It is appropriate that historian, educator and television presenter Nomalanga Mkhize’s Twitter tagline comes from Brazilian educator, philosopher and influential theorist of critical pedagogy, Paulo Freire.
The Brazilian wrote that “the oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption” and Mkhize’s activism and Twitter discussions attest to that.
When I called her, she was in a buoyant mood because the University of Cape Town had just awarded her a PhD in history, an achievement that has occupied the past four years of her life. Perhaps spurred on by the sentiment one often hears whispered in the corridors of universities — that black South Africans do not engage in postgraduate study — Mkhize moved to Cape Town after completing her bachelor and master’s degrees at Rhodes University. Her PhD examines land tenure and the fate of black workers on game farms.
When we spoke on the phone, Mkhize — who is also a presenter on SABC2’s Shoreline, a nature travel series — was busy distributing copies of the vernacular newspaper Isigidimi SamaXhosa in her adopted hometown of Grahamstown.
The newspaper was relaunched by University of Cape Town journalism lecturer Unathi Kondile this month. Originally founded in 1870 by Lovedale College’s James Stewart, the newspaper folded in the 1880s. It is now going as a monthly and is distributed in the Eastern and Western Cape.
This is not the first time Mkhize is collaborating with Kondile, whom she first met on Twitter. Earlier this year Mkhize, Kondile and social activist Songezo Zibi — as part of the organisation Save Our Schools and Community — took President Jacob Zuma and the national department of education to court after the president withdrew an intervention force that had been dispatched to solve chronic maladministration in the Eastern Cape education department.
“The fact that the intervention remains incomplete is a breach of an obligation imposed by sections 7(2) and 100(1)(b) of the Constitution,” the organisation argued in its affidavit. “The consequences are felt by children every day.”
The court action resulted in the resignation of the province’s head of education, Modidima Mannya, who had been identified by some as the source of most of the problems.
A few months ago, as I sat in Mkhize’s Grahamstown house — which sits midway between the township and the suburbs and which she shares with her husband, rapper and social activist X-Nasty of Def Boyz fame — she said the organisation “looks at issues from the point of view of the affected”.
And unlike most non-governmental organisations, Save Our Schools and Community does not parachute itself into a problem during the day and fly out to the safety of the suburbs at night.
“We don’t have the luxury of being tourists, because we lead ‘black’ lives,” Mkhize says.
The organisation was born from the realisation that the problems in the education system do not seem to demand the attention that, say, the housing or service delivery crises attract. This sad state of affairs is not helped by the fact that most of the middle and ruling classes have bailed out of the public education system by opting to send their children to private schools.
In a Twitter discussion with Christine Qunta, lawyer and matron of the #angryblacks, Mkhize argued that the ANC is failing to educate children and so parents pay more to get their children into good schools.
Contributing to the debate on the massacre at the Marikana platinum mine last week, Mkhize argued:
“I believe the SAPS, who live in danger, were guilty of not knowing how to react to armed men in a democracy.”
Back to education, her area of specialisation, and Mkhize says the state is in effect running a two-tier education system: private and public. “How can we solve the problems of black schools so that we can have a [properly] integrated system?” she says.
One of the ways in which Save Our Schools and Community does this is by asking Rhodes students and lecturers to help pupils in Grahamstown townships by giving them extra lessons in mathematics and other subjects. She has also asked pupils in higher grades to help those in lower grades.
A few months ago at a public lecture at the University of Johannesburg, Mkhize spoke about the need for the black middle class to commit “class suicide” and “move out of our comfort zones”.
Which, in a way, is what she has done. With a master’s degree, Mkhize could have secured herself a plum job in government and the benefits that go with it. But she sacrificed all that, opting instead to trudge the corridors of academia, rant angrily on Twitter, challenge certitudes and disrupt the status quo.
Follow her on @NomalangaSA