The Politics of Politics

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By Simon Howell

We the youth of South Africa, recognising the injustices of our past, honour those who suffered and sacrificed for justice and freedom.” These are the opening lines to the new “constitutional pledge” that our illustrious Education Minister Naledi Pandor has proposed should be voiced at all school morning assemblies. The idea, apparently, behind the “constitutional pledge” is to entrench the values of the constitution into school children at an early age. A good idea it seems, and one that I think may have its uses. However, and this is a big however, the way in which they are doing it is absurd and, in my mind, amounts to nothing more than a bad attempt at political hypocrisy.

Note the use of the language. Who are “we the youth”? Last time I checked, this supposed homogenous group of people really was not that homogenous (even if homogeneity is a good thing). Moreover, while it may be a good idea to try instil the values of the constitution in this way, surely it is contradictory to then entrench these values in a way that completely discourages any form of independent, and importantly, critical thought? Merely reciting a lengthy piece of dogmatic political rhetoric, steeped in old time morality and virtues, is not going to entrench anything, other than teaching the students the fine art of sleeping during assembly.

Of course, Pandor has a response to this type of critique. It is her belief that “this is a democratic state, a new young democracy. One being built and shaped by us all from the roots upwards”. Now, disregarding the awful syntax of that sentence for a moment, if we are building a democratic state from the roots upwards, do we really want one inhabited by mindless drones, steadfastly repeating the few sentences of political rhetoric that they have been taught since primary school? That does not seem very democratic to me and, moreover, I don’t even think democracy could survive with that type of brainwashing around.

So what should be done? Perhaps, instead of teaching children about the constitution, why not teach the constitution itself. More importantly, why not teach children to be critical of our democracy, to not just accept that crime, rape, power cuts and Zuma are inevitable fixture of life? It seems to me that if we are still building a democracy, as Pandor says we are, then being critical of it, trying to guide it through its errors and mistakes, would be the most productive way forward. Sitting at the back of the hall mindlessly repeating a couple of meaningless sentences is not productive. Moreover, it breeds political apathy, resentment and, in young school children, extreme boredom. And if being bored of democracy is the result of this “new young” democracy’s education policy, then not only is Pandor in trouble, but we all are.

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