Writer: Yamkela Fortune Spengane

I want you to take a long, hard look at this picture; look at it and process it…

Are you done? Good, now go back again and look one last time… done? Let’s proceed!

When Steve said that the greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed, it was not because he ran out of things to say. This is the most powerful statement he said in fact, because he summed up in that phrase alone, what oppression is all about. He, in simple non-academic language, explained the secret the oppressor used to keep the slave oppressed. Slavery is a mental thing, the fundamental difference between a prisoner and a slave is that a prisoner’s body is captive, while with a slave it is his mind that is captive. When the mind is in captivity, the oppressor need not guard you nor chain you, because you do that job all by yourself. Slavery is inculcated into the mind in such a way that it becomes self-replicating and infect future generations, Willie Lynch saw this in the 1700s already…


In his seminal work, The Mis-education of the Negro published in 1933, founder of black history month Dr Carter G Woodson laments that blacks are the only race who take their most precious possessions, their children, and ask their oppressors to educate them and to mould and shape their minds. We willingly hand over our children so future slaves can be made out of them. This is because blacks have a deep psychopathological inferiority described by Frantz Fanon in Black Skins White Masks of wanting to be white because they have been hypnotised through enslavement that whiteness is the paragon of human existence. Hence even in Black spaces, everyone who is remotely well off than the rest of the folk is associated with whiteness, not only that, but the well off black folk emulate whiteness subconsciously.

Our education system in Africa is through and through colonial, it is imperialistic and in no way there to address Africa’s own problems. Instead it is a dividing factor, because you have those who have access to privileged white schools, the so called middle class, who are trained by the system to be conformist based on the fact that they are told they are lucky to have this education while the rest of their kind receive a watered down version of it because they are locked in anti-pedagogical conditions like those depicted in our picture. This becomes a divide and conquer situation because you have blacks who think because they had better access to white education, they suddenly hold monopoly of intellectualism amongst other blacks from delapidated township and rural education backgrounds; inversely you have blacks from these backgrounds viewing the privileged ones as trying to make themselves better. At the end of the day the system remains in tact because they get clever blacks, who police the not so clever blacks, while the economy continues to benefit the oppressor through and through. We learn how to fit into the white world at school, we are taught to take careers that will make us cogs in a system that will never benefit us. Whether you are a senior engineer or a mineworker, you are a cogs of Anglo American, only the remuneration differs as a way to further inculcate difference that set up “divide and conquer” mechanisms. Education that is proper will have taught you to gather your community and claim back the resources that BHP Billiton or AngloGold Ashanti continues to exploit, because they are rightfully owned by you. As long as we are subjected to this colonial education, we are in a journey to nowhere as a continent, as a race.


Frantz Fanon again addresses this in the first chapter of BSWM, and Ngugi wa Thiongo further extrapolated on it in his 1987 seminal book, Decolonising the mind. We are going nowhere until we begin to claim acknowledge ourselves by embracing our languages as blacks. Every culture in the world exists because of language, the language that you speak is what we identify your ethnicity or cultural group with. Without the existence of the language Zulu, you would not be identified as Zulu, and so preservation of language is the most fundamental for the survival of a people and their history, customs, spirituality. The first thing in the making of a slave is to eliminate their language, once the language is gone a person no longer has identity, they identify with the oppressor and it is so much easier indoctrinate them. This is what happened to the slaves in America, their African languages were killed, immediately killing their link to Africa. They now no longer would have clan names like Diop, but surnames like Smith that forever chain them to the identity the oppressor gives them. Their heritage is severed from them, now the system could proceed easily with enslavement.

The initial step in decolonisation is language, because we claim back ourselves. The Germans do engineering marvels in German, so do the Chinese in Mandarin and the Japanese in their language. Why then are African children still subjected to colonial languages under the guise of universal communication? Why is it Africans subjected to this and not Asians? Asians equip their children natively for their own good, they work for the advancement of their countries. We blacks here in Africa are still in the pits of an education system designed to bar us from liberating ourselves, and until such time we break away, we will be subjected to this social death until we are no more… if this continues unabated, I am afraid we are heading for extinction.

The San and people are on the verge of extinction precisely because of the education and language factor.

I am Yamkela Fortune Spengane, I am just another mumbler…

Yamkela, thank you for this insightful article.

If you would also like to see your educational piece or opinion on issues taking place in South (Africa) published in our blog, email it to: info@educationambassadors.org.za 

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Education Ambassadors SA

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