It has been almost three weeks since the University of the Western Cape’s Graeme Bloch passed away. But tributes for the stalwart struggle activist and celebrated education expert are still pouring in from those whose lives he touched, from all walks of life.
Bloch’s spirit is still powerfully felt in the halls of academia, where he fought tirelessly for the rights of future generations to equip themselves with the thinking tools they would need to build a better South Africa. His former colleagues in the Faculty of Education remember him fondly, and many have taken his work to different institutions around the country.
Professor Aslam Fataar of the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University met Bloch while doing a master’s programme in education and democracy at UWC in 1990. At the time Bloch was a lecturer in social and education theory.
“Graeme Bloch was an exceptional person, a mensch, a lover of life and people, who cared deeply about the oppressed and marginalised,” he said. “I remember his interaction fondly with us as his students on dependency theory, Neo-Smithian Marxism and varieties of neo-Marxian education theories. Antonio Gramsci was one of his favourite theorists. His explanations were clear, concise, passionate and thought-illuminating. And he always attempted to strike a balance between valorising his students’ voices while gently engaging them in alternative ways of seeing the world.”
Fataar recalls that one of Bloch’s lecturing hallmarks, and later his educational work, was his commitment to activism, challenging brutality and domination. “This approach endeared me to his style of conversation, and to him as a person. Graeme was easy to adore, speak to, and later, when I became a young academic, to argue with, dispute and disagree.”
Bloch was the very “opposite of an instructing pedagogue” - rather, he valued his students' opinions, and treated them more like peers than students to be instructed and pumped full of facts and theories.
‘’Graeme Bloch was a passionate and profoundly justice-loving human being. He left an indelible imprint on his students. His gentle demeanour, disarming calm and warm smile conferred on him a humane quality that inspired us.’’
Professor Saleem Badat, a research professor at the University of Kwazulu-Natal and former Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University, met Bloch in the early 1980s, when he was still banned and both were members of a radical reading group on the State. They knew each other through their involvement in the mass democratic movement, and lived across the road from each other in Harfield Village for a few years.
Bloch was already a member of the Department of Philosophy and History of Education in the Faculty of Education when Prof Badat joined the Faculty in 1989. That same year, Prof Badat succeeded him as the People’s Education Convenor on the Western Cape National Education Coordinating Committee.
Prof Badat says Bloch was animated strongly by the idea and promise of People’s Education for People’s Power. “He was thoughtful and a good speaker, qualities that he brought into his profession as a UWC educator. Graeme enjoyed engaging on issues of theory and practice related to politics and education. He was both a committed educator and education and political activist. He understood the importance of and participated actively in mobilizing white South Africans into the United Democratic Front and other democratic organizations.”
The two connected again later in life through serving on a think tank on education at the Development Bank of Southern Africa. “Graeme’s was a life of deep commitment in thought, words and deeds to a nonracial, nonsexist and egalitarian society.”
Professor Maureen Robinson, also of the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University, was the convenor when, at the height of the People’s Education movement, the Faculty of Education at UWC joined forces with the NECC to organise a conference on “People’s Education for Teachers”. The conference, held at UWC in 1987, was attended by 300 people, half of whom were teachers, the other half students.
“For the NECC, it was important that teachers be actively drawn into the process of building alternatives to the apartheid education system,” Prof Robinson remembers. “For the Faculty of Education, it was important that the University play its role in providing a forum for discussion on this significant and dynamic educational concept.”
According to Prof Robinson, Bloch provided the input from the NECC. “In his characteristic fiery manner, Graeme outlined the origins of People’s Education by referring to the history of resistance in the country, as well as to the authoritarian nature of the education system.”
Another former colleague to speak highly of Bloch was Professor Yusuf Sayed of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Sussex University.
“I encountered Graeme when the Faculty - and the University - was in a rapid and sustained period of transformation, seeking to become a 'University and Faculty for the Left'. Appointed within this context, Graeme taught the history of education in a way that knitted together knowledge and his experiential understanding of protest and struggle against apartheid education in the design and delivery of courses at all levels.”
For more on Prof Graeme Bloch’s history of activism and academic excellence - and the lessons he taught on the power of education and love to overcome prejudice and hatred - read our UWC tribute to this great man.