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Black consciousness is needed

- By Kemantha Govender

Black Consciousness is sorely needed to drive the wheels of social and political change in South Africa, says Professor Barney Pityana.

Pityana delivered the Annual Steve Biko Bioethics Lecture, hosted by the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics with the Faculty of Health Sciences on 11 September 2015.

“Black Consciousness has relevance, not just for the struggles for human affirmation in our time and at our universities, but can also insert a quality of being in the manner in which we exercise our responsibilities as politicians, civil servants and as professionals. Perhaps, if we do so, there would be lower levels of corruption, less violence and anomy, and more love,” said Pityana.

This year students and staff members at several universities in the county have been vocal about transformation challenges. Pityana attributed the trigger for “transformation” to a “growing number of young people at our campuses [that] are disaffected from the mainstream political thinking”.

He said students are anxious about their futures.

“They have no sense of relevance between what they do, at home and on campus, with what they will experience in life. They are also morally disaffected by a society that is so ordered and arranged to exclude and to deny opportunity,” said the prominent lawyer and theologian

“Disillusionment runs deep in our country. One trusts that we are heading towards just such a revolution of ideas and to that extent the university campuses are the right locale for such debates. But it cannot end there, because ultimately it is less about the university than it is about a society at breaking point.”

The notable human rights academic and activist said he believes that the transformation of higher education is necessary and urgent.

“It is correct that higher education institutions should be judged and subjected to critique about the extent to which they ultimately serve the common good, or that in all their systems and processes of learning and research whether they are imbued with that sense of purpose that will create a better South Africa and Africa.

“Transformation in higher education, dare I suggest, seeks to preserve and to affirm the true essence of education and of the role of a university in moulding a new, transformed society,” he said.

Despite, the many challenges in the higher education sector, Pityana is optimistic.

“We are in a very exciting era to be a student in South Africa today and to be an academic. There is a sense one feels that South African universities are being thought through afresh. This is assisted, I think, by the apparent radicalism and impatience of the student voices. This has the potential of the student voices shaping the debate and profiling the probable outcomes,” he said.

Read the full speech here