South Africa - Postage Stamp

Reflections on a Postage Stamp from South Africa

By David M. Fetterman

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stamp on a recent letter from South Africa bore the image of President Nelson Mandela. The message of hope behind that stamp was potent medicine for those of us who have been sickened by the violence, the inequity, and cruelty of such a culturally fertile nation. Mandela's smiling face on that envelope said the foundation of reconciliation was visible and real.

President Mandela promised at his inauguration that, "We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity-a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world."

These are strong, idealistic words, particularly given South Africa's immediate history. But I hear Mandela's words echoed in the sentiments of friends and colleagues in South Africa both black and white. They are reclaiming their own land and their institutions: the military, the police, the government. Yet the violence will not simply disappear overnight.

I've been asked countless times, why should anyone want to go to South Africa now? What can anyone accomplish in such chaos? These are fair questions: South Africa is in a period of sweeping change. Laws that shaped people's thinking and behavior have been swept away in the past few years. Roles and expectations have been radically altered. With all this upheaval comes uncertainty and chaos. It is a time of great fear, but also exhilaration and jubilation. It is a critical moment in history-a window of opportunity to celebrate a monumental achievement. It is also time to help a fragile and fragmented nation make its transition toward democracy. How could anyone refuse such an opportunity?

I was invited to work in South Africa by the Human Science Research Council; the Universities of Cape Town, Natal, and the Western Cape; and a small, impoverished black community just outside of Cape Town. They wanted to learn about empowerment evaluation, a new form of evaluation I've developed during my tenure as president of the American Evaluation Association.

Empowerment. Empowerment evaluation is designed to help people in various social and educational programs evaluate-or teach others to evaluate-their own programs in order to foster greater self-determination. This is a time when everyone in this new nation is rethinking and re-evaluating everything-from reformulating national educational goals to land redistribution. My hosts felt that empowerment evaluation would enable South Africans to chart and track their own course intelligently and independently.

My first days in South Africa were spent in Kruger Park, a magnificent free game park. Majestic lions and elephants of awesome size were only meters away. Zebras, giraffes, and impalas ranged everywhere. Without question, these wonderful beasts owned the land. On the third day I saw more than a hundred buffalo crossing the road, and four lions trailing behind them. The lions had cornered one buffalo; I could hear the buffalo's moans behind the brush as the lions devoured it. This, I was told, was the law of the jungle. There was a stark, cold brutal reality about this experience. While it captured the essence of the jungle, it also was a poignant marker between the jungle and civilization, a reminder that the law of the jungle need not apply to human beings. At that time, almost a year ago today, I wondered if South Africa would suffer the viciousness and devastation that other new nations were experiencing.

With all I'd heard about the chaos in South Africa, I was a little surprised to find normalcy and routine in the daily life of South Africans. Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, and Cape Town are bustling with activity. Good people in urban and rural communities are addressing pressing problems and planning for the future.

Unfortunately, violence is also a part of daily life. Violence and fear permeate the consciousness of every South African. The newspapers have become a daily record of stonings, stabbings, and shootings. In addition to the daily physical violence, there has been a subtler assault by white people who have never bothered to ask where their "coloured" servants live, what conditions they live in, or even what their surnames are.

On an individual level, there is not only concern about physical safety, but also anxiety about the future and guilt about the past. Some young white students, trained to be cultural and intellectual leaders, are asking themselves "if I didn't under-stand what Apartheid really was, what else don't I understand?" Many black people are asking them-selves the same question, but from a different vantage point. Many whites wonder if there will be a place for them in the new South Africa, and if so, where. Some blacks are beginning to question the sincerity of their black leaders and the likelihood that they will fulfill their expectations. Everyone is concerned about their safety.

My own sense of safety and security were shaken as well. My drive to a black community outside Cape Town passed directly by Guguletu, where Fulbright Scholar and Stanford graduate Amy Biehl was stabbed and beaten to death. The day after her death, while driving that route, I found myself thinking about the fact that only one road goes in and out of the community I was working in; it would be easy for anyone to close off my passage way.

These fears slowly erode our sensibilities. They operate in the background of our consciousness and periodically confront us directly when violence erupts in daily life.

No one likes to speak of a culture of violence, but one has existed here for generations. Apartheid has so deeply permeated the consciousness of every South African that it invades every meaningful discussion.

This pervasive and systematic institution created a clear blueprint for every town: the luxurious areas for the white community, the downtown area where the signs delineating black and white areas have mostly been taken down, the township for those referred to as "coloured," and a rap-idly growing community of squatters representing the black African community. Although it has officially ended, the legacy of Apartheid continues. In its most invidious form it robs people of their future, focusing their passions and energies on the past rather than on what is to come. Whites fear that the oppressed will become the oppressors, as they listen to the cry "one settler, one bullet," repeated only days after Amy Biehl's death. Many people, however, do not accept the law of the jungle for human beings. Black students abhor the violence that threatens to steal their education away from them. They have organized motorcades to escort their white teachers to school to ensure their safety.

A radical transformation of thought and behavior is essential to reconstruction. South Africans cannot afford to continue to drive forward by staring in the rear view mirror. That mindset is responsible for the continuing culture of violence that diminishes every South African. In some townships and communities, a shift toward empowerment and self-determination has begun. People are beginning to think about the future, instead of being imprisoned by the past. Elections have taken place, and there is no turning back: the new South Africa is emerging. Mandela's statement "Laat ons die verlede vergeet! Wat verby is is verby! (Lets forget the past. What's done is done)" was liberating, tapping into a long-suppressed desire to leave the emotional baggage behind and move forward. It is a rich country, with people who are filled with both hope and fear as a new society emerges from a painful birth. And amid the violence, hopeful people are working toward an open and democratic country.

The task that lies ahead is enormous. South Africans have no tradition of democracy, and they have not been served well by isolation. Their world is fragmented. In addition, the pace of social change is increasing geometrically. The new South Africans must carve out their own destiny. They must be in charge of their own fate as they engage in the total reconstruction of their psyche and their state. However, they need not reinvent the wheel. Americans have some insight into Apartheid, given our own history of oppression and racial segregation. In attempting to redress these social wrongs, we have learned important lessons about affirmative action, entitlement, and reverse discrimination. Many of the lessons we have learned can be adapted to fit their needs.

What should we do? According to a South African colleague from the j University of Cape Town, the operative term is "constructive engage." He supports the efforts of Amy Biehl's family to establish a fund at Stanford supporting scholarship exchange between Stanford and South African students. He would like to expand on this approach, recommending that Americans engage in an "educational Marshall plan" to facilitate mutual exchange on a broader scale than our Fulbright scholarship program.

Americans can also offer invaluable assistance in capacity building, according to Merlyn Mehl- the executive director of the Independent Development Trust (IDT) in South Africa. Training in the areas of democratization and empowerment is needed immediately. The IDT is asking people in impoverished communities what they want from an educational system-but it needs to learn systematic methods and approaches to ensure that educational priorities are established from the ground up in a form of participatory democracy.

They are also looking for lessons learned from and alternative approaches to our failed approach to remediate students "at risk." IDT staff members have asked about Henry Levin's Accelerated Schools Project, which focuses on empowering students, teachers, parents, and administrators, by giving the schools back to the community. IDT is also interested in receiving material and training about other grassroots educational efforts to institutionalize the process nationally. American scholars can help provide an overview of systemic reform approaches, as well as specific curriculum material and administrative restructuring efforts.

Teacher training is essential. Teachers in black schools have received an explicitly second-rate education and need retraining; white teachers also need to be retrained to become facilitators rather than lecturers. The Teachers Opportunity Programme (TOPS) conducts teacher retraining programs, but the need is staggering (even with existing non-governmental agencies). American scholars can share lessons learned in the area of teacher retraining, in-service programs, and adult education.

Capacity building in university administration and governance is sorely needed-in areas ranging from student loan policies to the development of complex management information systems to track student progress and inform policy decisionmakers. South African universities are also facing student protests and demands for greater sensitivity in managing multicultural diversity, conflict resolution, and women's issues. American universities are acquiring a wealth of experience in these areas and can share their findings. The list of needs far exceeds our capacity to meet them: faculty, students, and administrators are all asking for assistance from their U.S. counterparts.

The first step is surprisingly simple. For example, environmental regulations are urgently needed in South Africa. A drive through some of the most polluted energy-generating towns in South Africa quickly alerts you to the absence of any significant environmental regulations and the need for immediate action. While I was there, I sent an electronic mail message to Donald Kennedy, a colleague and former president of Stanford who is studying environmental policy. My message introduced him to Robert Preston-Whyte, one of my hosts and a dean at the University of Natal who specializes in the same area. Once I established the connection, they took the initiative to build on that relationship. The process is that simple, accessible, and powerful.

Another step is simply to ask South African colleagues what they need. I wrote to colleagues at the University of the Western Cape and the University of Natal, and they responded that Americans could share their expertise and materials in the following areas: health education; curriculum development, with a focus on mathematics and science: school-focused in-service training; business sector involvement in educational governance; and thinking skills. Linking them with U.S. colleagues in those fields is a matter of sending a message through various electronic and professional networks to find the right contacts.

Distance learning or nonresidential education is also an area in which Americans can help. Apartheid left a large proportion of South Africa's population disenfranchised and undereducated. South Africans have already made great strides through distance learning, but they have an enormous task before them. We can help by sharing our expertise and any curriculum material, hardware, and software designed for large groups of students. Books and journals are desperately needed after the deprivation imposed by the boycott. Scholarly books from the United States are not readily available, and those that are available are prohibitively expensive. Similarly, computer soft-ware is limited.

On a policy level, national development and educational agencies such as the Independent Development Trust, the Urban Foundation, the Kagiso Trust, and the National Education Coordinating Committee welcome management advice in the development of a national consortium as they help lead their country into the future.

These are only a few of the ways we can help. Americans have an important role to play in the reconstruction of South Africa. I believe that we must continue to support the small islands of hope that may otherwise be lost in a sea of hostility. The foundations of reconciliation are real but fragile.

They need reinforcement to gain the strength necessary to build and support the new South Africa.

-- David M. Fetterman is Consulting Professor and Director of the MA Policy Analysis and Evaluation Program at Stanford University and Professor and Director of Research at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Fetterman, D.M. (1994). Reflections on a Postage Stamp From South Africa. Truth Seeker, Volume 121, Number 3 :17-20.

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