Mandela: Don't praise the dead in order to condemn the living - Blade Nzimande

Minister states that there is a deliberate distortion that seeks to place Madiba outside, if not in opposition, to what the ANC stands for

Speech by Blade Nzimande MP, Minister of Higher Education and Training, National Assembly, July 29 2014

Freedom and economic advancement through skills development: Nelson Mandela and the Second Phase of our Transition

Madam Speaker

Nelson Mandela was, first and foremost, a revolutionary who fought for freedom and for a better life for all South Africans. Mandela was a strong proponent of thorough-going political and economic transformation.

One of his main concerns was the future of the youth and particularly that they could get an education and fulfill their potential. He believed that knowledge and skills, coupled with determination and courage could help even the most disadvantaged and oppressed person to overcome their condition and reach their full potential.

National Reconciliation and a Second Phase of our Transition

National reconciliation, for which Madiba is well-known for, was not meant to be a brake on tackling race, class and gender inequalities in South African society, nor a trick to protect the privileges of a few and dumb down the legitimate expectations of the majority. But it was meant to create conditions for accelerating change and to radically transform the conditions of the majority of the workers and the poor in our country. Nor was reconciliation a lone effort by one individual, but a commitment by the ANC to heal and unite our country.

The ANC and government commitment to a second, more radical, phase of our transition is a necessary step to take forward national reconciliation by seeking to confront the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. Key in this second phase is the necessity to radically transform our economy to address the needs of the majority. This is what Nelson Mandela, his comrades and our people as a whole stood for. Madiba himself said,

"Where globalization means, as it so often does, that the rich and powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poorer and weaker, we have a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom"

Nelson Mandela, education and economic empowerment

Together with his comrades in the ANC, Mandela's struggle was later guided and informed by that most important document of our times, the Freedom Charter. Amongst other things, the Freedom Charter said on education and training:

"Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children"

"Higher education and technical training shall be open to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit"

Indeed under the leadership of President Mandela, these allowances and scholarships took the form of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (at the time known as TEFSA), which was only R70.5 million benefitting only 25 568 students in 1994, but has now grown and reached R9bn, covering more than 430 000 poor students in 2014. Since its inception it has benefitted more that 1.4 million poor students. It now not only covers universities, but has been extended to our Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges (TVET), formerly known as FET colleges. TVET bursaries have grown from R318 million in 2010 (benefitting 61 703 students) to R2.1bn in 2014 (targeting 233 958 students). This is deliberately meant to grow and diversify, an affordable, quality post-school education and training to meet the needs of our economy and for individual empowerment.

In line with the objectives of the Department of Higher Education and Training, we have honoured the memory of Nelson Mandela every 18th July since 2010 with a large career guidance festival, which has now reached over 30 000 secondary school learners. Each year we have held this event, in rural areas of our country. We have held the event in Giyani in Limpopo, Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape, Taung in the North West, Phuthaditjhaba in the Free State and, this year, in Sebokeng in the Vaal Triangle.

These events inform the youth about various possible career choices and motivate them to strive to achieve the best that they can. South Africa's youth to has far more career choices than was the case prior to 1994! We believe that such initiatives to assist our young people are a true tribute to Madiba's commitment to education.

Defending Madiba's revolutionary legacy

Today there are many attempts to appropriate Madiba opportunistically. The attempted appropriation of Madiba and his legacy is tantamount to him being imprisoned for the second time, but this time not on Robben Island, but in something akin to a right-wing ideological prison. We must reject these attempts, and that is why it is important that history will be introduced as a compulsory school subject, so that amongst others, future generations can be told who Nelson Mandela really was.

There is also a deliberate distortion that seeks to place Madiba outside, if not in opposition, to what the ANC stands for. This is an old right-wing tactic, that of praising the dead in order to condemn the living and, in this case, praising Madiba in order to condemn the ANC and its leadership.

Some also try to use the name of Madiba to mislead our youth born since 1994, that they are different and the ANC does not represent their aspirations; as if our youth is unaffected by the realities we inherited prior to 1994.

Neither was Madiba a demagogue. Madiba himself once said "A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don't have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial and uninformed". By the way, a demagogue, is defined as someone who say very little, but says it loudly

We are of course proud of the fact that Madiba is now respected and celebrated globally, even by those who imprisoned him. But Mandela was of the ANC, made by the ANC, but for the people as a whole. Mandela was part of an ANC that is a disciplined force of the left. An ANC that does not make promises, but commitments that it seeks to achieve and realize. An ANC with a bias towards the working class and the poor. An ANC government that has built more than 3 million houses for the poor over the past twenty years, the only achievement of its kind anywhere in the world during this period.

Unfortunately, what we are seeing in this House, sometimes in the name of Mandela, is a strange convergence, such that it may not be inappropriate to talk about the emergence of the Economic Freedom Front Plus!

We should not make the mistake of thinking of Madiba as a softie. To listen to some of the media coverage, you could be misled into thinking that Madiba was nothing but a nice old grandfather who loved children and forgave those who mistreated him. He was these things; but a revolutionary giant, the first Commander in Chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe.

As his successors in the ANC-led government we will continue our struggle on all fronts including, very importantly, on the educational front and economic transformation to ensure that our people have the knowledge and skills to achieve the ideals that we stand for - and that Mandela always stood for.

Thank you.

Dr. Blade Nzimande, MP

Minister of Higher Education and Training.

Issued by the Department of Higher Education and Training, July 29 2014

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