Sunday, June 23, 2024

Are we genuinely stupid?

The word stupid flatters nobody. However sometimes it is fair to pause introspect and ask ourselves a most uncomfortable question: “Are we genuinely stupid?” A naked woman stands before a mirror. The tall mirror leans against the wall from the floor right up to the ceiling. She presses her naked behind with both hands and asks herself that dreaded question: “Am I fat?” She turns this way and that way. She squeezes her tummy. Utter discomfort: semblances of the kangaroo pouch torture the mind. She tucks it in and repeats the dreaded question: “Am I fat?” She looks this way and turns that way.

She is better off though. She can face herself. Can we? That is what we should do. In utmost frankness, in our privacy without anybody looking, we should dare strip our nation of its clothes, its pressed and bleached clothes. We should for a while, suspend our accolades; strip ourselves of our medals and a string of letters that follow our names. Let for once forget about international rankings and statistics and present ourselves before our mirror and look at our behinds and pose that dreaded question that tortures the human soul. Let us look at our tummy and ask that arresting question:

Are we genuinely stupid? Perhaps I have at the back of my mind the dismal examination performance of our education system at both JC and BGCSE. The results constituted national shocks, temporary tremors that didn’t last more than a week. For years now our national pass rate has been consistently less than 40%. My alma mater, Seepapitso Senior only managed to score a pass rate of just over 18%. Over 80% young people’s lives have in three years been flushed down the drain. There must be a riot, but there is a whimper. Perhaps T.S. Elliot was right: “This is the way the world ends; This is the way the world ends; This is the way the world ends; Not with a bang but a whimper.”

Perhaps we are the hollow men; We are the stuffed men; Leaning together; Headpiece filled with straw. Alas! Our dried voices, when we whisper together; Are quiet and meaningless; As wind in dry grass Or rats’ feet over broken glass; In our dry cellar; Shape without form, shade without colour, Paralysed force, gesture without motion.” For years we have been sending our students to great tertiary institutions locally and around the world. Now they have returned to roam our streets, like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible men. They wait endlessly Waiting for Godot. What happened? Why did we educate? Did we train meaningfully or ours was unemployment deferred? Why is it that there are numerous jobs in the hands of those from elsewhere because locals are ill trained for job opportunities in areas such as sheet metal mechanics, metal fabrication and mining engineering?

What about food production? Why are we not producing our own sweets, chocolate, biscuits, chips, milk, cereal, sauces and spices? Why is much of our agriculture about five things only: maize, sorghum, beans and the sweet reed our people call nchwe which have over the past 30 years failed to sustain our people? Why are we not mass designing and producing our own dresses, shirts, trousers, socks and sheets? Why are we importing so much? What was the purpose of our education if it hasn’t secured for us benefits of employment, food production and manufacturing? Or perhaps we deceive ourselves when we are in fact Elliot’s “stuffed men; Leaning together”.

Our politics haven’t improved too. They are still about personalities and not about issues. The clown that makes people laugh flourishes more than the reasonable man. Personalities matter more than substance.

Our religion hasn’t shifted in the right direction either. Our belief in stickers, water, and anointing oils has increased. Preachers of our time have changed and fulfilled prophetic sayings of the book that: “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Our people want to hear from the pulpit materialistic news of a new car, a new house, a new job or a promotion. Perhaps it is throbbing pains of poverty. What our people don’t want is God. What they want is a traditional doctor, a juju man, a miracle man or a magician of some sort. Arthur Guiterman wrote that famous poem in the book Gaily The Troubadour, published in 1936. Though written over 60 years ago, its message depicts our sorry state of affairs:

First dentistry was painless;
Then bicycles were chainless
And carriages were horseless
And many laws, enforceless.
Next, cookery was fireless,
Telegraphy was wireless,
Soon oranges were seedless,
The putting green was weedless,
The college boy hatless,
The proper diet, fatless,
Now motor roads are dustless,
The latest steel is rustless,
Our tennis courts are sodless,
Our new religions, godless.

“Perhaps we are the hollow men; We are the stuffed men; Leaning together; Headpiece filled with straw. Alas! Our dried voices, when we whisper together; Are quiet and meaningless; As wind in dry grass Or rats’ feet over broken glass; In our dry cellar;” Perhaps we are merely a “Paralysed force, gesture without motion”

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