The year 2017 has come, and with just one month left, it is gone. A lot happened as it is usually the case with any other period that is 365 days long or more. Babies were born and in the same breadth we sadly lost loved ones. Students graduated and found new jobs while some of their peers are unfortunately still jobless. Even some ministers lost their cushy ministerial handbooks. It has been a rollercoaster.
But I am more worried about the presence of our intellectuals in the public space. They are nowhere to be found, and this has been the case for a long time. Instead intellectual dwarfs and tricksters have taken the podium and are running amok like a mischievous kid would do when the parents are not home. Seeing this yawning space, two of our ‘celebrities’ took the opportunity to write memoirs to try and close the gap, and the one book turned out to be a disaster that was automatically relegated to the literary dustbin. Personally, I don’t think the person whom the book is about should be blamed for this literary catastrophe. The blame should be put solely at the door of the ghostwriter, who despite years of experience as a columnist contributing to national newspapers, somewhat accumulating celebrity dust in media circles, remains an average writer whose mediocrity almost destroyed another professional’s career. But I digress. The point I am making is that in the noticeable absence of sharp intellectuals and brilliant scholars, the space was suddenly open for mediocrity, nonsense and scams.
Somehow it has become an accepted rule in modern society that academics, scholars and intellectuals will publish their ideas – the very ideas that ought to determine the direction of society – in obscure journals that no one knows about nor cares to read. All the while, mainstream media having identified a gap to profiteer from the space that was open to disgusting shenanigans and silly scams, they were all too happy to subject the masses of our people to fluff. Staging no protest to these tricks and hungry for anything that will titillate their mental faculties, the masses were all too eager to devour with fervour the morsels of stupidity served with endless libations ranging from ridiculous to absurd. It became a party. Excuse me, can somebody please explain to me why do I have to pay almost R400 a month to watch a silly reality show? Again, I am getting distracted.
Nothing exists in a vacuum. The reason why society is peppered with mindless gimmicks that are meant to distract, confuse and derail, a space for such trickery had to have been unoccupied in the first place. We are all aware that when days go by with no lights being switched on in a house, very soon that house will find itself under new ownership. The same is true for any society whose intellectuals have absconded. If we are not being regaled by stories of a pastor who forces his congregants to drink fuel in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, some brainless media personality is trying to sell us on dumb reasons why they bleached their skin. Every scammer is fighting for our attention. Lord help us all.
In the absence of intellectual light to guide our society, a large space was created, and charlatans, scammers and tricksters took to the opportunity like a tjatjarag uncle at a wedding ceremony would do upon laying eyes on cold bottles of Carling Black Label. I repeat: it became a party. Thus, notwithstanding mainstream media’s role in this chaos, the blame should be put on the shoulders of scholars; because, and despite my statements, it is not like South Africa lacks intellectuals. They are there, sitting in the shadows like men of power and material status in a VVIP room at a nightclub, giggling and snickering while they hold esoteric debates about this and that. These leading men and women of high meritocratic standing have turned their backs on society. I charge them with abandoning their people and allowing them to be misled and abused by clowns and charlatans.
When last did you browse through a national newspaper or magazine, and came across an article written by a member of academia? When last did you see a professor of Robotics Engineering on national television explaining the merits and demerits of self-driving cars? Yes, here and there you will read an article written by Professor Tinyiko Maluleke or Dr. Mcebisi Ndletyana but where are their peers in engineering, health and science? This is a challenge to academics and intellectuals to bring forth their ideas into the mainstream. I know very well that their opinions on this platform will be very much appreciated.
Recently Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, a Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation at the University of Cape Town, was at the receiving end of a smear campaign when idiots spread rumours that her academic credentials were questionable and therefore not qualified for the job. For the record, Professor Phakeng holds a PhD. in Mathematics Education. Personally, I don’t appreciate how the matter was handled. I found it insulting, nauseating if not slightly racist that Professor Phakeng had to prove that she in fact has a doctorate in Mathematics Education and therefore qualified for her position instead of her accusers proffering evidence to prove their case. It stung deeply. It is about time black people resign themselves from the mentality of having to first prove their competency while their white counterparts have to fail countless times before their credentials come into question. But again, I digress.
The reason for my bringing up Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng is to prove the point of this article: in the absence of intellectual light, a gap for mediocrity, nonsense and idiocy was created. While Professor Phakeng is fairly known in the annals of digital media, particularly on Twitter thanks to her ‘social media savvy’, the rest of the people who now know of her, was because of this malicious target against her. It should not be that scandals are how important people in society such as Professor Phakeng come to be introduced to the ‘great masses of our people’. Thus, I am also challenging Professor Phakeng, like I did other members of her profession, to begin asserting themselves, their ideas and opinions in the public space.
In their description of this platform – Lerabele – and the reason for its existence this is what its founders said: ‘Lerabele is a digital site with a Pan-Africanist bent for thought-provoking ideas about this and that. Founded on the principle of building a united, progressive Africa, Lerabele is fearless in pursuing new and existing ideas beneficial to the prosperity of Africans and holds no bars in arguments and debates that are important to achieving that goal within the continent and abroad’. To echo the founding message of the creators of Lerabele, I am extending an invitation to scholars and intellectuals to begin contributing their ideas and opinions to this new digital platform; provided their message is in line with what Lerabele stands for as ‘a laboratory for pure African thought.’ Kgotsong!