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Address at the Steve Biko International Peace Award, 23 September 2005, Minister Naledi Pandor speeches


Address by the Minister of Education, Ms Naledi Pandor, MP, at the Steve Biko International Peace Award

23 September 2005

Programme Director
Fatima Dowbor and Maria Freire,
Ntsiki and Nkosinathi Biko
Distinguished guests.

I am honoured to be part of this important ceremony.

On the 21 September 2005, the United Nations celebrated the International Day of Peace and in his speech the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan said:
“this day is meant to be a day of global cease-fire, when all countries and all people stop all hostilities for the entire day. And it is a day on which people around the world observe a minute of silence. And let us pledge to do our utmost to carry out the important decisions on peace taken by last week’s 2005 World Summit.” Africa has experienced more violent conflict than any other continent in the last four decades. African people have paid a devastating price for the international conflicts, civil wars and coups that have affected many parts of the continent. More than three million people have died since 1998, directly or indirectly, because of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone. This is the largest death toll from a war since World War II. And those who suffer the most are poor and vulnerable people, most often women and children.

As well as those who have lost their lives, many others have had to leave their homes. Africa has the highest level of people who are refugees, 13 million within their own country, and 3.5 million in other countries. Many of these people have ended up in slums of already overcrowded cities or in refugee camps without adequate health services or sanitation.

But there are positive signs of change. Recently, there have been steps towards ending some of Africa’s worst civil wars in countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Sudan. Countries like Mozambique, where war was once widespread, have been peaceful for over ten years. The African Union, the African Parliament and NEPAD have all been forces for positive change.

The most devastating and destructive wars have taken place in Iraq, whose people are still today paying an awful and terrible price. And we should have their terrors in mind today as we mark international peace day.

International Peace day is dedicated to the memory of those gallant fighters and unsung heroes and heroines of the world who have selflessly dedicated their lives to the survival and betterment of the human race.

This Peace Award is named after one of the sons of South Africa, Steve Bantu Biko, who left an indelible mark in the history of the South African struggle for freedom.

It is appropriate that this award today links the names of Steve Biko and Paolo Freire, because both men were fascinated by dialogue and both men were centrally concerned with the oppressed people of their countries.

Steve Biko was only 23 years old when he began to develop his ideas about black consciousness. Even more remarkably, he was then a medical student, studying to become a doctor.

Barney Pityana recalls that: “Steve was a voracious reader. He read everything he could lay his hands on … black consciousness for him was moulded by a diversity of intellectual forces and fountains: from the liberation history of South Africa, the pan Africanism of Kwame Nkrumah, the African nationalism of Jomo Kenyatta, the negritude of the west African scholars like Leopold Sadar Senghor, Aime Cesare and others in Paris. Biko taught himself a political understanding of religion in Africa. He devoured John Mbiti. Ali Mazrui. Basil Davidson, he understood the critical writings of Walter Rodney and he interpreted Franz Fanon. He laid his hands on some philosophical writings like Jean Paul Sartre and made ready use of some philosophical concepts like syllogism in logic and dialectical materialism in Marxist political thought. All this by a young medical student.”

Steve Biko talked endlessly, he dialogued, with his peers and his teachers, and he has left a legacy of a student activist that is an inspiration to many young people today. Biko articulated black consciousness as a way of life. Its driving thrust was to forge pride and unity among the oppressed. And it became a vital force for young people in the struggle for freedom.

Steve Biko articulated black consciousness at a time when the major political forces opposing apartheid had been severely damaged by the onslaught of banning, imprisonment, exile, and murder.

He was a true leader shaped by the struggles of his times. It was in those struggles that the phrase “black man you are on your own” was coined. It is a matter of record, that most of the young fighters who supported Steve Biko are today leaders in their own right in national and provincial government, in the public service, in the judiciary and in our universities. They came to understand that our aim is to create a united, non-racial, and non-sexist South Africa.

The road to freedom and democracy in South Africa was a long and difficult one, characterised by conflict, bloodshed and hatred. The system of apartheid brutalised many of our people physically, economically and psychologically through massacres, the mayhem created by death squads, and the humiliation of institutionalised racism.

The past ten years has seen South Africa moving away from that dreadful past, embracing a non-racial constitution, a human rights culture and a shared South African identity. Our democracy, though young and fragile, is based on solid foundations and is a model for the rest of the world.

South Africa returned from isolation after 1994 and rejoined the international community as a liberated country. This return to the world stage also prepared South Africa to honour and ratify UN Conventions that deal with peace and human rights in the world. We could not genuinely engage with the UN’s international programme of peace without addressing domestic post-apartheid challenges that were characterised by racial tensions, violence and poverty.

These challenges needed diverse strategies involving government and civil society. The South African government has addressed issues of racism and violence in the society by developing an inclusive education system that is based on constitutional rights. 

The Department of Education has been a leading force in the promotion of school integration, and the values of non-racism and non-sexism. We recently launched a new national curriculum that will educate pupils to think critically. New content has been developed for our learning areas and subjects. Indigenous knowledge systems, indigenous languages and African history form the backbone of the new curriculum.

We need African solutions to deal with the issues facing a developmental state. Our education system has been transformed and the development initiatives under NEPAD have been strengthened to facilitate the process of Africa’s regeneration.

Today the Steve Biko International Peace Award is being awarded posthumously to Paulo Freire, whose pedagogy of the oppressed has been an inspiration to all of us in education sectors in the developing world.

He was, without doubt, the most influential thinker about education in the late twentieth century, specifically because of his concern for the oppressed.

I wonder what he would have thought about our efforts here in South Africa to eradicate illiteracy?

The eradication of illiteracy in South Africa is a pressing goal. We committed ourselves in Dakar to halving illiteracy in our country by 2015 and we have much to do to meet this commitment.

Adult illiteracy is unjust and unnecessary. Nothing is more fundamental or essential to our progress as individuals or a society than the development of human competence and skills through basic education and training. Or to put it in human security terms, as Amartya Sen did in an address to the Commonwealth Education Ministers’ conference in 2003, illiteracy is a threat to security because illiteracy is a form of insecurity in itself.

It is my fervent wish that the contribution of Steve Biko and Paulo Freire should strengthen the struggle for non-racism and non-sexism here and abroad.

The responsibility of promoting peace in the country and in the entire world rests with all of us, regardless of our position in the society.

I thank you.

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Written By: Administrator Account
Date Posted: 6/30/2008
Number of Views: 852

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