Dr Bongani Ngqulunga, Director of the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Johannesburg, delivered the lecture titled Lessons of Struggle: From the Pioneering Generation to the Fallist Movement.
He noted that, ‘Twenty-one years after the advent of inclusive democracy in South Africa, another generation has stood up to demand that the dividend of freedom be shared broadly and equally. Taking advantage of the democratic spaces that political freedom opened up and exploiting the advances in technological development, the struggle of the Fallist Movement became the defining moment of post-apartheid South Africa.’
Although a century apart, Ngqulunga believes that, the two generations are linked by a long tradition of struggle for inclusive freedom. However, they are also different in many respects. In comparing them and the political movements they led, he addressed some of the fundamental questions the struggle for freedom in South Africa has raised.
He pinpointed key lessons to be learned from the pioneering generation, including the value that Dube and his contemporaries attached to education and their reasoned argument, persuasion and engagement with different views in democratic politics. Ngqulungu also noted that the culture of protest in South Africa that often leads to conflict is a bitter inheritance from the past.
He stated that the Fallist movement’s call for the decolonisation of South African universities should be taken seriously, especially the decolonisation of knowledge.
‘Transformation was limited to changing the faces, especially of university managers. While this is important, our experience demonstrates that appointing black people to leadership positions does not transform a university.’ He added that, ‘In certain instances, black people in positions of power hinder the project of transformation. They use our common experience of blackness to appeal for a defence of the status quo or to call on those who demand fundamental change to move slowly.’
Ngqulunga said that he agrees with the current generation of student activists who call on South Africans to become bolder and question long-held beliefs regarding what a transformed society and university ought to look like.
However, he bemoaned the violence and the destruction of infrastructure that often accompany legitimate struggles for fundamental transformation. ‘It is unwise to burn the library because you are unhappy about something that the university managers are doing. Fight for what you believe should be done, but do not destroy that which you would need once the good fight has been won,’ he said.
In closing, Ngqulungu said that the political climate in modern-day South Africa demands that citizens make critical choices that will decide the fate of the country as an inclusive democracy. ‘Looking critically at the multigenerational struggle for freedom in South Africa and learning the right lessons would help us fulfil the dream that John Langalibalele Dube and his generation set to achieve at the beginning of the 20th century.’
In response, Dean and Head of the School of Education, Professor Thabo Msibi noted that, ‘The lecture’s generational analysis unpacked the critical message of violence which is seen as a bitter inheritance from the previous generation but also tackled pioneering and servant leadership. It offered us the opportunity to introspect on violence and the discourses displayed in higher education today by students.’
Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize said, ‘The lecture rightly paid homage to Dube’s legacy and his passion for education and the betterment of the country and further dovetailed into the vision and mission of the University, particularly for the advancement of indigenous knowledge systems. Dube’s values are still relevant, especially in a society where we need to strive to be more humane to each other especially in light of xenophobia and gender-based violence.’
JL Dube Chair in Rural Education, Professor Relebohile Moletsane called on the audience to remember women and young girls who were beaten, raped and murdered. ‘Our scholarship must impact the lives of the communities we come from, much as Dube did in his time,’ she argued.
Mr Zenzele Dube, grandson of John Dube, said, ‘It is fitting that this lecture tackles the power that education has to transform the country. My grandfather would be proud to know that the younger generation are aiming to be agents of change in society.’