PICTURE: ANTONIO MUCHAVE
Let’s be clear right from the start: everyone is upset about what is happening. So why is government so silent? They are not leading, they are not opening an honest dialogue, and they are “kragdadig”. Apartheid all over again.
So let’s just step back a little bit, and consider some of the issues.
Firstly, government has failed South Africa. Part of the Preamble of our Constitution reads: “Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights; Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law; Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person.”
Section 12 (1) guarantees “the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right— (a) not to be deprived of freedom arbitrarily or without just cause; (c) to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources; and (e) not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way.
Section 29 guarantees that “Everyone has the right— (a) to a basic education, including adult basic education; and (b) to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.”
It is clear that government, through the annual reduction of university subsidies, the chaos of the fee subsidy scheme and the poor quality of primary and secondary education, has failed to make further education progressively available and accessible. If they had, we would not face this crisis now.
Second, neither government nor university administrations are properly engaging in a dialogue with students to solve the problem. Instead they close universities, administrators mostly cut themselves off from the students, issue press releases rather than engage in person-to-person dialogue and use intimidation by private security on campus. Government starts a behind-closed-doors Commission that will take forever and come up with nothing startling. Nzimande, the Communist with the million rand car, accuses student activists of being “anti-ANC”, and of not being students at all. He should tell us how those “non-students” get onto campus without ID cards. There is a severe LACK OF LEADERSHIP at both government and university management level.
Third, the students are not just demanding fees must fall, they are fighting to decolonise their education and replace it with learning that is more relevant to our situation in SA. We were doing that at the university formerly known as Rhodes in the 1970s, and we came across the same intransigence and state repression. Decolonisation has much bigger and wider implications for education as a whole, for the future of our country, and for the education of our future leaders, and yet it is being marginalised as an issue by the State and university managements because it requires deep, uncomfortable transformations.
Fourth, students do not want education to be a commodity. The “system” and I use that word loosely, that controls education, does not want to change the status quo, because that would mean an attack on capitalism and the entire structure of inequality which continues in SA from the days of colonialism and apartheid. Making a university degree something that only a few people with money can have access to is a way to continue apartheid inequality and maintain the hegemony of the new and old elites. Arguments are continually trotted out that free education would increase inequality, but these models depend on a social compact that does not change the capitalist structure of our society.
Fifth, people say free education is not affordable. As things stand right now, it’s not. But, if we were to tackle corruption, patronage, illegal capital outflows, wasteful spending by government, reduce the bloated Cabinet, get rid of Deputy Ministers, end blue light brigades and first class travel, we would certainly have enough for free education. You cannot expect students who are struggling to get an education that may provide that magic ticket out of poverty for them and their families to look upon the obscene and gross trough-snuffling of the pigs of government and not see that something is very rotten.
Sixth, the ANC promised “free education” in 1994 and in every election since then. It was a tenet of the 1955 Freedom Charter. It is not there, and the students want to know why they have been lied to, and why the ANC elites are rich, when they struggle to pay their fees. It’s the classic case of the chickens coming home to roost.
Seven, the police are abusing their power. The video by a student yesterday showing police shooting at unarmed students (well, one had an empty bottle), who were standing on private university property, shows the old apartheid style of policing yet again. These cops did not protective gear like shields, helmets and so on, so that they could move in and break up the crowds with a minimum use of force (as required in the Standing Orders). No, they were bare-headed, unprotected, armed with shotguns and rifles, belts of ammo, and were shooting recklessly at students, even dragging students from private property over a wall to arrest them, while arresting others for crossing the street and protesting (as guaranteed in our Constitution). A captain, who should have been in a command and control position, was parading down the front line with her shotgun aimed at students. The cops are undisciplined. They don’t know what they are doing. They are abusing power.
Eight, the students are not a homogenous group of “anarchists”. There are many different groups, often with the same objectives, but not always. There are nuances in their beliefs, strategies, modus operandi and ideologies. There are also large numbers of students who just want to keep their heads down and study and get finished so they can get a job and support their families. Yet the media seem unable to focus on any of this. Blade sees the protesters as being “anti-ANC” and with a “destabilising agenda”. Well, in a sense the students are trying to destabilise the entire system because it needs to be transformed. I don’t think many people would argue with the fact that our education is not really geared to provide amazing leaders with brilliant solutions for our country. It’s not doing it.
Nine, we are not learning the lessons of history. Let’s return briefly to the student uprising of 1976, which was also against an unequal, unjust system of education. We are not going to escape the REQUIREMENT that the universities now transform, and that a new funding model must be created urgently. And then let’s not also forget the 1968 global student protests that also ushered in a new era of change, transformation and new ideas. People resist change, and the system and the State resist change. It is up to the students to create the momentum for that change, and our duty as older, more experienced citizens, to support them.
Lastly, we are finally experiencing a political awakening, with connections to Franz Fanon, Steve Bantu Biko, Solomon Mahlangu and Robert Sobukwe, many of them being Black Consciousness or Pan-African leaders. Political parties appear to have shown the youth that the ways of the ANC, DA, COPE, Agang, and even the EFF are not working. The students want a non-party movement that can liberate them as it crosses party boundaries to become more inclusive, non-racial and without any other forms of discrimination.
The students are sick of government agendas, corruption, patronage and the wastage of resources. They want a new way forward. They want real liberation, not only politically and economically, but also personally and socially. The student movement is challenging whiteness, capitalism, and carrying the flag of true socio-economic change and the vision of a better life for all. The pain of the protests may give birth to something really beautiful.
This article first appeared on Dave Forbes's blog