Apartheid took a knock when Soweto’s children rose up against Afrikaans being taught as a medium of instruction. In taking on the state with their protests, and with their lives, they made it clear to the apartheid regime that they would not be submissive. Unlike their parents, they refused to be acquiescent to unjust power. They demanded freedom. In voting for Nelson Mandela, we, the people, delivered it. As we approach Mandela Day 2021 it is protecting our soil that I want to focus on. 

In 1976 the questions were, (as I remember them):

What is education without freedom?

What is education without freedom of choice?

And in my own mind, “What is education without a good command of English?”

It was inclusion in the political sphere the youth demanded.  Behind this was always the desire for an inclusive economy. And behind this, a desire to achieve human dignity within a democracy. And cultural dignity. And racial dignity, for black is beautiful. Isn’t it? It is. Yet how many of our people have read, Long Walk to Freedom? Or, for that matter, Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like? More importantly, how many are familiar with the Constitution? Of these, how many are willing to uphold it?

Mandela Day 2021 through the prism of Youth Day Speeches

In this section I share my thoughts on preparing for Mandela Day 2021 through the prism of Youth Day speeches. I include some questions to stimulate purifying conversations between adults and children, particularly parents and their children and grandchildren. In my view, the ethos of the family is a building block for raising children with a sense of co-responsibility.

Youth Day Conversations: 1990s

In 1995 Youth Day was celebrated as a public holiday for the first time. The activity that the father of our nation proposed was to clean schools – students, parents and teachers were all called upon to do so. Pride was to replace shame. The shame of corporal punishment was also banned. Shame, and shaming, would have no place in our new inclusive culture…

In 1997 Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Joe Modise led a march to the grave of Hector Peterson. To mark the 21st anniversary of the uprising 21 wreaths were laid. And the youth were told to resist criminal elements in the same way they had resisted apartheid.

Thabo Mbeki in 1998 implored the youth to, “become agents of change, this time in the continuing struggle to achieve the goal of a better life for all our people.” They were to do this by making use of the opportunities that democracy had freed up for them. Challenged to perceive themselves as ‘young lions’ with a sense of agency there was an underlying acknowledgement that poverty and unemployment had driven up criminality and despair.

Yet how do youth become agents of change without meaningful conversations? How do youth become agents of change without parental guidance? How do young men become agents of positive change without moral regeneration in their behaviour towards women?

Youth Day Conversations: 2020/1

President Cyril Ramaphosa, in 2020, ended his Youth Day speech with a reminder to youth that they must become the change they want to be. He noted that,

The voices of young people in movements such as Fees Must Fall and protests against gender-based violence have been catalysts for change… Through our social partnerships and youth-focused programmes, we are committed to unlocking the full potential of the young people of our country… Whether it is through the work of the National Youth Development Agency, through the Expanded Public Works Programme and the Community Works Programme or through the Small Enterprise Finance Agency, we are broadening the frontiers of opportunity for our young people every day.

The National Youth Development Agency was set up in 2009. Yet how effective has it been?

Discussion: Is the NYDA failing the youth?

This year, 2021, the rhetoric of ‘young lions’ was dropped.  Charlotte Maxeke was put forward as the heroine to inspire youth. Maxeke was an early activist and one of South Africa’s first Black woman graduates. A fervent Christian and community builder, she was involved in providing formal education for black children. She also engaged in politics on behalf of women and children. Her commitment and example remain a bright light for all South Africans. No doubt the ANC hopes her example will assist our young and unemployed youth gain a sense of empowering pride. And confidence in their future. And in the leadership of the ANC…

According to our president 64% of our young adults are unemployed. The president thus spent a long time enumerating the structures and platforms he has put in place to turn this around. These included apprenticeships. And partnerships with organisations with a good reputation in youth employment placements. Yet these structures appear to be conduits or platforms that have the potential to make only a small inroad into youth unemployment? More like vessels than content? For this reason, the risk of failure to deliver seems high to me. Being dependent on public-private partnerships seems to be a sign of dependency. It points to the reality of empty public coffers. And a general lack of skilled human resources in the public sector – there are reportedly many vacancies in state institutions that make delivery on mandates challenging. 

However, a new type of freedom movement seems to be on the streets. As a former teacher, I am keenly aware that freedom without a useful education curtails many people’s chances of making a livelihood. What, then, is opportunity without necessary skills being honed? What is security without nutritious food and adequate homes? What is the state without skilled civil servants, including inspectorates? And what is democracy without rule of law?

In this context, those potentially risky public-private partnerships might become the life-blood for economic recovery.

(I am for reasonable levels of accountability and a healthy democratic state and sometimes come across as simply negative, towards transnational corporates in particular. In my mind a corrupt state is only possible if the private sector is corrupt as well. Zupta-ism is an example of entrepreneurship without any boundaries. It is a shadow example of public-private partnerships. In reality I do my best to look for possibilities – from a permaculture point of view, chaos is merely an opportunity to learn from mistakes in order to self-correct. The eleventh principle of permaculture, use edges and value the marginal is a useful guideline that entrepreneurs excel in. The Guptas were good at this. The ANC government was not. At least not on behalf of our nation. My concern with unfettered entrepreneurship is therefore that we, the citizens, are too often slow to rein in abuse of political and socio-economic power. I am not sure that we know how to do so constructively anymore. Yet that knowledge and the necessary skills exist within our nation.)

Planning for Mandela Day 2021

I hadn’t given a thought to Mandela Day until I was informed of a series of agroecology projects organized by Mam Thoko Nhlabathi, of AFASA (African Farmer’s Association of South Africa). She has roped in Nonhlanhla Radebe as team leader for eight projects. With an MSc in Water Engineering, I trust that she will bring a level of professional scientific support that is often scarce in community projects.  

Eldorado Park Community Garden

The word agroecology in relation to the projects excited me. Does it suggest that AFASA is pursuing organic farming using traditional skills and knowledge? I am not sure. I am glad though that it is being tested out by one of its members.

If you would like to learn more about these projects and how you might assist them succeed, please contact Ms. Nhlabathi ( +27 74 425 2854) or Ms. Radebe (+27 67 880 7006) directly.

For those who want to farm and haven’t heard of agroecology, I suggest watching the following two short videos to get an overall sense of what it entails. For those who aren’t interested in farming per se, you might want to glean some sense of hope for the future of SA from the concepts they provide. Regardless of the economic sector you are in…

Agroecology – the next evolution in food systems

Agroecology, various approaches in Europe.

For those keen to see how agroecology is applied in different European countries I recommend the next video. I was particularly interested in the Italian example which is built on a thousand-year-old tradition which also illustrates a short value chain with low inputs. I was so thrilled to eventually find the correct terms for what I have had in my head as ‘a feminine approach’ to the economy.

How agroecology helps to build climate change-resilient livelihoods

Value chains are a big deal in so many economic sectors. And owning a full value chain has grown in popularity in recent years. Seeing these within the framework of large corporates I remained dissatisfied; I felt they would obstruct our ability to grow resilience by suppressing local business and diversity. I associated them with monoculture and with monopolies. Yet being able to distinguish between long and short value chains has been freeing. From what I have learnt thus far a long value chain is focused on the export market where maximal profits are achieved. These large businesses thus generate income from international trade. I have no interest in this. To promote this is not why I am on the planet. This does not mean it has no role in the economy. Clearly it has.

Yet for a sustainable planet they have to be willing to rein in their pursuit of profits over all others interests. In the current South African economy, the most concerning factor is the collapse of small businesses. I was told that the mayhem might be an opportunity for big business to expand its market share. After all, they have the resources to rebuild. And to expand.

On the other hand, a short value chain is about generating income from the resources within local communities. And selling the products locally.

The Italian agroecology model likens a farm to a living body with three components: crops, animals and soil. In order to manage resources sustainably they are organized into eco-regions with bio-districts. Needless to say, they place great value in experiential education of their young.

In South Africa we have traditional knowledge systems that are capable of supporting agroecology. Educational inputs would thus be minimal in communities where agroecology still exists.

However, we also have challenges based on the traditional reliance on an abundance of unbounded grasslands that favoured animal husbandry. In modern times this sometimes leads to overgrazing and the erosion of soil associated with it. Foraging on a large scale also leads to loss of balance in sensitive ecosystems.

Nonetheless, what is required in these cases is on site learning that enriches cultural knowledge. People, unlike platforms, are not empty vessels. Allowing for agency, mistakes and review as we build a vibrant micro- and small business economy is the way to optimise our use of the edges created by the looting of businesses large and small.

Beyond Mandela Day 2021

Africa has about 15-16% of the world’s total human population but has an economy that accounts for only 2-3% of the global GDP. This suggests that most people are poor to extremely poor. It also suggests that survival is a huge challenge. And that thriving remains an aspiration for the vast majority of our continent’s people. South Africa has the largest share of this miniscule global GDP, making it the wealthiest country on the continent. Does it also have the greatest number of people with the greatest desire to improve their share of national wealth? Perhaps. This is a good thing. It does require harnessing this energy into constructive and productive activity.

Based on this assumption, how do we use the rubble and rubbish produced from the looting over the last few days to prevent large scale hunger? I have seen a number of spontaneous responses from caring citizens that suggests that it is possible to avert this outcome. In the same way that the looting escalated beyond the state’s preparedness is it not possible to escalate spontaneous acts of generosity across the nation?  

Mandela Day Activity during Lockdown

Consider wherever you live as a potential agroecological farm. On a specific eco-system. For example, instead of thinking of Johannesburg as a forest, as I have done for many years, let’s accept that it is mostly grassland. With seasonal wetlands. This awareness changes what type of trees we plant, in what densities and where…

Now accept that your home and your place of work are on a specific ecosystem. Allow this information to sink in. (You might want to have some music playing softly in the background.

Next make a list of the areas around your neighbourhood that are pristine natural ecosystems. Commit to leaving these alone for now. Better still, commit to preserving them.

Make another list of the areas that are degraded. Include infrastructure that has been destroyed. Share this information with your Resident’s Association and with your Ward counsellor. And with anyone else who will listen to you. Make room to listen to them.

Record your perception of the socio-economic situation in your neighbourhood. Without judgement – if possible. Find out who is doing what – keeping in mind that the real treasures in a community are humble and thus a little difficult to find. But don’t give up. There are beavering people everywhere. Then discern where you want to give of your time and resources.

Soon you’ll find that people are on WhatsApp groups. Or telegram. Or having indabas under shady trees. Or open-air restaurants. Or at an outdoor venue. And before you know it you have a short value chain. The security sector, this being the most basic one to preserve and protect life and livelihoods, appears to be the most essential. I remain astounded by this fact. Yet I have heard over and over again, “I would love to grow some of my own food, but the last time I tried it was stolen…” Even flowers are stolen. And fruit trees planted on pavements for anyone to pick.

Once the boundaries of your community are secure (whether it be your street, or a number of blocks, or a whole suburb) and the majority of people within it are made aware of by-laws and know that they will be held accountable, the local economy can begin to grow. (Security does not automatically mean fencing. This depends on local circumstances and the attitude of local residents.)

Consciously begin to grow or strengthen short value chains. These come alive from being connected to those who live around you. It comes from a space of a shared commitment to thrive. And to allow others to do the same. There is a future for the spaza shop. And the local hairdresser. And pharmacist…

Yet from a food security perspective how might this work? I think permaculture (systems thinking for sustainability at the level of local community) and its integration into indigenous knowledge systems may add value to what the youth employment initiatives the President has initiated.

In South Africa the ‘network’ that makes this integration possible is the Constitution. All our diverse ethnic and cultural identities come into their full fruition through the upholding of the Constitution by everyone.

Both long and short value chains, and those in between, serve to enable sustainable livelihoods when they work in tandem with the law – assuming the laws are just. When they are deemed unjust, the Constitution provides the means to rectify this.

Mandela Day and Ethnic Traditions

All this information serves one purpose: to highlight that our diversity is wealth passed on as knowledge and skills that grow local livelihoods.  Madiba was not afraid to own his Thembu heritage. They rooted him as ours root us. They link us to our ancestors. They link us to the chain of being, to the Source of all being. Our traditions are our true gold. This is despite their often-patriarchal architecture. The latter of necessity has to adapt to a higher consciousness of the feminine as an asset to growing a harmonious society.

Already some significant changes have taken place since the looting began. Traditional leaders have called for calm and dissociated themselves from the Zupta challenge. Wouldn’t it be really cool if some South Africans with clout joined Lord Peter Haines in getting all that money back? If we ever needed it urgently, we need it now. To grow short value chains that make communities sustainable. Starting with feeding the hungry while simultaneously keeping our local restaurants and caterers going?

And by protecting our soil.

And growing skills in alternative forms of energy. The president’s announcement that alternative forms of energy, including solar energy, will be legislated for is a sector that could benefit all residential areas. Instead of enormous energy grids, imagine small ones. Begin to appreciate the employment possibilities in this. As in society in general, allowing for the feminine to express its full potential softens the masculine that favours, “me first” and “me only”. And huge versus small.

This then is my contribution for Mandela day. The observant Jewish community will be fasting and remembering the many losses suffered over the course of the last two thousand five hundred years. Lamentations will be read. All are expected to weep for ancient losses. And for private losses. And for national ones such as we are all experiencing, regardless of personal identities.

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