From the book: Black ViewPoint by Ndebele, Ndamse, Buthelezi, Khoapa
C.M.C. Ndamse is a distinguished educationist and former lecturer at the University of Fort Hare.
PRINCE BISMARCK once said that one-third of German university students broke down from overwork, another third broke down from dissipation, while the other third ruled Germany, I do not know which third of the student body is here tonight, but I am confident that I am talking to the future rulers of this country, and also of the free countries who may have come to this centre of freedom.
It is my belief that this institution is not only interested in turning out mere corporation lawyers, skilled accountans or entomologists. What it is interested in, and this I hope is true of every university, is in turning out citizens of the world, men who comprehend the difficult, sensitive tasks that lie before them as free men and women, men who are willing to commit their energies to the advancement of a free society. That is why you are here.
Dr Brookes is still alive. My remarks on and references to him must naturally be limited. Here we have a statesman who eloquently proved the difference between a statesman and a politician. A statesman thinks and prepares for the next generation. The politician thinks and prepares for the next general election. Here we have a politician who has eschewed mud-slinging, and always fought with clean hands. Here we have an educationist whose name has been a password from generation to generation. He is one of the most distinguished scholars in South Africa, who does not believe that knowledge is merely for study, but that it is also for the market place. We are talking about Brookes the Christian whose deeds and activities are a testimony to the soldiers of the Cross. But above all we are talking about Brookes the man. I shall not be so naive as to suggest a fitting epitaph for him when he reports for higher service, but I do suggest that when he gets to the pearly gates of heaven and Gabriel and Michael demand an account of his activities, the answer should be straight and simple I am Brookes'. Believe me, the gates will open on their own accord.
That is why, Mr. President, your invitation was accepted with trepidation. And yet to stand before you I count as a priceless privilege. To stand before you as a Dr E.H. Brookes lecturer means to link arms with those men who have previously demarcated, at your request, the irreducible line of academic freedom. This is a momentous task, to be assumed with all humility, and demands from each of us a statement as to where he stands and who he is. It is my heartfelt delight to remind this august gathering that my forebears stalked these hills in days of yore. My great-grandfather fought side-by-side with Shaka, and when Disraeli said: 'What! these Zulus, they beat our soldiers and convert our bishops', he was referring to the prowess and valour of the Zulus which has never been surpassed. This is the day gone by. I am looking for the new day. This city is named after two Voortrekkers leaders, reminding us of the carnage and bloodletting that took place in these parts. These vales and valleys were filled with bellowing of beast and moaning of dying men. Human wreckage lay scattered, and the birds of the air fed with glee to their satisfaction. The bullet penetrated man's skull, and the assegais kissed man's heart. Man fought with alacrity to grab and usurp. Man fought with valour and honour to hold. God's children were at one another's throat. Hell was let loose. That day passed and gave way to another day. Black hands joined to build the city. Time marched on.
We are all immersed in the stream of time. As day succeeds day and history bears us onward over its cataracts of change, we cannot be certain where we are or where we are tending. I am sure that Charlemagne's followers never thought of themselves as 'coming out of the dark ages'. The men of the Middle Ages didn't know their period was giving way to the Renaissance. In fact, as far as they were concerned, their age was not in the middle but right in front, like every real degree of doubt about any attempt to appreciate changing circumstances and to define historical epochs. One may believe that a momentous period in human history has come to an end. I may say that I fully agree with Paul Sauer, when after SharpeVille he said: The old book has closed and a new one has begun'. So profound are the changes and upheavals. But I fully realise that there is nothing more difficult to share and perhaps easier to refute, than a particular angle of vision on human affairs. Historical change and changes in the circumstances in and of man have a way of deluding the observers.
It may be that the complexity of our times comes from the fact that many processes are going on simultaneously. There is a definite setback in the political control exercised by the peoples of Western Europe for centuries. The people of Western Europe committed the fatal mistake of associating political control with the 'white colour'. The black world has been asserting its rights with ever-increasing determination. The Declaration of Human Rights means more to the blacks than many people realise or care to know. The blacks are now aware of their numerical superiority. They have watched with glee the struggle between the United States and Russia - the Colossus of Europe, in Smuts's words. They have evolved the doctrine of non-alliance. They have used the United Nations Organisation to good advantage. There is above all the dramatic phenomenon, the new discovery by the black peoples: Black Consciousness. May I in passing sound this warning that wise men ignore this new development at their own peril. Another process was a world-wide expansion of the technological and egalitarian revolution which Western Europe set in motion - the West Europeans have changed everything because as their dominion grew, they invented and carried through the decisive modern revolutions based on the drives of equality, science, technology and fair play. The white man's transformation affected everybody else. They began, perhaps not without cause, to think well of themselves. They forgot the cardinal lesson. They are no exception. They foamed dry about their civilising mission. Had they not rescued peoples from barbarism, converted the heathen, whatever that meant, and made three blades of grass grow where none grew before? They even claimed some special endowment and privilege for the colour of their skin. Western civilisation and Christianity were synonymous. The converted were, however, not allowed to discuss the ills of this world. Golden seats awaited them in the world to come.
This did not go on without being noticed. Cetwayo, the Zulu King, expressed himself succinctly. Referring to the activities of the white people, he said, 'First come missionary, then come rum, then come traders, then come army'. But Cecil Rhodes expressed himself more clearly, 'I would rather have more land than niggers'. Conquest and power do not confer intrinsic value. That lies in Man's being alone, the humanity he shares with all God's creatures. The fact that the two world wars were conducted by men of white skin tells only that during that period, they had the edge in strength, weaponry and new techniques. Indeed, if at time, to be in terms of superiority, we would all be living in a well-ordered Utopia. Our world is still largely what they made it to be. The confusion and violence in which our planet is now immersed suggests that the Europeans are not supermen. They are men, and so are all the inhabitants of this globe. Mankind, I believe, will have a special chapter for the period in history when a leading nation in the west dropped the hydrogen bomb on Hiroshima.
The new day we crave for replaces the old day. We choose to forgive and forget the past. Let us close the old books. Let us search ourselves. Let us find out who the real lovers of our land are. Let us be clear as to who the enemies of our land are. Where do you place those who even in spite of themselves, are prepared to spend and to be spent to improve race relations? Where do you place those who boast? May I crave for indulgence in my plea for the consideration of the black worker!!
The black people are forced to labour under circumstances which are calculated not to inspire them with love and respect for labour. This constitutes a part of the reason why it is necessary to emphasise the matter of industrial education as a means of giving the black man the foundation of a civilisation upon which he will grow and prosper. Mere training of the hand without the culture of brain and heart would mean little. The effort must be to make the millions of blacks self-supporting, intelligent, economical and valuable citizens as well as to bring about the proper relations between them and the white citizens among whom they will continue to live. With proper preparation and with sufficient foundation, the black man possesses the elements out of which men of the highest character and usefulness can be developed.
Lessons shall be applied honestly, bravely, in laying the foundation upon which the black man can stand in the future and make himself a useful, honourable and desirable citizen, whether he has his residence in the urban areas or in the homelands. I am black. I know the black man pretty well - him and his needs, his failures and his success, his desires and the likelihood of their fulfillment - I have studied the relations with our white neighbours, and striven to find how these relations may be more conducive to the general peace and welfare of both the black man and of the country at large.
I am not minimising the attempts that are being made. But the truth must be given in no uncertain terms that these attempts are too little, too slow, too niggardly and too grudgingly given.
The creation of nationalities and separate states within the ambit of South Africa has reached the point of no return. We leave this to time and the safe lap of history. Let me say, however, that the three million whites are bound to the twenty million blacks by ties which neither can tear asunder even if they would. The most intelligent in the University of Natal campus community has his intelligence darkened by the ignorance of a fellow citizen in the backveld of KwaZulu. The most wealthy in Park town would be more wealthy but for the poverty of a fellow being in the shackles of a Free State small dorp. The most moral and religious men (in human terms) in a theological seminary have their religion and morality modified by the degradation of the man living in squalor. Therefore, when the black man is ignorant, the white man is ignorant, when the black man is poor, the white man is poor, when the black man is in rags, the white man is in rags or at best, his soul is in rags. When the black man is the victim of countless diseases, because of the squalor and abject conditions under which he lives, the white man is in danger for epidemics and germs defy divisions of colour and creed. When the black man's crime-wave increases, the whole nation commits crime. For the white citizens of South Africa there is no escape. They must help raise the character of the civilisation of the black man or theirs is lowered.
No member of the white community in any part of South Africa can harm the weakest or meanest member of the black race without the proudest and the bluest blood of the nation being degraded.
It seems to me that there never was a time in the history of our country when those interested in education in this audience should the more earnestly consider to what extent the mere acquisition of the degree, the mere acquisition of a knowledge of literature and science makes men producers, lovers of labour, independent, honest, unselfish and, above all, good.
Call education by whatever name you please, if it fails to bring about these results among the people, it falls short of the highest end. The science, the art, the literature that fails to reach down and bring the humblest up to the enjoyment of the fullest blessings of our land, is weak, no matter how costly the building or apparatus used, or how modern the methods of instruction employed. The study of applied mathematics and statistics on poverty and disease and illiteracy that does not result in making men conscientious in alleviating the lot and plight of their fellow-men is faulty. The study of art and social sciences that does not result in making the strong less willing to oppress the weak means little.
How I wish that from the corridors and campus of such a university to the humblest mud-hut primary school among the kraals of the Transkei wild coast, we could burn, as it were, into the hearts and heads of all, that usefulness, that service to our brother, is the supreme end of education.
We have had quack ideas repeated ad nauseum that the black man is an innocent child of nature who needs the perpetual protection of the white man. It has been asserted that education helps the black man, and that education hurts him, that he is fast leaving the rural areas and taking up work and residence in white areas, and that this justifies strict influx control measures. It has been asserted that education unfits the black man for work and that education makes him more valuable as a labourer, that he is the greatest criminal or thief and that he is our most law-abiding citizen.
The black man has been told to acquaint himself with the modern scientific methods in farming; in the same breath he has been told to perpetuate and cherish his custom and traditions. The black man has been told about diet and about the vitamins. He is told about the traditional food and to plant and eat mealies to maintain identity. The black man is told to love his mother tongue which he learnt from his mother's lap and that mother tongue instruction or medium in schools is the best educational communication known and yet he is told that to get a decent job he must prove proficiency in English or Afrikaans or both.
In the midst of these conflicting opinions, it is hard to hit upon the truth. But also in the midst of this confusion, there are a few things of which I am certain - things which furnish a basis for thought and action. I know that whether the blacks are inferior or not inferior, whether they are growing better or worse, whether they are valuable or valueless, a few years ago there were few Coloureds, fewer Indians and not so many Africans and now these number millions. I know that whether oppressed or free, the black people have always been loyal to the South African flag, that no school house has been opened for them that has not been filled, that the statements and pronouncements issued by black leaders are as potent for weal or woe as those from the wisest and most influential men in the Republic. I know that wherever the black man's life touches the life of the nation, it helps or hinders, that wherever the life of the white race touches the black, it makes it stronger or weaker. I know that only a few centuries ago, soldiers and missionaries alike felt themselves crusaders to save the pagans, that the blacks came out better Christians. The blacks went to school with a foreign language as medium of instruction, they came out speaking the proud Anglo-Saxon tongue. Today many blacks speak more idiomatic English than many Afrikaners.
They speak better Afrikaans than many English-speaking South Africans. Indeed many blacks are thoroughly proficient in English, Afrikaans and vernacular. A few years ago, the Coloured especially in the Western Cape was left to the fate of the slow paralysis of the tot system. That today they are a potential force admits of no debate. A few years ago, the Indians came to South Africa on invitation. Under the blazing sun their sweat soaked the soil along the Natal coast.
They would, it was thought, multiply with untold prolificacy, fill the gutters and if it must needs be, they would be repatriated. At the time South Africa did not know that these people had an 'eastern secret'. They have the ability to bear and endure. With their indomitable spirit, they have moved from strength to strength, defying 'ghetto laws' and paralysing restrictions. I am inviting the 'doubting Thomas' to accompany me to Grey Street. Indeed let him open his radio set on Saturday or Sunday morning and listen to the wonderful music with an eastern setting. Much credit goes to the present government for its wisdom to see the need for change of attitude.
The African tribesmen from all the corners of Southern Africa, moved in ant-like formations to the mines. From the bowels of the earth, where many of them have died unwept and unsung they brought gold and diamonds, which precious stones have made South Africa the white man's 'haven' and the envy of many. For these humble and innocent children of nature the habitat was the vermin-infested compound or sack hovel. But I know, who does not, that their descendants are the commercial tycoons in Soweto. From the backyards of garages and hovels the black muscles carry South Africa unflinchingly. Yes, the hand and muscle of men and women happy in distress and rich in poverty. The world has been twice faced with devastating wars, and twice the black man has answered the clarion call to fight for king and country. The wreckage at the bottom of the sea near France includes the pieces of the Mendi. The story is told that as the ship was slowly and surely sinking, a faint voice was heard saying, 'Abantwana bam, Abantwana bam'. 'Oh, my children - my children'! We have reason to believe that this cry was a testimony of hope that the men had fought a good fight for a good cause and better things awaited their children. In the second world war the black hands waved knob-kieries and rusted assegais at Marshall Goering's mechanised units. And day and night, the British Broadcasting' Corporation, echoing the declaration of the Atlantic Charter, beamed in constant refrains 'we fight for freedom'.
On the frontline the black man did all to save a white brother. At home the wheels of progress rolled on and there is not a single attempt to sabotage the war effort reported on the part of a black man.
I submit it to the candid and sober judgment of all men, are not a people capable of such a taste, such transformation, such endurance, such long-suffering not worth recognising? We crave for recognition and not tolerance. We call upon South Africa to help us to help them. One of the clarion calls we are called upon to make is that our nation with might and main should open the floodgates of educational opportunities.
For this we need honest men who will face the stark realities of the situation. There are those among both black and white who assert with a good deal of earnestness, that there is no difference between the white man and the black man. This sounds very pleasant and tickles the fancy. But when the test of hard, cold logic is applied to it, it must be acknowledged that there is a difference - not an inherent one, not a racial one, but a difference growing out of unequal opportunities in the past and at present.
Of course these days it is common knowledge that there is no inherent inferiority on the part of the black man. Some years ago the black man foamed dry trying to prove that he had as much brain and intelligence as the white man. If I were provoked, I would be inclined to say that under given circumstances, the black child has better brains than the white child.
Consider the prenatal care that is given to an average white child, how the mother is fed, cared for, and nursed. Consider the care taken in a nursing home or hospital. Consider the nursing the baby is given. A balanced diet awaits the baby. Hygienic conditions surround both mother and baby.
On the other hand the black child is born of an ill-fed mother. Often the black child is born in a thatched rondavel kitchen filled with smoke. At times the rondavel is infested with vermin. Almost all the facilities and amenities taken for granted for the white child are conspicuous by their absence. As he grows he hardly has toys. There is no children's literature.
There is no radio. The black child and the white child go to school. It has happened that these have found themselves on the campus of Natal University. At some stage the two write the same examination and obtain the same grade. The question may be asked, if the conditions were the same from the beginning, what would be the position? The highest test of civilisation of any nation is its willingness to extend a helping hand to the less fortunate. A nation, like an individual, lifts itself up by lifting others up. Surely no people ever had a greater chance to exhibit the fortitude and magnanimity than is now presented to the people of South Africa. It requires little wisdom or statesmanship to repress, to crush out, to retard the hopes and aspirations of a people.
But the highest and most profound statesmanship is shown in guiding and stimulating a people so that every fibre in the body and soul shall be made to contribute in the highest degree to the usefulness and ability of the nation. It is along this line that I pray God the thoughts and activities of this audience may be guided. We must all recognise the world-wide fact that the black man must be led to see and feel that he must make every effort possible in every way possible, to secure the friendship, the confidence, the co-operation of his white neighbour in South Africa. However, I am aware that the white man has no respect for a black man who does not act from principle. In some way the white man must be led to see that it is to his interest to turn his attention more and more to the making of laws that will, in the truest sense, elevate the black man. One of the greatest questions which our youth must face in South Africa is the proper adjustment of the new relations of the races. It is a question which must be faced calmly, quietly, dispassionately and the new day has dawned to rise above party, above race, above colour, above sectionalism, into the region of duty of man to man, of South African to South African, of Christian to Christian.
The black people will fight for the maintenance of their identity. Yet we should surely admit that we are one in this country. The question of the highest citizenship and the complete education of all, concerns all people in South Africa. When one race is strong the other is strong. When one is weak, the other is weak.
There is no power that can separate our destiny. Indignities and petty practices which exist in many places injure the white man and inconvenience the black man. No race can wrong another race, simply because it has the power to do so, without being permanently injured in its own morals. The black man can, as he has often done, endure the temporary inconvenience, but the injury to the white man is permanent. It is for the white man to save himself from this degradation that I plead. If a white man insults a black man, ill-treats him, despises him, it is the white man who is permanently injured. Vexation of spirit comes to the black man discriminated against or hurt, but death of morals - death of the soul - comes to those responsible for discrimination.
In the economy of God there is but one standard by which an individual can succeed. There is but one for a race. This country, which we all love and for which we shall pay any price, for its own sake, expects that every race shall respect the dignity of man.
During the next decade, the black man must continue passing through the severe South African crucible. He is to be tested in his patience, for his forbearance, his perseverance, his power to endure -to withstand temptations, to economise, to acquire and use skill - his ability to compete, to succeed in commerce, to disregard the superficial for the real, the appearance for the substance, to be great and yet small, learned and yet simple, high and yet the servant of all. This is the passport to all that is best in the life of our South Africa and the black man must possess it or be barred out. It is this discovery that has given birth to Black Consciousness. Moreover it is with a people as it is with an individual. It must respect itself if it would win the respect of others. There must be a certain amount of pride about a race. There must be a great deal of faith on the part of a race in itself. An individual cannot succeed unless he has about him a certain amount of pride - enough pride to make him aspire to the highest and best things in life. Wherever you find an individual who is ashamed of his race trying to get away from his race, apologising for being a member of his race, then you find a weak individual. And such a race is weak and vacillating. The apostles of Black Consciousness adhere to this and are prepared to pay any price to go it alone. I am not going to call upon liberals to shed tears, if they have any.
Some of us are convinced that the sponsors of Black Consciousness hate nobody and bear malice to none. They have discovered, and just in time, that they are 'children of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; they have a right to be here'. And we are all convinced that in working out his own destiny, while the main burden of activity must be with the black man, he will need, as he has done in the past, the help, encouragement and guidance the strong can give the weak. Thus helped, those of all races in South Africa will soon throw off the shackles of racial and sectional prejudice and rise above the clouds of ignorance, narrowness and selfishness into that atmosphere, that pure sunshine, where it will be the highest ambition to serve man, our brother, regardless of race or previous condition. We should hear less nonsense about Dutchmen, Rooineks, and Coolies and Kaffirs. We should realise that every man, woman and child, no matter what colour or creed, is a vital component of a tremendous nation-in-being, a momentous experiment in history, of which we are a part. As South Africans we are committed to the arduous task of building a great society, - not just a strong one, not just a rich one, but a great society. This is a pact we make with ourselves. We should remember that the bastion for South Africa is not a particular section of the population, indeed neither is it an increased defence budget or more information offices, as necessary as these may be. The bastion for this country is the great society of great men and women dedicated to their motherland not by ties of master and servant, but by mutual respect. Let us remember what Thomas Jefferson said, borrowing a vivid phrase from an English Revolutionary, ... 'the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favoured few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God'.
The effect of discrimination on the human mind has an affinity with the mental condition we call arrested development; an historian whose task it is to record the deeds of the perpetrators of discrimination towards the blacks, finds himself embarrassed by what he knows will be the contemptuous astonishment of posterity. He feels he is being invited to chronicle the mischief and snivelling of schoolboys who should be birched and sent to bed in eternal oblivion. But they have a place in history. It is a humiliation of the Muse of History.
The new day has come for every lover of South Africa to set the might of angered and resolute manhood against the shame and peril of discrimination. These perpetrators of discrimination whose glee taunts their victim as he is bundled out through the front door of a restaurant, or is thrown headlong into the police van for failure to produce a pass, do not represent the best among the whites in South Africa. And I plead for the masterful sway of a righteous and exalted public sentiment that shall condemn discrimination to high heaven. Let us remember that there is no escape through law of man or God from the inevitable:
The laws of changeless justice bind oppressor with oppressed. And, close as sin and suffering joined, we march to fate'.
Mr President, let me say that millions of black hands will aid you in pulling the load upward, or they will pull against you the load downwards. The blacks will constitute a fraction and more of the ignorance and crime in South Africa or a fraction of its intelligence and progress. They shall contribute to the business and industrial prosperity of South Africa, or they shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnating, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic. The United States and Russia choose to make amends in space. We choose to make amends on mother earth.
My friends, this is our task. It is not an easy one. At present great gaps in culture, understanding, education and income hold the races apart. It is not simply a question of white and black. It is all round the world. The 'new day' may be too imperceptible for our eyes. The atmosphere may be more congenial than we imagine. Let me remind the youth in this hall that the temptation, is naturally to want no change. Idealism ends with the attainment of a degree. It is very comfortable to be at the top of a heap, to live in a clean home with all the amenities, not filthy backyards; to see your children grow up well fed, with adequate provision for education, to have no experience of hunger; to be literate and skilled, to know nothing of human contempt.
Somebody has said that this lulls the conscience, dulls the mind and narrows the heart. As Robert Kennedy once said: 'For the fortunate among us the danger is comfort; the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who have the privilege of education. But that is not the road that history has marked out for us. There is a Chinese curse which says: 'May he live in interesting times'. Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. And everyone here will ultimately be judged - will ultimately judge himself - on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort'.
We are called to duty in good weather and in bad. Let us take heart from the certainty that we are united by hope and purpose. For we know now that freedom is more than the rejection of discrimination, that prosperity is more than escape from want, that good race relations is more than the sharing of power. These are, above all, the human adventures. They must have meaning, conviction and purpose and because they do, the new day calls us to a great new mission. The mission is to create a new social order, founded on liberty, justice and fair play, in which all men and women can share a better life for themselves and their children.
So we are idealists. We are all visionaries. Let it not be said of you and of me that we left ideals and visions to the past, nor purpose and determination to our adversaries.
And we shall ever remember what Goethe once said:
The highest wisdom, the best that mankind ever knew, was the realisation that he only earns his freedom and existence who daily conquers them anew'.
Delivered at Edgar Brookes Academic and Human Freedom Lecture for 1972 at University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, on Friday May 5th, 1972.