Perhaps it would take re-visiting Brazilian educationalist Paulo’s Freire’s book “The Pedagogy of Oppressed” to decipher the current post-local government election mood in South Africa. Perhaps we might be best advised to also take 25 or more steps back in order to fully understand the implications of the country’s first democratic elections on 27th of April 1994.
I am suggesting that we revisit Freire’s ideas on Education, Freedom and Love because I think they can help those of us who are still confused by current events or those of us who are trying to find meaning in what seems to be a shameless scramble for wards and seats to understand, what all this means for freedom in South Africa.
Freedom: As promised by the results of the first democratic elections in which black South Africans and women voted for the first time.
Before we are swallowed up by the details of party-politics and the possibilities of all their vibrant personalities; who will take which metro or ward by how many seats, or who will form a coalition with who to share power where. I think it might be useful for the sake of sanity to remember why this is happening by answering a question which brought us all here today in the first place, the question of freedom: Are we free?
If the answer to this question is yes, then we are witnessing the results of the very freedom our parents voted for in 1994. A functional (ning) constitutional democracy which includes amongst its tenants the right to choose a political party-personality which best serves the needs and interests of our time.
An efficient, professional government which delivers services with German precision, communicates regularly in a professional manner preferably using the dominant syntax, a government which resolves problems timeously and not on African time, a government which is accountable. In short; a government which is run like a business. Looked at from this perspective then it is not surprising that the Democratic Alliance is now the majority party in more than one Metro in South Africa.
The so called “Clever Blacks” or the educated black South African middle class (also known as tax payers) want their ROI (Return On Investment) too and who can blame them?
Those too ashamed to be so brazen by giving their vote to a progressive, center-left – center right “white” political party have given their vote to the Economic Freedom Fighters ( in other words those who are fighting Economic Freedom) which is a more radical or reactionary break-away arm of the African National Congress
At the end of the day, despite the politics of history, if we say we are free now, today. Then we should be free enough to accept Mmusi Maimane and his professional cohort to govern the country in the same organized, efficient, and focused fashion with which the party’s ancestors implemented the Apartheid governing system.
If the blue pill is too bitter to swallow we must brace ourselves for the rollercoaster ride with which the red pill in the person of Julius Malema and his Fighters will take us on or we still have the option to remain with the tried and tested devil you know wearing; Green, Black and Yellow.
If the answer to the question: are we free is, no. Then it is here that Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed becomes a relevant explainer to what is happening. In the book Freire speaks of the oppresseds’ “fear of freedom” which might lead them to desire the role of the oppressor or further bind them to their oppressed state. This “fear” perfumed the negotiations to end Apartheid otherwise known as the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) in the early 90’s. A fear whose grip led to the introduction of the controversial sunset clauses by the ANC in the person of former president Thabo Mbeki as a compromise to reach a peaceful transition into democracy. Compromises which many still believe resulted in the (black-oppressed) majority agreeing to a 20 percent share of the country’s wealth while the (white-oppressor) minority held on to the 80 percent.
Freire went on to note that the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription. “Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness. Thus, the behaviour of the oppressed is a prescribed behaviour, following as it does the guidelines of the oppressor”
Given that the majority of the black elite have been educated in western thought and ways of doing things in many but not all ways they have taken the oppressors prescriptions and in the role of the oppressor have also become prescriptive in their behaviour. Despite the fact that as a liberating party they came into power with “good” revolutionary intentions they have slowly become indistinguishable from their former oppressors to such an extent that the majority of poor South Africans, particularly those who lived under Apartheid now prefer to vote for the “enemy” otherwise known as the DA our very own “Mrs Delivery” instead of voting for the ANC.
The ANC and the black elite have adopted the same attitudes as the oppressors – they too as beneficiaries of a situation of oppression have come to a place where they,”cannot perceive that if having (possessing material wealth/freedom) is a condition of Being (a human being) then it is a necessary condition for all women and men. They do not perceive their monopoly of having more as a privilege which dehumanizes others and themselves. They cannot see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are they merely have. For them having more is an inalienable right, a right they acquired through their own “effort” with their “courage to take risks” and if others do not have more it is because they are incompetent and lazy and worst of all it is their unjustifiable ingratitude towards the “generous gestures” of the dominant class (liberation movement). Precisely because they are “ungrateful” and “envious” the oppressed are regarded as enemies who must be watched”
These attitudes are no longer the sole purvey of the former white masters. They are the dominant ideology of the black middle class who want to enjoy the the same benefits, privileges and rewards enjoyed by their former masters if not more and this is often, as it was in the past, at the expense of the still poor majority of black South Africans. The black elite have joined the ranks of the white minority and as a result they too have become disqualified as leaders of the struggle for freedom. Because as Freire states “the oppressor who himself is dehumanized because he dehumanizes others is unable to lead the struggle for freedom”
The black elites inability to lead the struggle is illustrated in the often violent and intolerant ways in which the ruling party has dealt with criticism or opposition to its policy decisions and actions from the silent protest against rape at the Independent Electoral Centre while the President gave his speech after the Local government elections in Pretoria last week to the Arms-deal saga.
For those still committed to the cause of love, liberation and freedom, assuming we are not yet Uhuru; They will do well to reflect on Freire’s words when he advised that in the process of creating a world where there is no oppressor or the oppressed, the oppressed “must realize that they are fighting not merely for freedom from hunger, but for freedom to create and to construct, to wonder to venture. Such freedom requires that the individual be active and responsible, not a slave or a well-fed cog in the machine. It is not enough that men are not slaves; if social conditions further the existence of automatons, the result will not be the love of life, but love of death” As encapsulated in the dominant maxim of our times; get rich or die trying.
A solution to all this is of course is a radical change in the the current patriachal- hierachical system of governance to a more direct democracy such as that seen in Switzerland. Because while in most democracies, including ours, the people are considered to be the notional top of the hierarchy over the head of state, in reality, people’s power is restricted to voting in elections.
So the question becomes: are we ready for freedom?