- Published on Tuesday, 19 April 2011 02:00
There are some questions that our “Afropolitan” university, this “island in a sea of poverty” has not afforded us the space to ask. As young intellectuals, we haven’t been critically challenged by our curricula to rethink what the privilege of education directly means for the mission on which we must embark to redesign our distorted societies, both locally and internationally.
As an engineering, science, or medical student I must ask the question: Am I to go and contribute to the destruction of the African environment by Sasol and Shell or am I to look into renewable fuels and build sewage systems for the majority of our people who live in appalling sanitary conditions?
As a privileged member of society, am I to use my talents to face the challenges of HIV/Aids, malaria, and tuberculosis that plague millions of my brothers and sisters, or am I to join the 20 000 African graduates that leave for Europe every year?
As a finance, law, economics or sociology graduate, what is my role? Should I consider how best to use the resources that Africa is rich with to benefit African people? Should I be concerned about the nationalisation of the mines and land, and successfully managing the state budgets by developing complex financial systems that will minimise corruption?
Who is to study the psyche of a defeated people, and work on ways to make them feel empowered and relevant, in the kind of society to which we aspire?
The solution might include interdisciplinary approaches to contemporary challenges. It can be made compulsory by the university that postgraduate students from different spheres collaborate on their master’s dissertations.
The focus can be on a particular community. The engineer can focus on the infrastructure, in consultation with the lawyer on human rights and dignity, in consultation with the medical professional on general health, and in consultation with the environmentalist on environmental concerns.
This kind of approach taken by the university could begin the process of helping us identify exactly what our role should be after our studies.
The solution might be the development of a civic organisation that compels matriculants to serve a year doing community development work before they can register at a tertiary institution.
We are aware that many young intellectuals, both black and white, feel that they are isolated from the political discourse in Africa. History never makes room for such; it judges a generation by the most visible/vocal/effective members of that generation.
Silence is consent. No one gives you a space, you take it. It is clear to us that we are the authors of our destinies, and only we will determine how history will judge the impact our generation in reshaping our societies for the better.