African philosophical questions … on the 2020 Education Amendment Act

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

In the just ended Parliamentary debate on allowing pregnant pupils to remain in school  just as happened in the previous debate over corporal punishment for learners, there are silent assumptions which journalists and activists pushing for the amendments do not highlight.  

Failure to highlight such assumptions is a disservice to society. 

λ First is the silent assumption that written statutes are superior to living law, specifically, that statutes created from a Eurocentric, neoliberal and neo-colonial perspective are superior to African living law.

λ Second is the assumption which follows from the first, that most social problems (if not all problems) can be solved by passing the ‘correct’ and well-intended law.  In this way, problems of early marriages, unwanted pregnancies and school drop-outs can be solved by amending the laws to make society more equal. 

λ Third is the assumption that all the concerned parties mean the same thing by ‘education’, which is to say, that schooling and education mean the same thing.

 λ The fourth assumption is that non-discrimination and equality mean the same, of all places, in education.

As I shall try to demonstrate, these assumptions are wrong.

Indeed, the editorial page of The Herald for August 25 2020 was most revealing.  

There was an editorial entitled “Decision on pregnant pupils fosters equality” which in parts read as follows:

The decision to allow pregnant pupils to attend classes in Government schools reinforces Government’s commitment to invest in girls and foster gender equality 

The same amendment to the Education Act also outlawed corporal punishment, any forms of discrimination and converts a simple executive order from the education ministry barring schools from sending pupils home if they have fees arrears to permanent law.

The Herald editorial made it clear that the issue of discrimination on the basis of gender arose from the fact that, in the past, the boy responsible for the pregnancy remained in school while the pregnant girl had to drop out.

To the right of The Herald editorial, however, there was published a humourist’s cartoon showing three girls and three boys in a classroom without the teacher.  One of the three girls is pregnant and she says to the class: “Guys, help me come up with a new name for my first born!” 

The cartoon was a joke suggesting that the content and purpose of schooling had now changed with the new assignment given to pupils by their pregnant peer!

Indeed, what is odd about all this euphoria is the absence of significant voices, such as students themselves, parents, faith communities and philosophers of education.  

Although the amendments in question are about Primary and Secondary education, the ideas involved have to do with higher education, teacher training and the role of the African university in researching or failing to research indigenous African philosophy and living law.

According to former South African President Thabo Mbeki’s intervention in New African magazine for April 2005: 

“The challenge for an African university should be viewed as a call that insists that critical and transformative educators in Africa embrace an indigenous African world view and root their nation’s educational paradigms in an indigenous socio-cultural and epistemological framework.  Among others, this implies that all educational curricula in Africa should have Africa as their focus, and as a result, be indigenous-grounded or oriented.”

However, eight years after Mbeki’s call, one of the key advisors for the United Kingdom’s government, Richard Dowden, had this to say (Herald October 2013) about African higher education: 

“We cannot compete with the Chinese in manufacturing (tangible goods), but the one thing Britain has (manufactured) that Africa needs is education.  As African economies go on growing (British-sponsored) education would not only be a good earner in the short term but, in the long term, would create relationships (with future African leaders) far into the future.”  

“Generations of Africans have mortgaged their futures on getting to college in Britain…Tertiary education in most of Africa is dire.  Distance education is now possible but I do not know many Africans who went to university in Britain and did not enjoy the experience.”

For the British, sponsored ‘African education’ was a vehicle for exporting European culture to Africa.

Film, fine art, art and design, music, radio and television were already defined in Britain, Europe and North America when university education came to Rhodesia and those driving the vision were most satisfied to define a “high standard of education” here as meaning an imitation of “the best of the Anglo-American and Anglo-Saxon traditions”.

According to Michael Gelfand’s book A Non-Racial Island of Learning: A History of the University College of Rhodeisa, the vision of higher education in Rhodesia was for the university to remain multiracial and British.  Gelfand wrote: 

“These chapters have described (the college’s) beginnings, its aims and its establishment and growth as a University College, with a high academic standard, in keeping with the University of London and other British universities.”

In keeping with this vision, the fine art, the cinema, the architecture, the fashion, the music, art and design, were to be imported ready-made from the ‘civilized world’. 

There was therefore no need for any original teaching of these things here.  Gelfand continued:

“Africans were not asked what kind of a university they would like; it was taken for granted that they wished for a Western type of institution.  It so happened that (Africans) were (also) very keen for a university to which they could go, and 

at first were ready to conform to almost any type that was offered.”

I have tried to trace that history to see if a clear historical, philosophical and practical departure from that British vision can be proven in post-independence Zimbabwe.  

What can be proven is a massive expansion of the entire education system after 1980. A clear departure in terms of basic software is hard to demonstrate.

The need for such a departure is obvious, not only from the challenges I have outlined on silent assumptions being made about education to-date but also from the history, as Gelfand demonstrated in his study, when he wrote:

“Right from the start, the (University College of Rhodesia) was thought of as a British type of university with a Western culture.  Therefore, all who came there were automatically expected to conform to British standards.  …Under entrance qualifications, it (the university brochure) stressed the importance of Western culture.” 

The Presumed Superiority of Roman-Dutch Law to African Living Law

Since the Constitutional Court’s March 3 2019 ruling banning judicial corporal punishment, most parents and other authorities have interpreted the judgment to mean a universal ban on the whipping of kids for all sorts of mischief and for open defiance of adult authority.  

Parents and others in positions of authority over juveniles noted with grave concern the following pronouncement by the Con Court:

“The court holds that judicial corporal punishment is, by nature, intent and effect, an inhuman and degrading punishment within the meaning of Section 53 of the Constitution… Caning invades the integrity of the human body.  It is an inhuman punishment which blocks the way to understanding the pathology of crime.”

Given the highly moralising nature of this ban on the sentencing of juveniles to caning, it is clear to most parents that the judgment opened the door for banning parents and guardians specifically from whipping or spanking kids.  It could not be ruled inhuman and degrading in court and remain otherwise within the family.  

So, a conflict situation was created by the judgment.

As one who took part in the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Constitution (COPAC) I can confirm that the majority of contributors to the COPAC outreach then wanted the option of corporal punishment retained especially within the family and the school chosen by parents for its discipline.  They wanted parents or families to decide. 

Every parent I have spoken to since March 3 2019 also wants the same option to be reserved to parents and families.  

I was therefore not surprised to read in The Chronicle for March 16 2019 the headline:  “Bulawayo Residents say no to inclusion of pregnant pupils in schools” which story went on to include the matter of the implied universal ban on corporal punishment.

“The issue of corporal punishment was the most dominant (during the recent outreach by representatives of Parliament) with contributors in agreement that teachers (and parents) should be allowed to punish students (using corporal punishment) but the punishment must be reasonable.”

While the controversy over the ConCourt’s ruling focused on whether or not whipping kids was inhuman, degrading and unconstitutional, that is not the focus of my contribution.  

The real issue being left out of the discussion concerns the long term effects of stripping the parent, the guardian and the family of powers to decide appropriate forms of discipline for children on the one hand, and handing them over to the state through judge rule, on the other hand.  

The problem is that in countries where such judgments have been enforced, the state represented by the judicial and law-enforcement authorities have proven to be far less competent or effective as substitute parents than real parents, real families and real communities. 

This is because the judgment of the Constitutional Court endowed lawyers-cum-judges with expertise and authority over matters of psychology, sociology, philosophy, ethics, faith, culture and education.  

Judges did not and will never have such universal expertise or authority.  

For instance, what exactly did the ConCourt mean “by the pathology of crime”?  This sociological and medical term implied that we know for sure that habitual mischief and crime is a sickness and not the result of wilful decision making and peer pressure on the part of the juvenile.  

There is no agreement that all acts of mischief and crime arise from a sickness, which is what pathology means.  

Peer pressure and peer persuasion are not pathologies but strict disciplinary matters in which juveniles exercise choice!

Moreover, the over-reliance on judges to decide on how to treat mischievous juveniles seemed to fly in the face Section 25 of the very same Constitution on Protection of the family.  

Without defining what is meant by the family, the Constitution nevertheless goes on to provide as follows:

The State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must protect and foster the institution of the family and in particular must endeavour, within the limits of the resources available to them, to adopt measures for  

(a) the provision of care and assistance to mothers, fathers and other family members who have charge of children; and 

(b) the prevention of domestic violence.

It is important to note in this regard that many of the acts of domestic violence are committed by juveniles against adults and against children and other juveniles. 

In the particular case, which reached the ConCourt, the juvenile spared from caning had committed rape!

While it is true that many countries have banned corporal punishment, the judges in this matter did not say whether the banning had protected and strengthened families in those same countries.

What parents observed was that the judiciary was aiding in the expansion of the anti-social state into human relationships which lay within purview of the family, the parent, the community, sociologists,

psychologists and doctors as family advisors.

The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Education,
Sports and Culture in 2015 did well to go out to rural communities to find out what the people thought of the creeping anti-social changes, which were being pushed upon the people through Constitutional Court judgments, through foreign-funded NGOs, through so-called education reforms, through the unplanned introduction of new technologies into schools and through anti-social neoliberal economic reforms.

Community opposition to the growth of the anti-social state and its war on human relationship which the Portfolio Committee on Education ran into should not have surprised anyone.  

Any honest examination of contributions to the 1999 Constitutional Commission outreach as well as to the 2009 – 2010 outreach of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Constitution (COPAC)would reveal the same opposition, which the Constitutional Court and those who wrote the current constitution ignored.

But what were the surface signs of the growth of this anti-social state and its war on human relationships?  These signs could be gathered from looking at prevailing contradictions as follows:

λ The state which was being told to allow and provide condoms for schoolchildren was also being told to cut school lunches, cut or stop BEAM payments and cut student teachers’ allowances by half.  In fact the same week as the 20-24 November 2015 issue of The Patriot reporting on the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, there was an activist on radio claiming that schoolchildren in Masvingo were so desperately in need of condoms that they were using discarded freezit packets as condoms!  This story of desperation was created by NGOs to pressure the state into issuing condoms to schoolchildren in the name of youth empowerment and young people’s rights.

λ The same state being told to ban under-age marriages and perhaps raise the age of marital consent to 18 was also being used to liberalise prostitution and treat prostitutes as sex workers even though it was common knowledge that a third or so of them were in fact under-age girls and children.

λ What this paradox on the age of sexual consent meant was the removal of sex from relationships and the abolition of sex as a relationship in preference for sex as a service or commodity which could be purchased. The under-age girl who sold her body in prostitution was liberated.  The one relating to a man in marriage was a slave. That was the logic of the anti-social state.

λ On the human rights front the same paradox prevailed at two levels: the right to determine what was good for the human being was being moved away from families, away from communities, away from schools, away from churches, synagogues and mosques so that the state became or pretended to be everyone’s grandmother, with the policeman, the social worker and the state health practitioner now the enforcer of human entitlements on behalf of the state.

λ Eurocentric gender theory assumed that to liberate women from male oppression it was necessary to abolish all relationships based on cultural practices which distinguished women from men.  In this way, the abolition of male/female difference became synonymous with freedom for women.  Yet unisexism was not liberation.

λ The first problem that arose was that the conflict which was caused by trying to abolish those differences actually created new differences, new misunderstandings and new obstacles between men and women, resulting in escalating violence between them.  Forcing college boys and girls to live in the same dormitories and to share rooms resulted in one sex despising if not hating the other.

According to Professor Ken Mufuka:

“The practice of non-gender dormitories has been the norm (in the US) for the last 30 years.  Christian colleges are now restoring same sex dormitories because female students have complained bitterly that (college) boys are ‘gross and dirty’… Male barbarism (stimulated by proximity to large numbers of barely dressed women) is simply intolerable.  (The boys) seem to (be encouraged) to want to jump into beds with female room-mates without prior consultation.”

Whole governments, whole societies were being subjected to neoliberal anti-social theory.  According to Mufuka again:

“Sex is defined as part of male dominance-female submission.  This is not found in nature but is a social construct.  Once the male-female dominance and submission is abolished then humans will be free to express their true sexual orientation in a variety of ways, some straight, some gay, others lesbian (and bisexual)”.

This was where the anti-social nature of the neoliberal state came from.  

It assumed that all existing relations between male and female were social constructions contrary to nature.  

So it tried to dismantle those social relations and to turn human beings into freely floating atoms who must discover their true nature away from established social relations but in order to establish yet new and free relations.  

Part of the absurdity of this whole campaign was that the state whose institutions were set to abolish all social constructs to do with men and women was itself a social construct.  

There was no such thing as a pure state derived from nature.  Those ConCourt judges belonged to a minority class and their own families had their own peculiar biases and problems.

 The other absurdity arose from copying methods and strategies of gender liberation struggle from the struggles of nationalist and civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s.  

Where the British could be assumed to be separate and independent of the Kikuyus of Kenya, where the Rhodesians could be assumed to be a separate and independent group from Madzimbahwe, this could not to be the same with husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends.  

The mutual differences between men and women were the basis for their mutual independence and the basis for mutual attraction and love.  

So adoption of modes of struggle borrowed from national independence movements could only lead to deadly and escalating conflict to no end. 

The other part of the absurdity arose from involvement of neoliberal capitalism in the growth and promotion of this anti-social state.

When the Constitutional Court sought to abolish child marriages while liberalising prostitution and turning a blind eye to child prostitution, it was expressing the neoliberal capitalist view that sex as a commodity for sale, sex as a paid-for-service, was liberating because it avoided or abolished the need for relationships.  

Who needs binding relationships when one can convert all relationships into saleable services?  

The child prostitute was free to choose a life of debauchery because there were no binding relationships.  

But the under-age bride was a slave because she had to follow the rules of established relationships.

The absurdities of the growing anti-social state were indeed endless.  

That state was also being pushed to become Tete and Mbuya by providing free sex education and free condoms.  

But the same forces telling it to do so were also saying water should be pre-paid just like cellphone airtime.  Energy was already pre-paid.  So, the people, using their community-based intelligence, were wondering what sort of moral universe would make the state sell prepaid electricity and pre-paid water while offering sex education and condoms for free?  

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