South Africa: Don’t Fall Apart For Fees to Fall.
Is it true that socio-economic problems or problems in general are ignored and left to fester in Africa? Okay, do authorities choose to live at the edge of disorder and anarchy, then when the situation is about to get out of hand, common sense intervenes? Some people are already growling in disbelief and anger, while others are nodding in seal of approval.
For more than a year, students have been marching for free higher education in tertiary institutions in South Africa and many will agree that there is an urgent need to address this critical issue and other social demands. In 2015 the demand was for 0% increase in fees, free and quality education, but having sniffed blood, we have witnessed stand-offs between heavily armed police and students who *toyi-toyi’d*, staged rallies, blocked entryways, disrupted lectures, burnt facilities and occupied administrative buildings to lay their demands and resentments, and in the process many have been injured after clashing with the Police, who fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to break up protests. These students drew blood and blood was drawn from them, but they have remained unflinching in their quest — — University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (Wits), similar incidents in University of Capetown and University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban and institutions in other provinces. Just few months ago, the law library at the University of KwaZulu-Natal was torched following protests over tuition fees and rare books were destroyed.
Professor Hlonipha Mokoena of the University of the Witwatersrand said;
“I don’t think the affordability issue is an issue. I think the real issue is the ideological one about what you are trying to achieve with a free higher education sector,” She stated that, while fee-free education is possible, it cannot be achieved overnight.
“Of course, it’s affordable. Of course the state can come up with R9 billion if it wants to — but the issue is what is it for? That is when you get into the complicated issues and this is why it is that the decision cannot be made overnight,”
Fee-free education needs to be a means to an end as opposed to a decision based on the assumption that South African graduates will remain in the country and contribute to the growth of the local economy after receiving their qualifications.”
“(Fee-free education) is based on the assumption that you’re going to have economic growth. That the people that you are educating are going to pay taxes, which they are going to contribute to the revenue. And these are all assumptions that are not necessarily going to happen just because you’ve put in fee-free education,”
“If you look at the rest of our continent, what happened in the 1960s and 1970s after the colonial period with independence, a lot of African countries ploughed a lot of money into higher education — and yet we have a deficit of professionals on the African continent,”
Majority of young people, especially from rural areas, still do not have access to basic and quality education because of the high Fees required from them and people have been asking how they can get themselves out of poverty and not settle for slavish, menial jobs when they cannot afford the expenses to enroll in universities and have a better chance of partaking in the economy. Education is the engine of personal development and major key against tainted logic of slave-masters to rise above oppression for endless possibilities and to hold advantages in all areas of social, political and economic life. But today, we see an increasing divide between the privileged and the deprived, the powerful and the weak and this is marked by a distinction in access to leading-edge knowledge and information. Inequality and racial profiling have also been voiced in various quarters, with many claiming undue advantages are given to a particular race. Black South Africans make up less than one-quarter of the students, and black faculty members are also underrepresented. Colour prejudice, black inferiority. No race is superior to others and the fight against white supremacy is not against white people, but that equal opportunity is given to everyone for maximum development. The factors militating against effective learning and teaching must be looked into and stopped.
Brute force by and against students will never make these problems go away, they just go underneath, simmering and like an untreated wound, spreading until one day people see the true extent of the decay and series of (violent) protests erupts again. There is despair, unrest and despondency and we all know that for any nation, internal peace is the utmost prerequisite for internal well-being and growth. Violence will not solve political, structural and socio-economic problems, it has never worked anywhere and it will not work In South Africa.
The EFF led by Julius Malema have been asking salient questions from corrupt practices, mismanagement and equal participation in the economy. Chumani Maxwele and Athabile Nonxuba’s #RhodesMustFall movement has continuously tried to remove the prism of race in tertiary institutions across South Africa and now with the ongoing fees strikes, #FeesMustFall; we are seeing a new progressive class of young, conscious and dogged people. The changes in higher education should go beyond window-dressing or smooth talks or employing more black staff in different sections; they need to go further by transforming the curricula to involve every aspect of knowledge. For students, leaders of institutions and the government, the #FeesMustFall agitation should lead to more tangible dialogues, where aggrieved parties agree on long-term workable solutions to ease the financial burden on students, reformed education policy and increased budget allocation. No student should be excluded from tertiary institution because of financial reasons and discussions should also cover sustainable policies to address the overwhelming demand for a democratic, non-racial and unitary South Africa.
The country has been stuck with the worst breed of predatory elite ever and Jacob Zuma’s administration has struggled to recapture the star quality of the founding patriarchs of the post-apartheid struggle. If the government fails to make adjustments or go against agreements and students sense any sign of dishonesty, they will keep on protesting against Fee increment with violence and further destruction just to be heard and lay their demands, which will harden the differences for future agreements. Young people are becoming conscious creators of history and will not continue to be treated as minority and used as foot mats, and out of the ugly clouds of destruction and unrest; there may be some silver lining in the horizon.