|The Paula Gordon Show|
|Learning to Lead|
An oppressive environment offers vital lessons, according
to life-long political and human rights activist N. Barney Pityana. He
is now Vice-Chancellor and Principal at the enormous University of South
Africa (UNISA). What lessons did years living under apartheid teach Dr.
Pityana? Never be paralyzed, he says. And never lose your humanity, because
part of being human is to resist. Another lesson -- remove obstacles in
order to find yourself, he says, because otherwise we would never be human,
no matter what the environment.
Dr. Barney Pityana
tells Paula Gordon
and Bill Russell
how the metaphor of doors opening and closing guided his life and South
Africa’s freedom struggle. Never be paralyzed by an oppressive environment,
he counsels, certain that the act of challenging apartheid was itself
Apartheid itself was not what the South African freedom struggle was about, Dr. Pityana says, recalling 300 years of oppressive and exploitative white minority rule. Instead, the liberation struggle articulated and the Freedom Charter focuses on 1.) reforming, constructing and establishing a new South Africa for all the people of South Africa and 2.) restoring the humanity and the dignity of the people of South Africa. He expands, then puts South Africa’s struggle for liberation, decolonization and the end of imperialism in a global context, over time.
Dr. Pityana describes how the new South Africa is beginning to make inroads to the gigantic problems created by 300 years of neglect and suppression. Acknowledging the enormity of challenges to be faced -- starting with poverty -- he gives a host of concrete examples of what has changed for the good since 1994. The developed world has failed to deliver on promises of capital and investments, he reports, and describes the consequences. It is imperative that the South African government change the life circumstances of it’s people, he believes, then offers examples of how the remarkable South African Constitution entrenches economic and social rights.
South Africa and America have strong parallels, Dr. Pityana says, and expands. Values are key, he believes, and recalls how maintaining the high moral ground was core in South Africans’ freedom struggle and remains so. Traditional African culture and values have enabled South Africans to make the sacrifices necessary for the kind of society they wish to construct, he says, then shows how these values are embedded in the Constitution and the Constitutional Court. Turning to economics, he insists the Washington Consensus is dead, then describes the New Program for Africa’s Development and a growing African Consensus about how it will engage the globalized world.
Reminding us that the legacy of the South African freedom struggle is overcoming difficulties, Dr. Pityana describes the job of the University of South Africa (UNISA): to provide people of vision and leaders for social transformation and moral integrity who will provide the intellectual power of which Africa is capable and reverse the brain drain. He describes how the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is challenging received wisdom, and the impact of the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) on corporations. He tells a story from his time as a “terrorist” in apartheid South Africa and offers a prescription for a terrorism-free world.
Education is key to being free because education is itself liberating, Dr. Pityana asserts, certain that the possibilities of knowledge must be open and available to everyone. He describes UNISA’s unique role in and heritage of achieving that goal.
South Africa is a beacon of hope in a world struggling
to be free from oppression and exploitation. We are inspired by and
humbled in the presence of individuals who spent -- and often gave --
their lives in this never-ending pursuit. We honor the people whose
names we know, particularly Dr. Pityana. We also hold up in appreciation
those who simply did what was necessary to overcome oppression when
no one was there to tell their stories or put faces to their names.
Thank you. All.