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Jonathan Jansen’s Trip to Zimbabwe Sparks Reflection on Freedom and Education

How to Fix South Africa's SchoolsWe Need to ActJonathan Jansen, co-author How to Fix South Africa’s Schools: Lessons from Schools that Work and author of We Need to Act, has written a blogpost on his experiences in Zimbabwe, comparing a trip 23 years ago and again this year.

Jansen says there is a contrast between the fear he found in Zimbabwe 23 years ago and the sadness and guardedness he noticed on his recent trip. He says that although it seems that much has changed in the country, the underlying mood of suspicion and paranoia remains.

Jansen is Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the University of the Free State. As Zimbabwe has some of the best schools in Africa, he went to recruit potential university students. His trip led him to reflect on the relationship between freedom and education.

Read the column:

I was excited to return last month, this time on a mission to recruit potential university students from Zimbabwe’s legendary school system.

“What would happen,” I asked my Zimbabwe students from our university, “if I went to speak to those people on the streets?”

They would be reluctant to talk to me, I was told, because of fear. They do not know me, and would be suspicious of why I was approaching them.

Several students warned: “No political jokes, professor. It could land you in trouble.”

Images of Chikurubi prison flashed through my mind. Of course I ignored them. I realised you could tell the degree of freedom in a country by the number of standup comedians in business. A country that cannot laugh at itself takes on a sad, morose, depressing complexion.

Despite the familiarly warm hospitality of Zimbabwean friends and colleagues, I could not help but notice the underlying sadness, the lack of spontaneity, the carefully camouflaged guardedness. What had not changed in the political culture of the country is the fear of the state as an instrument of control and coercion. The stranger is not a friend to embrace but a possible source of surveillance.

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