Monday, August 23, 2010

In honour of Dr SPE (Sam) Buti, a beacon of hope in the struggle for justice.

Unisa recently honoured Rev Dr Samuel Palo Ernest Buti, for his contribution towards a new South Africa. I am greatful to have known him and worked with him. He was a dignified church leader with a sharp intellect. He was fearless.

Rev SPE Buti, a third generation pastor, grew up with his father, Rev ETS Buti being the first moderator of the then Dutch Reformed Church in Africa, General Synod. Born on 1 June 1934, he grew up in the rural areas of the then Western Transvaal (now North West province) and received his academic and professional education primarily in Afrikaans.

He graduated from the Stofberg Theological Seminary in 1959 and began his pastoral ministry in 1960, in Alexandra, where he continued to serve until his retirement. Initially his ministry was under duress, as community members were suspicious of his allegiance to the white Dutch Reformed Church. The church buildings were burnt down at some point. His own journey was however a journey of a growing conscientization and activism. Of this, fellow pastor Rev ZE Mokgoebo writes, 'Serving his parish with this uneasy conscience and being involved in the DRCA's struggles and the struggles of the community of Alexandra, would lead Sam to a critical awareness and an involvement from which he would not easily retreat.' (1983:134)

In 1971 he went for further studies in the Netherlands, which sharpened his intellectual resistance against ecclesial and social apartheid. He became one of organisers and founders of the Alexandra Liaison Committee resisting the proposed resettlement of Alexandra, by the apartheid government and also chairperson of the Black Renaissance Convention.

In 1977 he was elected as the President of the South African Council of Churches, as the bitter confrontation between the government of the day and prophetic church deepened. This was a period where this confrontation shifted from critical engagement to non-collaboration and non-violent protest.

The protest action was also prevalent, in the two terms that he served, as vice-president of the international Reformed Ecumenical Synod. In 1980 he staged a boycott of participation where the white Dutch Reformed Church, supporting apartheid, participated.

In 1982, he earned a Master of Theology from the Princeton Theological Seminary and continued to travel worldwide and be involved in church leadership, fighting the cause of the oppressed, globally.

In the meanwhile, he was elected as mayor of Alexandra, in the mid 80s. This however did not sit well with a substantive percentage of the people of Alexandra and in 1985, his house was bombed and the pressure was taking a toll on his family. After consultation with the then political prisoner and now ex-President, Nelson Mandela, he decided to quit politics and in 1987 he was again elected the Moderator of the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa, which in 1994, led to the establishment of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, to which he was elected as the Vice-Chairperson (Assesor) of the General Synod.

His relentless commitment to the struggles of the poor and oppressed was acknowledged on 25 Oct 2008, when Selbourne Street was renamed Reverend Sam Buti street and in 2010 when Unisa confered upon him an honorary doctorate.

May his legacy live on !

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Unions use learners as weapons

I've often been uneasy about Prof Jonathan Jansen's devastating attacks on our teachers. Whilst I affirm his view that an excellent education is the key to our liberation, I felt that his critique on the work ethic of teachers, especially unionised, black teachers were a bit unfair. [Of course, I come from the old school where teachers don't strike and where they either walked or drove around with bicycles] Jansen's view is that unions, (and I would qualify, SADTU) runs our schools.... to the ground. It seems to me, from what I've read of Jansen, that he argues that the children in our townships are the last of these teacher's concerns. Jansen is clear: the reason for our dismal Grade 12 results in black township schools are the teachers and unions.

Recently, we returned in a daze, from a glorious Soccerworld Cup. Schools were closed for 6 weeks. Many of us wondered about our Grade 12s, but also our Grade 11s because their results are critical for applications. Within one week after the school started, the teachers abandoned these students for meetings over a salary dispute. We hear from the unions that this is the 'strike season' and this is going to be a big one; the biggest teacher strike that we have seen, we are told. How can this be? Perhaps, I have to read Prof Jansen again. Its evident: the unions clearly don't flinch at putting our children's future at risk, moreso, in their view, its the education of our children, that are the cannonfodder to win their struggle. Let me put it more clearly: they use the education, in particular, of the poor and black children, as weapons in their struggle. [Teachers in most of the more affluent schools, decided not to strike; it's the teachers in the poorer areas, in the black areas, that go on strike] COSATU also affirms this by stating, 'the impact of a public service strike was unlike any other strike, because it affected everyone, especially the poor and most vulnerable, who were sorely dependant on government services for their daily survival'

Let me concede: I would be first in the battle lines to fight for higher salaries amongst teachers. Why? As indicated earlier, education is critical and therefore our teachers are perhaps one of the most important roleplayers in building a educated, free person, but also a strong nation. They are the ones that hold the key to information, to skills, indeed to power, as the mold the young lives. Yet, today in South Africa, it's the cricketers, the soccercoaches and rugbyplayers, who are paid obscene amoounts of money, to entertain us. Its the gangsters and stripclubowners in silky Italian suits, who capture the imagination of the media, as they cash in on assasinations, drug and humantrafficing. They are all over the printed and new media. In the meantime, our teachers are being treated with contempt by the current government's ministry of Education; they have to stand last in the line. It remains this reality that breeds anger amongst teachers, who are qualified for their calling, yet offered peanuts in return.

My concern here is however that I cannot, I cannot ever, support the usage of education or more specifically the future of our learners, i.e. our children, as a weapon, in their quest for higher salaries. Let explain: unions in the metal industry or in mining, can down tools and by such industrial action, hurt the profits of the bosses; they can close down the plant. The question is: who will be hurt in the strike where children are deprived of an opportunity to free themselves? Will it be the administrator or functionary at the Department of Education? Of course not. Their children already are in the better schools in the suburbs or studying overseas. How can unions justify the callous disregard for the future of our children, in particular the black, poor children? There has to be another way of making their demands heard. There has to be another, more pointed way of addressing the real enemy, i.e. the current government or the current policies which evidently collude with protecting the interest of the already rich and powerful. As teachers walk out of classrooms and leave black learners in the dark, they betray their calling, they betray the black child, whose key to life to power, is education. These teachers betray the trust that we as parents bestow upon them and they don't deserve the respect we afford them by virtue of their calling. They don't deserve to be taken as serious, as I suggested earlier.

Perhaps this post will offend some. I know it will offend friends and family. I am however convinced more and more, with Prof Jansen and others, that these actions of unions are indeed running our education to the ground. Moreso, they are destroying the future of our children. I think, this is criminal.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

free the word (s), media freedom...

It seems like the so-called "Hawks" did not have a case against Mzilikazi wa Afrika, a journalist, who was arrested in cowboy style yesterday and thrown in the dungeons (he was trucked to Mpumalanga). Perhaps it was simply part of the bigger threat of a clampdown on media-freedom in SA, perhaps it just showed off how incompetent the Hawks really are, moreso how futile it is to gag the truth. Let us cut to the real issue: our freedom is under threat.

The SA media has a political agenda. Politically, media should be part of the system of institutions guarding the truth and guarding our hard-earned freedom. Yet there is allways the danger, that they might only serve the system that reproduce and justify inequalities; in this case they will not report anything which will hit their pockets and the pockets of their owners, the elites.

My view is that it does not help to hide behind a veil of supposed independence, objectivity or neutrality, as a response to government's threat of a clampdown. A better response would be to concede their political and economic interest, but have environment where the news repressenting various interests can thrive. In my view this would leave space for newspapers with a clear government bias, but also others who repressent oppositional interests.

This viewpoint might sound naive. Its not. It takes into account my initial point of view that newspapers are being run like businesses. They are out to make profit and would dish out to an unsuspecting reader anything that sells. Hence, we need various perspectives, angles and interests to shed light on whats happening in our world. This kind of contestation is the only hope for the voices of the silenced to see the light of day. Hence we need to free the word, in order to free the world.