In writing about “The Faceless Graduate,” I am compelled to begin by citing S.E. Kiser on poetry: I have hoped, I have planned, I have striven; To the will I have added the deed; The best that was in me I’ve given; I have prayed, but the gods would not heed. I have dared and reached only disaster; I have battled and broken my lance; I am bruised by a pitiless master. That the weak and the timid call Chance; I am bent, I am cheated. Of all that Youth urged me to win.But name me not with the defeated. Tomorrow again, I begin.
Auguste Rodin’s famous sculpture “The Thinker” is as important to many students on university campuses around the world as “The (Faceless) Graduate” is to students at the University of Zambia. Both are concierges that connote rational and logical thinking.
But unlike “The Thinker” nobody on the campus of the University of Zambia pays much attention to “The Graduate’s” intellectual symbolism, if they do they don’t comment publicly.
Simple in design, the Faceless Graduate created by Henry Nkole Tayali encompasses abstract and figurative art meant to conjure up images of intellectualism.
Unveiled by KK in 1979, it is regarded as “the graduate who leads Zambian students to a higher and better understanding of the world and to nation building.” The sculpture symbolizes intellectual undertaking, discovery, and determination.
After the histrionic closure of the university in 1971 and 1976, KK, whose relationship with the students was flustered, was hoping that “The Faceless Graduate” would restore the reverence of the university and again make it the most congenial oasis for Zambian intellectuals.
Yes, it was on 15th July, 1971, that KK, for the first time, ordered the closure of the University of Zambia following demonstrations by students at the French Embassy in Lusaka. It was not their first protest. Since 1966, the year the university opened, students had been voicing their concerns outside the British High Commission against the British government in support of KK’s stand on Rhodesia’s UDI and South Africa’s apartheid.
But in 1971 they moved to the French Embassy following the French government’s sale to South Africa of a licence to manufacture Mirage jets against the UN ban. KK, enjoying cordial diplomatic relations with France, tried to quell the protest. Students turned on him and accused him of “commiserating with the enemy.”
On July 7, 1971, students and the police fought running battles in what was dubbed the “Battle of Lusaka.” KK tried to intervene by urging them to calm down and to leave everything to him, but they were relentless.
The UNZASU executive comprising Ronald Penza as Secretary General, John Chileshe, Jonathan Momba, Ernest Kasula, Gerry Chabwera, and Cosmas Chola sent an open letter to KK entitled “Where are we going?” in which they attacked the president for leaving intellectuals out and trying to be Zambian’s superman on matters of foreign affairs.
“You are not omnipotent,” they told him.
KK went ballistic, expelled them, closed the university, and sent the military, para-military, and riot police to evict 1500 students at gunpoint. It is here, ladies and gentlemen, that Zambian politics and Zambian intellectualism crossed swords for the first time—and the die was cast.
Formerly a teacher, pupil headmaster, and welfare officer KK was enthusiastic about the creation of a Pluto “Republic” run by intellectuals who “combined comprehensive theoretical knowledge with the practical capacity for applying it to concrete problems.” When he became president he envisioned a Zambia teeming with doctors, lawyers, engineers, researchers, scientists, economists as well as inventors and innovators.
“Let us produce our own,” he often said.
He was hoping we would be driving our own cars designed by the school of engineering; manufacture water filters, kilns, and irrigation pumps for our farmers and rural dwellers; create laboratories to combat and wipe out the mosquito; take over the mines and control the sale of our minerals on the London Metal Exchange; and ensure that all Zambians had an egg per day, if not two.
On October 24, 1964 he told us in his maiden speech that “the new country was born in order to take the rightful place among the nations of the world…Now we must work to prove our greatness.”
He immediately got down to work. With only 109 university graduates and less than 0.5% literates at independence, he instituted a free education policy. All Zambian children, irrespective of their status, were given a chance to have a primary education.
He concomitantly spearheaded the creation of the country’s first university. Zambians rallied behind him when he appealed for donations. Villagers donated goats, chickens, and pigs just to see a university built on Zambian soil. In 1966, Zambia’s “University of Bologna” with its own Constitutio Habita stood in a reclusive place off Lusaka’s Great East Road in the name of the University of Zambia (UNZA).
In March of the same year the first 312 distinguished scholars stepped into their new classrooms to the admiration and envy of fellow Zambians. UNZA became the fountain of knowledge, what Professor Muna Ndulo describes as “a birth place of fresh sight, vision, and an arena where fundamental ideas are pronounced, challenged, clarified and disputed in the most dignified and collegial manner.” The buildings appeared serene, austere, and islanded.
“My son is at the university,” were words of a very proud parent.
KK was hoping he could create a think tank out of such men—a Zambian intelligentsia par excellence that would be engaged in political strategy, economics, military, and technology issues.
But hardly a month had elapsed when students staged their first peaceful demonstration outside the British High Commission against the Smith’s regime’s shooting of African freedom fighters in Rhodesia. On that day they vowed to make their protest an annual event in support of KK until UDI and apartheid were eliminated. They kept their word until the clashes and closure of 1971.
When the university sputtered back to life, six weeks later, it had a new vice-chancellor, Professor Lameck Goma. The previous one, who also happened to be Zambia’s first chancellor Dr. Douglas Anglin, a Canadian, and lecturers American Andrew Horn and Zambian-born Briton Michael Etherton were fired and faced deportation. Etherton and Horn were implicated in the protest. As for the expelled students they were allowed back after apologizing to KK.
Some students used the closure to join the United Progressive Party and campaign for its president Simon Kapwepwe. They did not want KK to impose leader-worship mentality on them. When he got wind of it he labeled the university a “hot bed for sedition and subversion.” It was clear that the man who had dedicated his efforts to the creation of an educated stratum of professionalized intellectuals was now feeling threatened.
He no longer saw UNZA students as doctors, engineers, lawyers, and economists in the making, but as radicals with a “reckless passion” to undermine his power, authority, and intelligence. They were telling him “you have no college degree. You must therefore listen to us.”
He lost interest. He didn’t need them as his think tank. The funds for the maintenance of building infrastructure dwindled, input resources declined and salaries of lecturers remained meager. The foundation on which the citadel of Zambian intellectualism had stood was shaken and the official degeneration of both the campus building and its occupants began in 1971.
When, in January 1976, UNZA activists and staff again staged a protest to try and force KK to support MPLA and not UNITA in the war in Angola, Kaunda quickly declared a state of emergency, closed the university indefinitely on February 9, 1976, fired and deported some foreign staff.
For almost three months, UNZA students remained at home and roamed the streets. KK was hoping they would learn a lesson. What he did not realize was that he was destroying the Zambian intelligentsia; that he was tampering with their concentration, absorption, and focus—with their ability to apply logic to theories and to find solutions. Many took to drinking in places like the Lusaka Theatre, Lusaka Central Sports Club—venues that would become their permanent rendezvous and the ruin for some.
When the university reopened, students had lost time. Motivation to do research was low. Most of the students were in a hurry to graduate because the university was becoming a dangerous place to learn. Academic standards and working conditions began to plummet—fast. Fearing another riot, lecturers began to seek jobs elsewhere. They abandoned their research projects and fled to countries like Botswana. The “brain drain” syndrome had begun.
On July 14, 1979, KK appeared on the university campus to unveil The Graduate, a free-standing faceless sculpture depicting a graduating student in his flowing gown and mortar board hat. He holds in his left hand a book signifying progress through learning in the modern world, and the hoe in the right hand is the hard work and progress through agriculture.
Critics say that Tayali should have given the graduate facial features. In denying the sculpture eyes, nose, mouth, and ears he removes the psychological association and dialogic interaction with its protégé—the student; it lacks the intensity of human understanding, and of deep personality; he makes it appear aloof, non-inspirational, static, introspective, unemotional, and therefore unhelpful. It is far from The Thinker whose facial expression depicts deep intellectual contemplation.
Because he can’t see, the Faceless Graduate does not probe the future and ask the student about his objectives. In other words he does not allow his wisdom and intellectualism to seep through and manifest in the student. The student cannot speak to a faceless sculpture at the height of his trials and tribulations. He cannot express his troubles and worries or unconquerable problems. As a result he too loses face and resorts to protests. He did so again in 1982, 1986, 1990, and 2012.
Who wins? The non-academic politician, of course. He seems to be the natural leader of the Zambian intellectual. He leads the Zambian intellectual elites through the economic and political intricacies that he barely understands. When university students protest he shuts down the damn thing. He doesn’t care whether the student takes forever to graduate or leaves with poor grades.
In the real world he turns the intellectual into a sycophant, minion, flatterer, and apple-polisher. That’s what happened to the likes of Aka, Chitala, Katele, Chanda, Kawimbe, Nawakwi, and Sichinga. When an opportunity went begging they grew cold feet and blew it big time. Their dream of administering a nation through a merit based system was left to the disjunction devices of FTJ. He in turn made them facelessly polish his shoes.
How about you the university student seated before the computer? You, the analyst, scientist, engineer, economist, educator, are you going to be faceless and join the list of cobblers or help to unleash the creative potential of the Zambian intellectual? Are you going to watch them maintain the status quo at a time when change is needed? Are you going develop legs for flight or help build a new government in 2016 or 2021 that will harness the full power of the technological revolution and make the average Zambian incomparably better off? Ask yourself why you went to university.
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author. He is a PhD candidate at George Fox University and serves as an adjunct professor (lecturer) in Boston. ©Ruwe2012