||Africa is in the process of change in terms of leadership positions for women; Professor Amina Mama is a good example of this change, as a black feminist leader in Africa. She is in a leadership in the University of Cape Town, which, like all South African universities, still has racial and gender imbalance. She is a Chair in Gender Studies and a Director of the African Gender Institute. Not just a face in the boardroom, she is part of the decision-making which we need to clap for as women. Mama has written many books focusing on gender critique, power, race and subjectivity issues.
Professor Mama gave a Wolpe lecture looking at this topic: Critical Capacities Facing the Challenges of Intellectual Development. She started her talk by posing a question to the floor without expecting an answer. The question was: Why do we need intellectual development in Africa? She raised a proposition pertaining to development co-operation, which was originally offered by Prince Claus. This was that the object of development co-operation is to help the recipient countries to achieve greater independence (in particular, economic independence), in light of the realization that the achievement of political independence alone means very little. This raised two questions for me, which I believe many of us have. The first:
Can African countries be economically independent? The second: Will the colonial countries let African countries be independent? The reason for this second question is the fact that African economic independence would mean (for colonial countries) loss of control over Africans and, therefore, loss of profit. It seems as if what many people in civil society are saying is true. They say the poor get poorer and the rich get richer; but at the same time the rich people act as if they are helping out the poor, which in reality is not the case. I personally believe Ďonce a capitalist always a capitalistí, and what I mean by this is that capitalists only think for themselves; they learn to become greedy and selfish. Mama believes that an awareness of our own customary identity and past is a fundamental condition for sustainable autonomous development. I donít think that will do any good for Africans, especially in civil society. Looking at myself, I really donít see how my culture can give me what I want Ė education and a better job. Instead, since I am in KwaZulu-Natal, the culture says I must go for virginity testing; it says I am not allowed to say no to a man, because I am a woman. It says I donít need education, but I need a man to look after me. Meaning that I am so fragile in such a way that I donít even know what is good for me Ė but a man next door does.
Professor Mama also emphasized that , looking at the past decade, she could confidently say that intellectual development is a key aspect of cultural development, one worthy of critical attention at the present time. Africa is not only one of the most underdeveloped continents, but it also has the most fragile and under-c apacitated education sector in the world.
But a question arises: Who is responsible for Africaís underdevelopment? Professor Mama argued that the unfulfilled promise of African intellectual development has been a key factor perpetuating Africaís underdevelopment. Yet it is in intellectual development that we must once again turn in a collective effort to reverse the underdevelopment of our continent. What does this mean? It means this will require the reclaiming and strengthening of African intellectuals, who will work for the pursuit of African interests.
We must also bear in mind that colonial capitalists have always viewed African education as a threat to their supremacy. I believe, as an African, that it is so sad that most Africans didnít get a chance for a better education. This raises another question. When you look at the rate of young adults that are at home because there is no money to further their studies, and the fact that many of us didnít have enough resources to better our marks to distinctions or exemptions in secondary school, does that mean we must be left behind? Or, should I say, that we donít deserve a better education, a better life? Amazingly, even those young people who are lucky enough to be at universities are eventually kicked out because they canít afford to maintain their university fees for more than a year. And even those who have access to bursaries are studying under difficult situations because they are always threatened by the challenge of poverty at home. This poverty plays a critical, negative role in our education. There is nothing so difficult as going to school with an empty stomach.
The main reason behind crime is poverty. And many of those who cannot do crime end their lives instead, simply because they cannot take it. This is so sad because maybe the family is relying on this person who is studying, hoping one day s/he will finish and get a better job; all these hopes end when they find out that s/he is dead or in jail. Can you imagine the disappointment in their faces? And this takes us to the issue of sugar daddies. Poverty forces people to do a lot of things, and so people should understand this before being judgmental of other people. You cannot hang around with certain people whom you are not in the same material class with. That leads to having a sugar daddy who, of course, demands certain things from you; most of these young girls with sugar daddies end up with unwanted pregnancies, and the spread of different infections, including HIV, takes place. I also believe that this leads to unsafe abortions, which contribute to the high number of dying women in South Africa. I think that as we are looking at access to universities for all we should also look at strategies of poverty eradication within institutions and civil society. The reason I include civil society is because it is where poverty starts.
It is very disturbing as a woman to know that in everything that is of benefit women are always put aside. Women are expected to be care givers -- nothing more and nothing less. It is dis-heartening to know that people, in general, view women as housewives and baby-making machines.
If we talk about intellectual development, I think we should also look beyond the academy because this is not about academics or non-academics. I know that most people like me have never heard about this African scholarship, and that goes to show that the information that people need is not accessible to them. I believe that if valuable information (like this African scholarship) is available to the public, that alone can make Africa a better information distributor. I say this because, in thinking about my own situation, if this information was available when I matriculated, maybe by now I would been doing my 4th year at university.
The question that came to mind when I heard about African scholarship was: How can a person get hold of this scholarship , or how can we make this information accessible to people who really need it?
In past years, it was very sad that universities were not place s for women to further their studies, but instead were places to go and find a man. In African countries, power dynamics play a vital role. If you are a woman of high caliber, males doní t mess with you most of the time. But at the same time, one wonders about the academic women Ė who, of course, claim that they are fighting for the sisters at the grassroots level.
It seem s as if we have lost our focus Ė the goal to rescue other women in the dump. I am not saying people shouldnít smoke, but you find women these days smoking with males; but women end up fighting each other because they are busy complaining that Ďso and so didnít compliment me this morning, but instead he complimented that ďbitchĒí. I am sorry for my language, but itís true. As I look at that, I feel like womenís minds have been programmed in such a way that even if we are educated we still have that mentality that we cannot cope without males. Women are faced with many challenges, because if you donít want a man of your standard, you are faced with the man who does everything in the name of ďcultureĒ; if you decide to go for a man who is as educated as you, you are faced with insecurities. What can we women do to claim back our uniqueness from the hands of man?
Knowledge is power and without knowledge we cannot go anywhere. Still, many of us fail to share knowledge with others. I am saying this because many of us are blaming our president for not spending time talking about HIV/AIDS, but at the same time, respected activists only mention HIV/AIDS in passing. I believe that in our days we are all affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, so all of us should give ourselves a time to talk about it, raising awareness in our society. We cannot deny that there are other people who still believe that they will never get infected because they are educated or they are rich. So, hearing different people talk about the pandemic helps to save many lives. I believe that there are many students who have left the institutions because of HIV/AIDS, so I think it is necessary and relevant to spend time on this issue. Gendered violence should also be focused on, since it plays a role in the spread of HIV/AIDS. We have seen students experiencing violence in many educational institutions. What makes it painful is that many institutions donít have a gender policy in place, and they donít see it as a serious case. I think this also goes together with safety and security within campuses. This goes with the question of Risk Management Services (RMS): What are they doing about violence within the campuses and student residences?
In closing, I would like to offer this question: Who qualifies to be an intellectual? Most of us get confused when we are talking about the intellectuals and their critics. Most people think that they are intellectuals because they are well-educated, and there is a divide set up: academics versus the civil society activists. Academics should work hand-in-hand with civil society since most of them are part of civil society. Thatís called giving back to the community. We owe our continent the seed of knowledge; not just knowledge without action, but implementing ideas and empowering one another. I believe that one hand washes the other. All i n all, I think we should break down the walls that separate the academics and civil society. That will give us an equal voice. In the end, we are all intellectuals Ė regardless of our education. It is not about education, but about our daily life. We need to look within and awaken the intellectual that is within us.
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