Case Study: Decolonising Engineering and preventing another Marikana

By Brian Kamanzi (@BrianIKamanzi)

Using the discipline of engineering as a case study on how to decolonise institutions in South Africa, Brian Kamanzi calls on young people in engineering faculties across Southern Africa to engage in a firm commitment to stand in solidarity with workers as we strive for a society where no more are slain in the pursuit of a decent living wage and to ensure that we can empower each other to build in light of what has happened and not in spite of it.

The events of Marikana are at the heart of the South African question. Justice must be served for the miners, their families and their communities. But in order for us to achieve this, Marikana itself must be historicised to be fully understood.

The collision of the state with white monopoly capital is underpinned by the long unbroken chains to the disastrous impact of settler colonialism and the establishment of the mines that irrevocably changed the social, political and economic landscape of this region and rippled with global effects, define the contours of the scorched earth left in the wake of Marikana.

There is little, if any, doubt that the ANC failed to decolonise. One might dispute whether that was even the objective but I believe it to be an implicit responsibility of any group that considers itself a liberation movement in a context such as ours.

Marikana is a violent expression of colonial logic. It is not an accident and it is not an anomaly, in fact what is most dangerous about the massacre of Marikana is the rationality underpinning its justifications and what it protected.

Justice for Marikana therefore, in my mind, implies a disruption of the very logic that describes South Africa: the state.

Anti-black, anti-working class police brutality in South Africa should not come as a surprise as it is the very means through which the present South African economy was founded.

Now shifting from a macroscopic outlook, I relocate this argument within a context that is closer to home.

In all my time as an undergraduate in Electrical Engineering at the University of Cape Town, I can count on my hand the instances when work advertisements did not include the national energy provider, Eskom, companies from the defence iIndustry and, of course, mining and oil. As a young person arriving into this context it did not take long before I had to find external ways in which to express a passion for social justice. Upon reflection, I recognise this as a dangerous failing on the space curated by the university.

I recall professors declaring that the majority of our engineers end up in management or business. I recall a head of department, in a closing address to my graduation class, wishing us well on our future pursuits of “captain’s of industry”.

These are only slight fleeting recollections that frame the climate in which I began to understand the effect that industries can have in the pursuit of knowledge and education.  I began to understand, over time, that in places like this we would need to develop a critical consciousness in order to combat the very basis of the “engineering” school as a place like UCT as heavily subsidised by the aforementioned industries as it is.

It is very much with the above sentiments in mind that this I would argue we need to think proactively on the engineer in society historically, in the present and in the future, emphasising complicity in exploitation and providing a path forward away from the machinery of white monopoly capital.

In this context, we need to critically engage with the issue of priority in how massive infrastructure projects are funded. If we consider the primary stakeholder of companies as the people of the African continent, difficult decisions would need to be made on how we are going is to anchor these projects, and consequently who we allow to fund and influence our public engineering schools.

This question motivates us to develop ethics that will decide how we are to guide and shape our participation in an African economy.

We must stand up and take local action to call for justice for Marikana by holding our local intuitions into account for their participation and profits that are at the expense of workers who’s very dehumanisation and exploitation is required to maintain status quo.

In fact, in the spirit humanising the practice of engineering, I call on young people in engineering faculties across Southern Africa to engage in a firm commitment to stand in solidarity with workers as we strive for a society where no more are slain in the pursuit of a decent living wage.

As we witness massive investments into science and technology at a national level, we must remain critical and circumspect of our positions and urgently call for historical education to ensure that we can empower each other to build in light of what has happened and not in spite of it.

We must take responsibility.

Engineers,

We have blood on our hands.

Decolonise Engineering, prevent another Marikana.

30 Comments
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