Our efforts must continue to redouble with greater vigour and even greater determination. We all appreciate that where there is conflict, as there is at our universities today, there can be no development. We must also continue our efforts in ensuring that issues of transformation, even academic output, autonomy, intellectual hubs, building strong research institutions and raising a new corps of leaders, are realised all over the country and continent.
The building of institutions to ensure that such efforts yields the desired fruits is a great priority for our country, which speaks to the role of each stakeholder and others of societies’ institutions towards these goals. The question of universities having self-sustaining means of generating their funds for growth and expansion, the ability to leverage its alumnus, is an important direction for our universities that needs to speed up, because ultimately, universities must self-sustain and be truly autonomous.
More important, however, is always to know that none of these priorities will be realised overnight, or even in one generation.
In the first conversation between Chairman Mao Zedong and President Richard Nixon in 1972, Nixon complimented Mao on having transformed an ancient civilisation. Chairman Mao, at this point ageing, with a lot of hindsight, felt a little different. “I haven’t been able to change it. I’ve only been able to change a few places in the vicinity of Beijing,” replied Mao.
Mao understood as a matter of the reality of mortality, and practicality of experience, that it’s difficult to run a country with ideological exaltation alone. A classical Chinese lore which he cherished late in his life, of a so-called “foolish old man” who believed he could move mountains with his bare hands, captured his true feelings, so much so that he even told the tale at a Communist Party Conference.
The foolish old man had two great peaks in-front of his house obstructing his way. He called his sons, and hoe in hand they began to dig up these mountains with great determination. Another wise old man saw them and said derisively. “How silly of you to do this. It is quite impossible for you to dig up these two huge mountains.”
The foolish old man replied, “When I die, my son and grandsons will carry on and their sons and grandsons will also continue, and so on.”
He then went on digging every day, unshaken by his conviction. God was moved by this; he sent two angels, who carried the mountains on their backs.
In that present day, Mao concluded, big mountains lay like a dead weight on the Chinese people. One was imperialism, the other feudalism. The Communist Party had long made its mind to dig them up.
We must persevere and work increasingly, and we too will touch God’s heart.
There remains no leader who has done more to try to change his country onto the path of equality and fairness more than Mao, even with the consequences of his actions considered. In 1956 he launched the Hundred Flowers Campaign, which invited public debate among the country’s thinkers. He then brought the Great Leap Forward in 1958, designed to catch up with the West industrially in a three-year period. Then it was the Cultural Revolution in 1966 in which a generation of trained leaders, professors, diplomats, and experts were sent to the countryside to work on farms and learn from the masses.
Despite all these monumental initiatives to create a country that could justify its population size and industriousness, Mao could still be heard saying, “I haven’t been able to change China. I’ve only been able to change a few places in the vicinity of Beijing.”
Africans have always been a great, courageous and industrious people. Even in the middle of exploitation by foreign imperialists, we persevered, we endured, and many Africans gave civilisation anchor, through great innovations and industriousness, and as would be expected, imperialists claimed these inventions as theirs. But we have never claimed short cuts for ourselves; we have always been happy to prove ourselves, through hard work, earning our way, asking no favours, so that no man will ever claim to have made us.
We are neither impressed nor moved by self-serving arguments which seek to suggest that the last 22 years of South Africa’s independence are long enough to remove from our continental life the inheritance of a continent which is as old as the arrival of European colonists in our continent, almost 350 years ago.
It has not taken us long to discover that the struggle against colonialism does not end with the attainment of national independence. Independence is only the prelude to a new and more involved struggle for the right to conduct our own economic and social affairs; to construct our society according to our aspirations, unhampered by crushing and humiliating neocolonialist control and interference.
More important, for us, as it was for Mao, is that we must persevere and work increasingly, be honest and genuine, so that we too will touch God’s heart, and receive the tranformative miracle only God is capable of bringing about.
The truth for our young, stated succinctly by our former president, is that “…our youth should understand the serious reality it faces that it will inherit the country. It will therefore have the enormously challenging responsibility to answer the question practically – what will it do with this inheritance?”
Our duty as the older generation is to make sure that what we have been entrusted with by our people – their livelihoods, their futures, their lives – is too precious and must be guarded against all forces, real or perceived. DM
Yonela Diko is ANC Western Cape Spokesperson