By Sisipho Mbuli
The current situation in our country, South Africa, is tense. The years 2015 and 2016 have seen students from all over the country and different institutions, participating in nationwide protests calling for decolonized tertiary education. These protests are better known as the #FeesMustFall campaign and have created a movement that is mainly composed of determined, fearless Youth. These protests are well into their third week of development.
The #FeesMustFall movement began in October last year as a result of a proposed 10.5% increase to the cost of tertiary education for the year 2016. Following this announcement, students in their respective institutions protested the proposal, calling instead for a 0% fee increase. The protests were successful and resulted in President Jacob Zuma announcing the demanded 0% increment of tuition fees.
The movement quieted for the remainder of the 2015 year and the first half of this year, acknowledging the victory but wary of a lack of commitment to our call for free education. That wariness was proven valid when, on the 14th of August 2016 the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, recommended a maximum of 8% fee increase for the year 2017. This ultimately left the decision in the hands of the universities, making it clear that a 0% increase was no longer considered viable.
Nzimande assured the country that the government would provide financial assistance to students with an annual income below R600 000 ($42 283), in order to subsidize the increase. This would be provided by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). This is, however, very contradictory, as free education is a legal obligation which was made by the South African government in 1994 and every year since, but has not actually been followed through to date.
In reality, the government has acted to completely rebut their promise through proposing nationwide fee increases. This betrayal sped up the timetable of the #FeesMustFall movement. The #FeesMustFall movement has received a wide range of attention since its launch, earning its fair share of applause as well as a vast amount of criticism, and now it’s time to debate why South Africa has reached Ground Zero.
The lack of quality education in South Africa is as a result of the racist policies of the past and present, implemented under the legislation of the Apartheid regime. The Apartheid government implemented targeted forms of racial, gendered and class oppression through its laws and socio-political economic system, the effects of which still radiate today. The legacy left behind by Apartheid is immeasurable. It can be seen in the lack of access to quality healthcare, sufficient housing, sanitation, security and most notably – education. It can be seen in the income disparities between racial groups (black, white, POC and Indian); in the white supremacist standards of our sufficiently funded Model-C schools where majority students are white, and the frequent misalloctation of government funds.
The white population is the only race to have benefited from Apartheid and continues to do so to this day, consistently enforced by neo-colonial capitalism. This has resulted in a vast majority of our country being denied their basic human rights, ensuring that the black population are structurally prevented from advancing themselves in society by the very same system that so greatly benefits the white population.
It is simple people. We can no longer afford to silently watch these systems violently oppress and exclude People of Colour (POC). Thousands of students have been expelled from their universities because they have outstanding fees, no matter their academic performance. These institutions are public, funded by the government and are open to all, supposedly.
Over the years, due to increasing fees, the majority of South Africans have become unable to pay tuition; these universities have turned into exclusive spaces meant primarily for those who can afford it i.e. the white population. It is a real shame that a poor but academically excellent and deserving student is deprived of the opportunity to extricate herself and by extension her immediate family from poverty because of no money.
The South African student dropout rate is daunting, with 50%-60% of students dropping out in first year, according to the Director of Academic Development at UJ. Serious problems such as insufficient funds, no transport, lack of accommodation and significantly, a failing to ensure that students have enough to eat are some of the reasons why students are forced to drop out.
These students are burdened with difficulties that follow them into the classroom. Students who drop out normally skip a year or more to get a job or funds to pay for outstanding fees. It is time we speak up and the #FeesMustFall movement aims to dismantle these oppressive structures which privilege the white population in the country.
Now let’s tackle the #FeesMustFall demands. These demands are not unreasonable. They seek to restructure this country’s poor and stagnant economy. They envision justice with regards to race, gender, ability and class. #FeesMustFall protesters have asserted that free education IS feasible and IS needed for the uplifting of our people from poverty and for transformation of post-apartheid society. Students are questioning the delivery of the promises of equality that have been enshrined in our Constitution.
This is a mass social movement that is fighting for a fundamental economic transition and for the completion of an economic revolution.
The youth of South Africa are questioning how they are supposed to get themselves out of poverty if they cannot afford the required tool needed to combat poverty, namely education.
They want an education that resembles the society it is supposed to create and serve, not recreating its colonial past or serving existing colonial powers.
The best way to eliminate inequality is by making sure that the opportunities afforded to South Africans of different backgrounds are as equal as is realistically possible. Our university system serves to perpetuate intergenerational poverty, and if we ignore this, we are betraying our next generation. We are betraying the very content of our struggle for freedom. We need ways of fast-tracking a fundamental socio-economic transformation which systematically reduces the excesses of intergenerational wealth accumulation.
One of the critical demands of the #FeesMustFall protesters is an end to outsourcing. Institutions of higher learning in South Africa pay employees poverty-level wages (as low as R3000/$211 per month) for full-time workers. Workers are provided with little or no pension funds as well as no access to affordable quality healthcare. These institutions profit from the pain and struggle of the black working class; a direct consequence of colonialism and Apartheid which have created an entire class working under unfair conditions.
In 20 years, the unemployment rate has risen from 22% to 25% under the unreliable, neo-liberalism favouring government of the lost African National Congress (ANC, the ruling party). It must be stressed that the success and economic empowerment of black people is essential to the success of the country, as they are 80.2% of the population, and all other races combined are 19.8%. So, with black unemployment being 39% (white unemployment: 8.3%), this is damaging to the future of South Africa, especially if there are systems in place to exclude people from wealth, and keep them indefinitely in the same circumstances Apartheid left them in.
A study done by Finscope South Africa found that on average, black South Africans spend more of their income on education compared to other races; 7% average vs. 4.3% average for other races respectively. This then highlights the difficult task of raising their children out of poverty; which notably affects black women the most.
Certain crowds have labeled the #FeesMustFall movement as “entitled” and “disruptive” however, we have received support from many members of the academic staff, workers at our various institutions of higher learning, the South African Council of Churches, and parents. The overwhelming truth is that the disruptions that have taken place during the protests have illuminated the normalized oppressive conditions that are silently embedded in and protected by our law.
The movement has also been critiqued for its violent nature, but violence has never been the goal of our resistance and struggle for justice. The #FeesMustFall campaign has held peaceful protests, such as sit-ins, at various institutions and has been met with police brutality and harassment. We have had to take measures which are more excessive in order for our muffled voices to be heard.
When our outcry has not been acknowledged by the state or universities, we see no reason why it is beyond the pale for us to turn to alternate methods of protest to help address this pressing issue. The media has portrayed us – the protesters – as thugs and has criminalized students. But the blatant truth is that the violence that can be seen from the students is simply reactionary violence.
The burden of being non-violent is not on the oppressed, but rather on the oppressor. Therefore violence of the state has been responded to by the burning of any building that represents state authority. In response to peaceful protest, universities have militarized their campuses, sought wide-ranging interdicts against students and deployed private security guards. The critique of violent protests- mainly perpetuated by the white population – is disingenuous and doesn’t offer any valid alternative solution. This has shown how white people condemn the inconvenience imposed on them by disruptive protests but are inherently blind to the sustained inconvenience and disempowerment which affects POC.
During these past few weeks, students have been subject to police brutality as well as private security brutality through the use of physical force, rubber bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and pepper spray aimed directly and maliciously at protesting students and have resulted in serious injuries and hospitalization in many instances. This has also coincided with the dramatic increase in multi-million rand private security contracts that have exercised excessive force and threatened students consistently.
This includes threats of sexual harassment. This violence has even escalated to the use of live ammunition on students, following the recent events of Thursday 13 October that occurred at Tshwane University of Technology, where a student was shot in the leg. A significant portion of the blame for the increasing violence of the protests needs to be placed at the door of both university authorities and government. The presence of police on our campuses is poisoning our environment. We are sensing an inherent injustice in how our case is being handled.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) cannot solve South Africa’s political and socio-economic problems. Political problems require political solutions, not military ones. The government have failed to lead the dialogues with students or intervene in the wide-scale protests in our country.
We note, with great concern, the presidential task team established to resolve the higher education crisis which consists – in part – of the state security cluster and police commissioner with the unconscionable exclusion of the finance minister, Pravin Gordhan. This move demonstrates the government’s utter disinterest in resolving the principles underpinning the demands of students and workers across the country. If it is the violence that we are against with such conviction, why don’t we condemn the perpetual violence of the status quo?
Education is a human right, and therefore a public good. With the first breath you take as you are born, in that same moment, you claim your rights. No force in the world can take those rights away from you. We seek to educate and learn more about the future and possibilities of free, decolonised, quality education. IT IS POSSIBLE. IT IS POSSIBLE. Black people have freed themselves from the evils and human rights violations of colonialism and Apartheid and we reiterate, economically, black people are still colonised.
Education changes lives, and our goal is almost in our grasp. Our eyes are open, and we see the future clearly.
#FeesMustFall will economically emancipate the poor black masses.
#FeesMustFall will change millions of South Africans lives forever.
#FeesMustFall is the start of Africans taking back control of their lives.
#FeesMustFall must succeed.
#FeesMustFall will succeed.
•Population - 54.3 million
•Black - 80.2% White - 8.4% POC - 8.8% Indian/Asain - 2.5%
According to Finance24, corruption has cost the South African economy an estimated R700bn since the establishment of the new democracy over 20 years ago. That amounts to about R30bn per year. If an average undergraduate degree costs around R120 000, then in one year alone, the government could have funded 250 000 student’s higher education. Here is a list of other mismanaged funds: