Mzansi development specialists

Two students came to my office to complain about what they perceived as double standards practiced at the university. They complained that students in the humanities are getting a raw deal, because the university gives special treatment to students in business, economics, management and engineering. I thought they were on to something. So I asked them to elaborate.

Here’s what they said.

The university organizes career development programs and job fairs for students in business, economics, management and engineering degree programs. The university brings companies from a wide range of industries to engage and recruit graduates in these degree programs. Meanwhile, students in the humanities are left to languish in the fringes of the labour market. They felt cheated, ignored and marginalized — no bang for their buck. They were frustrated with the double standards! Could something be done about it, they asked?

“Yes, something can be done”, I said. “Write a petition to the university administration expressing your grievances”. That didn’t go down well. I could tell. Their reactive facial expression clearly asked: Dude, what have you been smoking?

I though about it. What can I do? I can’t move mountains. But I can do somethingSo I prepared a tutorial on Professional Development. The objective was to introduce 3rd-year and honours students to the types of industries and organizations in which their development studies skills might be in demand.

Something interesting took place during the tutorial. I had listed a number of economic and social development organizations as examples of possible employers. To my surprise, many students had never heard of these organizations. I could see them eagerly taking notes. On the list, there were two special organizations: Mzansi Development Specialists and Mzansi Strategic Thinkers.

“Do you know these organizations… have you heard of them”, I asked?

“No”, they said.

“Would you consider them for a job or internship”, I asked.

“Yes”, they said.

“Why would you”, I asked?

“They are South African development organizations”, they said.

“Do you know where they are”, I asked.

“No”, they said.

“Well, I got bad news for you… you can’t apply for jobs in these organization”, I said. I could see puzzlement shining through their faces, wondering what the hell I was talking about. They wanted to know why they could not apply for jobs at Mzansi Development Specialists and Mzansi Strategic Thinkers.

“Because they exist only in my head; I invented them; I made them up”, I said.

They burst out in loud laughter, laughter of disbelief as if to say: Damn, this sucker pulled out a big one on us and we didn’t see it coming!  I went on to explain that everything they knew had been invented or made up by someone at some point. Their universities had been invented. All of them… University of Johannesburg, Wits University, University of Cape Town and so on. Their country, South Africa, had been invented. Their clothes had been invented. The United Nations had been invented. Their government had been invented. All the work places had been invented. All the jobs had been invented. What’s more, they themselves had been invented.

The point I was driving home is simply this. University graduates should have the guts to invent, experiment, explore and take risks. When university graduates believe they are only good enough to ask someone for a job, when they aspire to be employed and not employ, when they see themselves as game players and not game changers, when higher learning produces a reserve army of job seekers and not job creators, then they have been subject to second class education. Then the university has failed.

So you thought Bantu education was impossible under the rainbow. Think again, my friend!

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