Kara Heritage Institute Trustees
Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me a great pleasure to address this auspicious occasion, namely the Book launch of Awareness Publisher’s books titled, "Learning African History, African Freedom Fighters".
Today is a historical moment in the political calendar of this country. Today marks 62 years since the adoption of the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter was adopted in Kliptown, bringing the ANC together with Indian, Coloured and White organisations. The Congress of the People was a dramatic affair held over two days in an open space at Kliptown, a Coloured township near Johannesburg. The significance of the Charter was never lost to the apartheid regime: that of bringing in diverse South Africans together and to pronounce on the democratic future.
The Charter boldly proclaimed that: All National Groups Shall have Equal Rights! It insisted that: a) All people shall have equal right to use their own languages and to develop their own folk culture and customs, b) All national groups shall be protected by law against insults to their race and national pride, c) The preaching and practice of national, race or colour discrimination and contempt shall be a punishable crime.
In reality, the Freedom Charter, long before of 1996 Constitution, which itself is turning celebrating its 21st anniversary this year, called for social cohesion in the land of our forebears. I shall return to this theme later in my address.
Programme Director, it is important to make this key point that history is not important for its own sake. Instead, it’s a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his/her facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past in-order for us to determine a better future without repeating the mistakes of our forebears. Our 21 year old Constitution is a testament to this historical injunction. The ideals propagated in the Freedom Charter found its imprint in our Constitution. This was not by an accident of history but by its very own design.
Similarly, the launch of this new book by the Kara Heritage Institute goes into the heart our nascent democracy’s quest for heightened social cohesion. It is ahistorical that a people with different past and diverse cultures cannot coexistent in the cultural diverse society such as ours. The recording of history of a people one’s forgotten is proof that history in itself refuses to have blank pages.
It is historically fitting that this event is being held amidst the nationwide commemoration of one of the poignant moments in our political calendar, the 41st June 16 Soweto Youth Uprising. We therefore join with the Kara Heritage Institute and Awareness in this poignant moment. What a better way to commemorate the June 16 Soweto Youth Uprising than to launch a book. The book not only places the events of the past under the microscope but humanises and pays homage to the heroes of the anti-apartheid Struggle. Our revolution was an ensemble of a multitude of diverse peoples joined in a clarion call to liberate our country from the yoke of apartheid and colonialism of the special type.
Equally significant, is that 2017 has been declared as Year of Oliver Reginald Tambo affectionately known as OR. OR Tambo was arguably the greatest liberation fighter of the 20th century alongside Isithwalandwe/Seaparankoe the late Nelson Mandela. Apart from his political activism, OR was a scholar and vociferous reader. He was as we know a Mathematician, Teacher and a Lawyer.
Programme Director, it is through producing new knowledge about ourselves as a country that we may begin to face up to the elephant in the room, the lack of reading culture amongst many intractable problems that beset us today. I shall return to this theme later in my address.
Programme Director, our continuous renewal as a nation depends on the production of new knowledge, which thus expands our horizons about diverse backgrounds whilst narrowing the cultural divide. In addition to its intrinsic value, culture provides important social and economic benefits. With improved learning and health, increased tolerance, and opportunities to come together with others, culture enhances our quality of life and increases overall well-being for both individuals and communities.
Programme Director, we must view today’s event as an opportunity for us and our children to remember and celebrate the lives and times of the midwives of our democratic enterprise: heroes and heroines of the most protracted liberation Struggle of the 20th century. We need to record and place permanently in the history archives the role and place of yesteryear heroes and heroines especially black Africans because it is correctly argued that a country that does not know its History has no future.
Programme Director, there is growing poverty and inequality, coupled with serious chasms in the perceptions of citizens and interested groups about what the future holds - these have reinforced past divisions among South Africans. We must take seriously this great sense of unease about the future of our country. It is the worst time for cultural institutions such as yourselves (Kara Heritage Institute) to champion cultural pride and diversity in the country that sadly has gone into a technical recession and double junk status.
Programme Director, the chasm in our society impacts negatively of the Constitutional call for social cohesion. Social cohesion is at the heart of our Constitution. Our Constitution enjoins us to build a new South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. As a supreme law of the land, our Constitution provides an overarching vision for a society at peace with itself. It correctly instructs us thus:
- Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
- Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
- Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person;
The apparent simmering tensions are not innocuous and have a direct bearing on how the Government positions policy to respond to the growing fragmentation among citizens. There is even evidence of a growing a social distance between the citizens and the ruling elites – between white and black, and, between peoples of various ethnicity, language and cultures. Not to mention the despicable rise in the incidences of afrophobia and its twin evil xenophobia.
This erosion of social trust does not only affect the macro polity but extend to the micro level at the school environment. As we should appreciate that the schooling environment transcends barriers of macro and micro polity. Schools are microcosm of society. Thus the chasms I speak about have found a fertile ground in our classrooms.
Today, in our schools there is a corrosive influence of lack of social trust fuelled in part by years of social, policy and material neglect of marginalised communities. The recent upheavals from Vuwani in Limpopo to Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga, to Reservoir Hills in KwaZulu Natal, to Eldorado Park, Laudium, Ennerdale and Kliptown in Gauteng to Khayelitsha in the Western Cape – are a sign of things to come. These upheavals as we know have least to do with basic education but schooling as a public function are the largest causality. The growing corrosive nature of lack of trust prevalent in our society is threatening to derail the democratic enterprise, and thus putting social cohesion in the doldrums. In this prevailing environment of a growing chasm between the State and citizens - cementing social cohesion becomes an uphill climb.
Programme Director, we in the basic education and cultural scholars and social entrepreneurs know too well the power of a well-functioning schooling system. Hence, my contention that just because of the picture I have painted looks grim, I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bath water. We acknowledge the high prevalence of social problems challenging our current democratic State. These should jolt us into action. As rightly so, society looks to schooling and education to provide the protective barriers for future generations. Education contributes to the development of social capital by increasing individual propensity to trust and be tolerant. Learning as a social activity has a strong influence on the development of shared norms and the value placed on tolerance and understanding within a community.
This leads to the importance of developing a reading culture in our society in a last-ditch-effort to have some sense of normality thus landing a deadly blow on the growing chasms in society.
Programme Director; there is a huge body of research that concludes that the main thrust of literacy development is the promotion of a community-wide reading culture which encourages everybody to become engaged and motivated readers. Sadly, South Africa does not have a culture of reading. Statistics indicate that only 14% of South Africans are readers of books and only 5% of parents read to their children. To succeed as country, we must inculcate a reading culture across all age cohorts.
As our strongest arsenal against reading illiteracy, we have conceptualised and launched a nationwide reading programme dubbed Read-To-Read. This campaign is a cradle to grave reading initiative. The overarching vision of the campaign is that a reading nation is a leading nation. This is a four-year campaign to create a national focus to improve the reading abilities of all South African children and adults. It seeks to provide energy as well as direction and inspiration across all levels of the education system and beyond. These include schools, homes, churches, and malls to name just a few. We are encouraging schools, families and communities to make reading a regular and established part of their daily routine.
We are indeed mindful that the task of educating the nation is a societal and collective effort. In this regard, literacy thus better reading skills have a positive impact on all aspects of living.
There are many benefits to reading. Literacy as an outcome of reading impacts on society in several ways namely, literate parents are more likely to send their children to school; literate people are better able to access continuing educational opportunities; and literate societies are better geared to meet pressing developmental agenda.
Research shows a causal relationship between a literate nation and reduced levels of poverty. Literate societies have low child mortality, steady population growth, and are likely to achieve gender equality. There is now an established scientific fact that literate societies have higher sustainable economic development, and most likely to enjoy lasting peace and democracy.
In conclusion, I end this address with the inspirational words from the late King of Botswana Kgosi Seretse Khama. He said:
“It should now be our intention to try to retrieve what we can of our past. We should write our own History books to prove that we did have a past, and that it was a past that was just as worth writing and learning about as any other. We must do this for the simple reason that a nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past are a people without a soul".
I thank you.