Critical consciousness involves being always aware of your circumstances and surroundings as well as willingness to speak truth to power (call out injustices and demand change).

Leaders should be people who are honest, trustworthy, truthful and should have integrity. This is even more important for those of us who value participative leadership. The American author and philosopher Aldo Leopold defined integrity or ethical behaviour as doing the right thing even when no one else is watching.

Marshall Goldsmith gives us questions we should regularly ask ourselves:  

1. am I doing my best to stay healthy?
2. am I taking care of my wealth (or building it)?
3. am I working hard to build positive relationships with people I love?
4. Do I feel like I'm making a positive impact or difference?
5. Am I doing what is meaningful for me and what makes me happy at the same time?

Runners, many of us as runners I should say, are already addressing the first most important question; we are trying our best to stay healthy. As for wealth, just like happiness, should be about meaning and having impact. Wealth is not mainly financial resources. It is indeed, as Goldsmith argues, meaningless to be happy but not having a positive impact.

To forgive is not to forget, and memory can heal
15 February 2022 
 
Many in the venerable older generation that ensured the demise of apartheid are departing. They have played their part. No one lives forever. It is rare to find someone that is all good or someone that is all bad. Humans have strengths and shortcomings. Humans evolve overtime.

Context and circumstances can change views and perspectives. Many an extraordinary person is an accident of their times and context. In one of Mitch Albom’s extraordinary novels, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Eddie (the old man who dies in an accident while trying to save a life) meets someone (the first person he meets in heaven) and that person tells Eddie that “people often belittle the place where they are born.

But heaven can be found in the most unlikely corners. And heaven itself has many steps.” Albom’s masterpiece novel, very much like his memoir Tuesdays With Morrie, has many important life lessons. We have to do our best to live well or to live a life of meaning and purpose. Among other things, the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu brought back the debate about the role of his generation in the context of the challenges that South Africa continues to face, almost 30 years since the dawn of democracy. It is undebatable that Tutu and those of his generation lived a life of meaning and purpose.

They never belittled where they were born. The fundamental question of what more they could have done in the making of a better country should not be dismissed. South Africa has been drifting further away from the society that was envisaged by the liberation programme. The majority of South Africans continue to face many hardships, inequalities have remained high and racism continues unabated. The rainbow nation that Tutu envisioned has become a pipedream. South Africans are unable to coalesce, co-exist and build a common future. Given South Africa’s ugly history and the repulsive colonial-apartheid system, the common future must involve the sharing of resources and an appropriate balance of power and influence among all racial groups. Could Tutu and his generation have done more to ensure this; at least to try to make the rainbow nation a possibility? The aspiration of a rainbow nation is dissipating largely because nation building has failed. One of the leading thinkers on nation building, Benedict Anderson, views a nation as “an imagined political community — and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign … the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship.” We surely could have done better in the pursuit of social cohesion. As we bid farewell to the older generation that brought us political freedoms, we must never forget where we come from as a society and we dare not belittle the place we were born. We should equally, if not more, be inspired to forgive.

Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. Memory can play many roles; good and bad. In her book capturing her interviews with an apartheid assassin, Eugene de Kock, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela advances a view that if memory is kept alive to cultivate old hatred and resentments, it is likely to culminate in vengeance and repetition of violence, but if memory is kept alive to transcend hateful emotions, then remembering can be healing. It is a complex issue. It is indeed critical that memory in the context of South Africa can be used to advance nation building. Memory, also in terms of heritage, can be an instrument for healing and bringing about the rainbow nation that Tutu hoped for. It is never too late or better late than never. As Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela puts it, “when perpetrators express remorse … they are revalidating the victim’s pain — in a sense giving his or her humanity back”. I, however, think that forgiveness is a solitary journey.

Each individual weighs up many factors in deciding whether to forgive or not. This is not to downplay the value of forgiveness. As individuals, there may be instances where we first have to forgive ourselves before we can forgive those we consider to have harmed us. Functionally, memory inspires hopes and aspirations for the future. Memory helps victims tell their stories. Through memory, victims share their dignities, sorrows, disappointments and expectations with others. As they recall their experiences, they hear one another and extend invitations to others to “witness” their lives. They learn about issues of concern and possible ways of addressing those concerns. Sadly, the majority of South Africans no longer regard democratic South Africa as a beacon of hope, because it would seem that the economic interests of former oppressors and beneficiaries of the apartheid regime have been expanded and protected. As academic Tshepo Lephakga points out, “the negotiated settlement resulted, in line with the colonial project, in the conquerors receiving their first prize, namely economic power, while the conquered received their first prize, namely political power under constitutional democracy”. Joel Modiri contends that “the failure to redress the structural continuity of colonial-apartheid renders the Constitution’s extension of universal suffrage, citizenship and human rights to black people hollow and abstract.” As we celebrate the lives and legacies of those who ensured that apartheid collapsed, we should use the opportunity to revisit the memory that brought us here. We should continue to strive to turn that memory into a weapon for lasting positive change. That also requires that we remember to forgive.

2021

Education is still the future
April 2021 
 
Education matters in many ways and or for many reasons. A couple of years ago me and my Doctoral student then crunched numbers to try and answer whether education really matters. The journal article we published in 2016 is attracting a good number of citations. Numbers confirmed that it is not just education that matters, although education has its own intrinsic value, but the quality of education matters greatly.

We know that we have a challenge of the quality of education in the context of South Africa. This, barring the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, is one of the reasons why unemployment has remained very high in South Africa. It also partly explains huge inequalities in South Africa. Of course, the poor quality of education in South Africa is largely because of the country’s political history: education for Africans was deliberately poor and the agenda was to ensure that Africans remain inferior. This was the hallmark of Bantu education. As argued in a recent book chapter, the Bantu Education system effectively pursued the same objective as slave education, albeit perpetuating subjugation and disempowerment with much greater vigour and disdain.

Indeed, the successive democratic administrations since 1994 have not been able to sufficiently reverse this terrible legacy whose ramifications have dire consequences for the society. There have been many policy mishaps and implementation glitches that have conspired to keep the quality of education low. The inefficiencies in the South African public sector have worsened the situation. Not all is lost though.

Back to what this blog/reflection is about: education is till the future. Presenting to student teachers at the University of Mpumalanga recently, I went down the memory late trying to remember my teaching practice encounter. I had initially trained as a teacher in the early 1990s. The teaching profession was held very highly those days. I changed to be researcher later on. I ended up as an academic, after a relatively long detour as a government official. The opportunities for tutoring and working as assistant lecturer made me wish to be an academic. I saw an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution as an academic. Was it not Mandela who said that “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world”?

Education plays an important role in the advancement of wellbeing in many ways. It interrupts intergenerational transmission of poverty. It contributes to technological improvements. It advances socio-economic development. At an individual level, education enhances one’s chances for success even in instances where it is difficult to secure employment. Education just makes you better in some way. Of course, there are many “educated idiots” out there. In the Godfather trilogy, when his son decides to drop formal education for music, the Godfather pleads with him that “education is insurance”.

Teachers do not only impart knowledge but inculcate a value system especially in contexts like our society where communities have largely disintegrated and families are falling apart. It is in schools that young ones can be molded to be responsible citizens. In many instances teachers find themselves in unfortunate circumstances. Because of the troubled nature of our society, mainly due our repulsive political history and its ramifications, teachers are sometimes unable to play the roles that they should be playing. Schools have become playgrounds for all social ills manifesting in our society. This does not mean though that teachers should not continue to do their best. Teachers have to be responsible and accountable like everyone else in society, but more so when one is a teacher. Accountability, in various forms, should be the mainstay of any profession.

Teachers have a critical role in ensuring that the future citizens of any country are properly raised through arming them the requisite skills, knowledge and values. A failing school system is a disservice to a nation, for being entrusted with the education of future generations is a huge responsibility. Some teachers sometimes see themselves as teaching learners without critically reflecting on the extent to which they are accountable to society.

Part of the problem that affects teachers is that those responsible for education may not know enough about what they are dealing with. We have seen, for instance, the confusion that frequent changes in the curriculum have caused. Education policymakers can take wrong advise and implement inappropriate decisions. It is important that that which is not working is corrected but don’t fix that which is not broken.

So, even though teachers need to be more responsible, policymakers should not make it difficult for teachers to do their best. Like lecturers, teachers have to improve themselves and ensure that a student is the main focus of his/her attention. If teachers/lecturers are unable to make the necessary sacrifices that the education sector demands of them, it would be good that they explore other professions.

2020

Love and living in times of the coronavirus
April 2020
 
There are a few subjects as complex as love, loving and living – and of course death. Loving and living do not only influence life but they shape death and dying, for dying better is shaped by how one lives. There are different kinds of love. There are different ways of loving. Living to love, be loved, loving to live and to forgive, for better or worse, are some of the best gifts to humanity and gifts we can give ourselves in a generally hostile world where love often suffers. Loving oneself and to love others must be one of the best gifts one can give to her/himself.

 As the world battles the coronavirus, one wonders what could be expressions of love in times of Covid-19. The Colombian Nobel prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez covers these intriguing subjects of loving, living and dying in many of his outstanding novels. The two that stand out are: Love in the Times of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude. In Love in the Times of Cholera, Márquez brilliantly portrays a love triangle that helps us understand loving, living and dying. In One Hundred Years of Solitude (my all-time favorite), we learn about loving, living and dying – and forgetting – in a town that has no contact with the outside world.

 Although it is hard to define love, we know what love is not: love is not envy, love is not jealousy, love is not obsession and other things that can be confused with loving. Loving is special. It is not hard to see love when there is love.

  Indeed, love can be pain: just like pain, love is universal. To love should not be equivalent to benefits of loving and being loved. One can love helplessly but suffer because of loving. We can never know for sure how those we love feel. This is both the beauty and curse of life, love and living. Love cannot always be clearly communicated. To love at times may mean letting go of those we love but it can never be that we harm those we love because of love.

 The power of love is that we can always devote ourselves for those we love: we do what we can so they can live better, we work harder so humanity can improve, we love so we can be loved, we do that which is good because of love. We live for love – we love to live. Many people have sacrificed a lot so we can be where we are: that is love. In return, we are called upon to deliver the greatest love of all so we can all thrive and the future can be better than we found the world we live in.

 Love gives us hope. Love inspires. Love strengthens us at moments of weakness. When in doubt, we remember that we are loved and that we love. When we are discouraged or exhausted, love keeps us going. Love teaches us forgiveness. We grow through loving. Through love we do good and we can keep going, even in moments of adversity. We are sometimes in shadows of love, which elicits confusion and at times can cause pain. We are reminded that when we truly love we cannot judge, and we must love selflessly. Even in instances when those we love let us down, our love for them does not have to die. We learn to live with disappointments.

 Love is faith; having faith to those we love that love can be repaid with love. It is about the commitment to a better future. It is about connecting deeply with those we care about. It involves giving back, for we have been loved so we can love. Through being loved we can love better.

 One of the most powerful lessons in Tuesdays with Morrie, a memoir by an American author Mitch Albom about a series of visits Albom made to his former sociology professor Morrie Schwartz as Schwartz gradually dies, is that we can all love. We have all loved. We all have been loved. We shall love. We love and live, and live to love. Most importantly, dying well depends how well one lived. As Morrie says, as he stares at death, “once you learn how to die, you learn how to live”.

  I am wondering what could be expressions of love in times of the coronavirus. 

South Africa’s future becomes more bleak
September 2019
 
It was always going to be hard to advance wellbeing in South Africa. It has become harder. For many African countries, ensuring that human development expands has been a challenge. This important point is generally overlooked in many analyses, voices and proposals regarding what could be done. No amount of rhetoric and dreaming as well as marches would take the South African society forward.

Similarly, there is a lot of practical work that needs to be undertaken in all African countries if we are to see substantial progress in the lives of Africans. In the meantime, the mobilisation work towards the United African States should intensify.

Coming back to South Africa, it would seem that we have not fully understood what is going on. The sporadic, increasingly frequent and intense public protests are justified. There are many factors that account for despair, anger and resentment that many community members are displaying – this is not to justify criminality by some South Africans as we have witnessed again and again during public protests and the frequent attacks on Africans from other African countries.

Getting the African economy right
May 2019
 
As we commemorate yet another Africa day, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on the African economy or economies in Africa. To start with, it is clear that part of the reason why development has not been good in Africa is that economies in Africa are constrained by the colonial character of the African economy. The encounter with slavery, colonialism and imperialism negatively impacted the African economy or economies in Africa in many ways. The Africa-China economic relations might exacerbate that, for Africa is becoming a supplier of raw materials again and African economies are depending on China as they might have depended on Europe.

The structure of the African economy remains largely unchanged and most of what has been done since political independence is scratching the surface. Most of southern and eastern parts of the African economy are still largely labour reserves or what has been characterized as an ‘enclave economy’.

Mama Madikizela-Mandela fought a good fight
June 2018
 
In a new book on Thomas Sankara, Aziz Salmone Fall says ‘it is said that behind every great man is a great woman. In the case of Thomas Sankara that woman is Mariam Serme. The courage and resistance of this great woman in the face of adversity is an example of resilience for all of Africa. She remains convinced that social progress cannot occur without a radical change in the status of women.’ We also learn, in this new book (A Certain Amount of Madness: The Life, Politics and Legacies of Thomas Sankara), that Sankara was significantly influenced by his mother like many other men out there (at least those who imbibed good values and are able to espouse such).

The continent of Africa and entire global south has come a long way. The liberation struggle for the emancipation of the peoples of the global south, and Africa in particular, was long and hard – there is still a long way to go. For South Africa, the next phase of the struggle for the complete emancipation of the majority is gaining momentum. We stand in the shoulders of the heroines and heroes that brought the freedoms, however insufficient, that we are enjoying. They fought a good fight. Mama Madikizela-Mandela fought a good fight among those of her generation, and endured many hardships as well as made many sacrifices. We often talk of Sankara, Cabral, Lumumba, Mondlane, Mbeki and many heroes of the liberation project but we hardly talk of the many heroines that gave birth to the politically independent Africa we now enjoy. Freedom was never free, and many of our grandmothers and grandfathers suffered immensely so we can have the freedoms we experience.

The Ever Changing Political Landscape in South Africa
January 2018

The political landscape in South Africa has been changing rather rapidly lately, after two decades of democracy in South Africa. Among the issues that play a big role or contribute to the rapid changes we observe is reconciliation or lack thereof. Linked to reconciliation is development; inclusive development to be sure. With regard to development, there is a general view that socio-economic transformation has been slow since the dawn of democracy in South Africa. Indeed, nation building (as in a cohesive society), development, freedom and related phenomena have suffered in post-apartheid South Africa because there has been an inability to acknowledge and respect South Africa’s repulsive political and economic history of deprivation (as I have been arguing). Consequently, the power base of the African National Congress (ANC) has been eroding. The ramifications of apartheid colonialism have not been directly addressed and the weaknesses in the ANC and in government have given the minorities room to renege from reconciliation efforts. 

South Africa's future becomes clearer
June 2017

For good or bad, or for better or worse, the future of South Africa is becoming clearer. The signs are everywhere for everyone to see. It is better to deal with a clear future than an uncertain one, even if the future might look ugly. Now that South Africa’s future becomes clearer, we can all plan better.

To start with, it would seem that things are going get very bad before it gets better. The economy continues to fall apart and Statistics South Africa is finally telling the truth that the economy is in a recession. Unemployment continues to increase, and it will most likely get very bad before it gets better. The economic inequality, let alone other historical inequalities and inequities, remains the highest in the whole wide world. Poverty has not declined as expected. In fact, it might very well be that poverty is also increasing – or would increase, at least income poverty, as the economy takes a further knock and unemployment further rises. These triple-challenges, as government terms the trio (i.e. poverty, unemployment and inequality), are all a function of the structure of the economy as many have said, although some do not share the view that unemployment in South Africa is structural. Of course there are other problems, such as the poor management of public finances, which accentuate economic challenges in South Africa.

As I have been arguing, after stabilizing the economy in the early 2000s there was a long period when economic reforms were not pursued. Only in 2005 the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA) was unveiled, replacing the 1996 Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) Framework. GEAR was, arguably, meant to stabilize an economy that was bankrupted by the apartheid regime.AsgiSA was meant to grow the economy and ensure that the fruits of the growing economy got widely shared across society. Accompanying AsgiSA was the Joint Initiative for on Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA) in South Africa. Around the same time there was an Antipoverty Campaign Programme which had been proposed by the Antipoverty Strategy for South Africa. The Policy Coordination and Advisory Services (PCAS) in the Presidency was playing an important role as a think-tank and also coordinating these major initiatives of the government. There was also continuous consultations on a variety of important issues across government even in instances when there were disagreements. For instance, there were those who objected to the National Treasury’s Harvard Panel of Economists initiative but the Harvard Panel happened and it did the work that was envisaged. ...

What does Africa really want?
June 2016

As we celebrate yet another Africa Day, the question of what Africa really wants (and or what Africans, wherever they are, want) cannot be avoided. This question is forever lingering, and it becomes sharpened when Africa interacts with the rest of the world. The question must be confronted or posed directly especially given the fuzzy and amorphous relations between Africa and the rest of the world, China included. Regarding China in particular, many questions remain. Among them, and the most fundamental one, relates to what does Africa really want from China. This is the question that only Africans within the African continent, or their representative body – the African Union (AU) Commission – should address. The Chinese appear very clear about what they want, hence the contradictions in the Chinese foreign policy as epitomised by the recent South Sudan case and also its new partnership with France on Africa...

Critical consciousness is the answer
January 2016

There is, increasingly, a common message that is emerging about South Africa 21 years since the formal end of apartheid: things are getting bad. As argued elsewhere, this might not be surprising particularly if we look at the development experiences during the first two decades or so for many post-independent countries on our continent. We could have paid more attention to avoid what appears to be the forthcoming ultimate outcome: a new order, if not a disorder, that is plunging the whole of South Africansociety into a crisis if not a civil conflict. The sixteenth Steve Biko Memorial Lecture, which coincided with the fortieth Independence Anniversary of the Republic of Mozambique, confirmed that South Africa is at a cross-road again. It was therefore befitting to having former president Joaquim Chissano to deliver the lecture – he also got to juxtapose the link between the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) as well as reflect on the role and relevance of Black Consciousness in the liberation struggles in southern Africa.

The National Question in South Africa
June 2015

It is not easy to ignore the national question in South Africa, particularly presently, both in the context of twenty years of democracy and also given the troubling discourse by certain seemingly regressive people and or institutions. It is also hard to overlook this paramount issue of the national question when one observes the socio-economic challenges confronting South Africa today, and what appear to be a directionless government and a chaotic parliament. By a ‘national question’, to put it simple, it is generally implied that there is appropriate balance of power and influence among all people and or ethnic groups in a nation state. Linked to the national question are notions of nation, nation building and nationalism as well as nation state. In simple terms, pride in identity beingof a particular origin is nationalism.Nation building, not statebuilding, can be viewed as the strengthening of unity, coherence, functionality and pride in a nation state – nation state simply refers to a geographical area characterised by legitimacy based on sovereignty of a nation. The reason I do not spend time on the question of sovereignty of South Africa is because the then parliament of South Africa declared South Africa as a sovereign independent state through the 1934 Status of the Union Act. Others may want to engage with this issue, because there are those who are of the view that ‘sovereignty’ of South Africa remains in question.

Towards a better agenda for the development of the Global South
December 2014

The current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015. The MDGs were adopted in September 2000 through the Millennium Declaration at the 55th session of the United Nations General Assembly, convened as the Millennium Assembly. The MDGs, understood to be a global development agenda, focused on poverty reduction, access to education, gender parity, healthcare access, sustainable development and international partnerships. Although many milestones have been reached, Africa is set to miss most of the MDGs, so are many countries in the global south (with possible exception of Brazil and China which incidentally did not follow the orthodox prescriptions for development). Most African countries perform poorly on human development. The African economy, broadly, performs below potential relative to its size, resources, and other factors. Poverty and inequality remain very high in most African countries. It is imperative that the post-2015 development agenda pay particular focus on poverty, inequality and human development. It should be noted also that poverty and inequality in Africa are structural. The structures of African economies favour capital intensity, mineral-energy sectors, and high level skills. As many have explained, the colonial project had shaped African economies – and those of the global south as a whole – as satellite economies in the periphery to serve the metropolis in Europe. It is also in this context that the African continent was inappropriately partitioned at the infamous Berlin Conference and colonialism reigned.

Biko and the ‘new’ South Africa
September 2014

As we commemorate the brutal and barbaric killing of Stephen Bantu Biko this time of the year we are once again forced to reflect on where we are as a country against the ideals that Biko died for. South Africa is also marking 20 years of political independence. It is fitting, indeed, to ask and answer the question: how far is South Africa in the journey to true liberation? Barney Pityana, at the debate that commemorated Biko at the University of South Africa, appealed to us, as Africans, to confront the question of what is wrong with us. Pityana, among many important points made during his reflections on Biko and South Africa, argued that Biko cherished dialogue and that we must discuss what is going on in South Africa. He reminded us of one of Biko’s most powerful and timeless essay, “We Blacks”, which was directed to Africans in an appeal that Africans must have a dialogue among themselves as a step towards decolonising the mind and being proud in being African. There have been similar calls and similar commemorative discussions across the country, as we remember Biko.