Innovative, digitally savvy activists are what South Africa needs. Take advantage of opportunities presented to you, your education and strive to be a person of value to your peers and the country.
This was the sentiment of the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), Professor Tshilidzi Marwala when he delivered the 4th Tsietsi Mashinini Memorial Lecture at Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto on Saturday, 15 June 2019.
Reflecting on the legacy of Tsietsi Mashinini, as a warrior of South Africa’s liberation struggle, Prof Marwala’s message focussed on the 4th Industrial Revolution and posed the question, What are the Tsietsi Mashinini’s of today fighting for?
Prof Marwala hightlighted that today’s youth have to stay abreast with innovative developments of technology and the impact of 4.0. “In the spirit of Tsietsi Mashinini now it’s the time to transform the landscape of our industrial base to tickle the problems of poverty, unemployment, and inequality” he said.
The Vice-Chancellor of University of Cape Town (UCT), Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng joined Prof Marwala on staged and highlighted the importance of African languages in education. Emphasis was placed on teaching of subjects in other indigenous South African languages.
“We have social workers or doctors or people who will work in the public to serve majority of people who are multilingual or black and some of them are not fluent in English but we train professionals who cannot speak one African language, ” she said.
Prof Marwala, who also deputises President Cyril Ramaphosa on the South African Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, shared his reflections when he penned an opinion article published in City Press (read below).
Where are the Tsietsi Mashinini of the Fouth Industrial Revolution? – Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
In a welcoming speech during the South African Music Awards in April 2016, Refiloe Ramogase said in a poignant message about the 40th anniversary of the June 16, 1976, Soweto Uprising: “…Soweto not only serves as a reminder of the selfless bravery of our youth 40 years ago but also reminds us that actions motivated by yesterday, taken today, set the course for the tomorrow. If one is bold enough, one can change not only the course of history, but the course of the future…”
Ramogase’s words rang in my mind yesterday (Saturday, 15 June 2019) when I went to the Morris Isaacson Secondary School in the historic township to deliver the Tsietsi Mashinini Lecture on the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). Tsietsi Mashinini was a student at Morris Isaacson Secondary School during the time of the Soweto Uprising. At the tender age of 19 years, he was the leader of the Soweto Uprising 43 years ago. To understand Tsietsi, one needs to understand the political mood of the time. It was the time of the black consciousness movement and Steve Biko. It was also the time when the African National Congress was facing its great challenge. Its leaders such as Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela were in jail, and others like Oliver Tambo and Yusuf Dadoo were in exile.
The announcement by the then Minister of Education Dr. Andries Treunicht that black students would learn in Afrikaans sparked what would become the bloodiest Uprising in the history of South Africa. It was only a spark because the socio-economic conditions of black people were appalling. It was also the time of the implementation of the Bantustan policy that led to the so-called independent states of Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, and Ciskei – a decision that was nothing more than the balkanisation of black people along ethnic lines.
And with that came the consolidation of Bantu education, which was far inferior to the education of white people. The Soweto Uprising forced many young people to exile and swelled the ranks of the African National Congress, thereby, putting the struggle against apartheid in high gear.
How did Tsietsi lead an uprising that changed the face of resistance against apartheid? To understand this question, one needs to read and understand Franz Fannon, who stated that “…each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” At that time, Tsietsi discovered his mission, which was to liberate his people, and decided to fulfill this mission rather than betray it. Out of the Soweto riots, Soweto became an international name known for its uncompromising and determined purpose to overthrow the apartheid regime.
What has now happened to Soweto? The face of the township has today primarily changed from the dreary, hideous settlement it used to be to a modest and attractive suburb with a variety of infrastructural developments. The University of Johannesburg (UJ) is proud to be contributing to this, having invested over R1.4 billion in its Soweto Campus, built a world-class primary school FundaUJabule as well as a world-renowned science centre for the use of high school students. The University has also named one of its iconic buildings after Tsietsi Mashinini. Furthermore, UJ and Growing Up Africa have just completed an innovation center in Devland at the cost of R200 million.
Despite all these investments, education in Soweto is struggling. The middle class of Soweto continues to bus its children to schools in the suburbs for better education. A month ago, Pumla School for the Severely Mentally Handicapped in Orlando West was disrupted after parents accused management of maladministration. Most Soweto schools suffer from crises such as vandalism and theft of property, drug abuse, stabbings, and even rapes. At times like these, where are the modern-day Tsietsi Mashininis?
When Tsietsi was a student at Morris Isaacson Secondary School, there was no internet? One could not suddenly connect with the world through applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Last month, Soweto became the first township in South Africa to receive fiber internet. Internet in Soweto will become faster than in some upmarket suburbs. Soweto is being thrust into the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
What is this 4IR? It is the confluence of advancements in digital, robotics, and biological technologies and is catalysed by artificial intelligence (AI). AI is a technology that makes machines intelligent. Because of AI, airplanes are now able to fly without pilots, and cars are driving themselves. AI is replacing human beings and substituting them with machines. No more than 50 people operate the brewery in Port Elizabeth, which when completed 20 years ago was the most automated brewery in the southern hemisphere. This brewery produces more alcohol than its predecessor that employed 4000 people. To conquer the 4IR requires the new Mashinini.
What are the characteristics of the modern-day Tsietsi Mashinini? The person should be very educated. Such a person should be an expert in the human, social, and technological sciences. The individual should be open-minded and understand that in the era of the 4IR, critical thinking is more important than memorisation of facts, because all information is now readily available on the internet. Such a person should understand that problem solving is more important than repeated work. The modern-day Mashinini should realise that creativity is more important than copying other people’s ideas. The individual should know that the age, when countries, economically rise by copying technologies from others is gone. The Mashinini of today should understand that coordinating with others, using techniques such as crowdsourcing, is more valuable than individual effort. The person should know that emotional intelligence is useful in the 4IR era because teams are more diverse and creative. The person should be able to preempt the harmful and unintended consequences of technology.
For us to succeed in this 4IR era, we should become excellent students who learn continuously. As Isaac Asimov put it “…education is not something that you can finish.” The activists of today should be formidable learners who read, listen, write and constructively reflect all the time. Their acquisition of knowledge should be broad spanning the humanities and social sciences as well as science and technology. This activist should not only be driven by ideologies but by scientific ways of reaching conclusions, which are based on hard evidence.
The modern-day activist should have a global mindset instead of narrow nationalism. As Tsietsi would have realised having lived in the rest of the African continent, including Liberia, the economic fortune of South Africa is firmly tied to the fortunes of the rest of the African continent. Unlike Japan that left Asia economically behind and its foremost thinker, Yukichi Fukuzawa proudly proclaimed “goodbye Asia, we are leaving you behind”, South Africa cannot leave the rest of the African continent behind. Naturally, the activist of the modern era should be cosmopolitan.
The activist of the 4IR should be grounded in the community. Such a person should understand our problems and always seek to resolve them. When Google Translate is unable to translate words from isiZulu to English, such an activist should be at the forefront of finding local solutions and companies that address this deficit. When Google Maps is unable to pronounce our African street names, the individual should be thinking of creating our local electronic maps that use our diverse accents.
The modern activist must be innovative. This activist should understand that research leads to innovation, which leads to intellectual property (IP), which leads to products. We can achieve all these attributes by demanding good education, which is precisely what Tietsi Mashinini fought for in 1976.