FOCUS AFRICA: Fees Must Fall


South Africa: #Fees Must Fall
By Nontokozo Mhlongo
I recall one Friday evening sitting on my couch and flicking through the TV channels, I came across Nigerian Prophet, Pastor T.B. Joshua’s channel. It was just my luck because he happened to be prophesying about South Africa. I can’t recall the year exactly, but he said there will be a youth uprising in South Africa.
When he mentioned this I thought maybe there will be a service delivery protest with the youth in the forefront. It never once crossed my mind that the uprising would be of this nature.
Since 2015 South Africans and the world alike have been following the #FeesMustFall protests with abated breath wondering when will be the climax, what actions will the State take, when will it end and what is the solution.
As a curious creature I followed the news channels, read newspapers, surfed the web about the #FeesMustFall protests, but my questions were still not answered. It wasn’t until one day, driving along Rivonia road in Sandton stuck in traffic, I decided to put my Beyonce Lemonade CD on hold and listen to the radio.
There was nothing to my liking on my usual Talk Radio station so I decided to go to the next frequency. There I heard young voices having an intense debate on the state of South Africa and what freedom and equality truly means to the black child. It wasn’t just fluffy stuff or politically correct jargon. These young voices were quoting the constitution and former black leaders’ ideology.
I was intrigued because I haven’t heard such truths being uttered in live-stream media. It wasn’t until an ad-break that I realized that I was listening to the Voice of Wits, VOW FM. This was not an ANC youth league meeting or any other political party meeting, but a gathering of young students at the University of the Witwatersrand hungry for a revolution.
When I heard them quoting Solomon Plaatje, Robert Sobukwe and Steve Biko it all suddenly made sense. The #FeesMustFall protests are the beginning of a bigger movement, a bigger fight. The #FeesMustFall protests are about the uprising of the black child that has woken up to the realization that we are not all equally equal; that freedom was just a dream when the status was yet to change, even with a Black Government in power.
This is deeper than just free education. This is about Black Consciousness. That is why their determination and protests are being driven by quotes from Black Consciousness forefathers.
Information from Wikipedia about various South African political activists made one fact clear; that majority of the Anti-Apartheid Revolutionists were academics. Another fact is that the fight for freedom was always spearheaded from Universities. The similarities between then and now are just uncanny. It is clear as day light that history is repeating itself.
Let’s take a look at what the three Black Consciousness ancestors believed in and stood for. This will give you an idea of the student’s state of mind.
South African intellectual, writer and politician Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje was a founding member and first General Secretary of the South African Native National Congress, which became the ANC. Solomon spent much of his life in the struggle for the enfranchisement and liberation of African people. As a member of the SANNC he travelled to England to protest the Natives Land Act, 1913, and later to Canada and the United States. Plaatje just like the students was an academic who realized that things were not alright.
Steve Bantu Biko is another hero the students look up to. Biko was the most prominent leader of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), who with others guided the movement of student discontent into a political force unprecedented in the history of South Africa.
Biko and his peers were responding to developments that emerged in the high phase of apartheid, when the Nationalist Party (NP), was restructuring the country to conform to its policies of separate development. The NP made sure that the white, black, coloured and Indian people were separated, by creating new residential areas, new schools, universities and administrative bodies. This was an aim to oppress the black man by taking away access to his own country.
The students at the time belonged to a generation that resisted the process of strengthening apartheid, in any manner they could. In the late 1960’s Biko and his Black comrades were faced with situations similar to the ones the students face today in 2016. Biko was the one tasked with the mobilization of black students from all the black campuses.
Biko, after quitting his medical studies in August 1972, was heavily active in BCP activities. He described the rationale of the organisation thus:
“…Essentially to answer [the] problem that “the Black man is a defeated being who finds it very difficult to lift himself up by his boot strings. He is alienated. He is made to live all the time concerned with matters of existence, concerned with tomorrow”. Now, we felt that we must attempt to defeat and break this kind of attitude and instill once more a sense of dignity within the Black man. So what we did was to design various types of programmes, present these to the Black community with an obvious illustration that these are done by the Black people for the sole purpose of uplifting the Black community. We believed that we teach people by example.”
Then there is Robert Sobukwe whose quotes seem profound in the current situation: “The philosophy of Africanism holds out the hope of a genuine democracy beyond the stormy sea of struggle. We meet here today, to rededicate ourselves to the cause of Afrika, to establish contact beyond the grave, with the great African heroes and assure them that their struggle was not in vain.”
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe was a prominent South African political leader who founded the Pan Africanist Congress in opposition to apartheid. Sobukwe was considered to be so dangerous by the apartheid government that it arranged for parliament to enact the “Sobukwe clause”, a statute which was specifically intended to authorize the extension of Sobukwe’s imprisonment.
Sobukwe attended Fort Hare University where he joined the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) in 1948 and in 1949 he was elected as the first president of the Fort Hare Students’ Representative Council.
In 1952 Sobukwe achieved notoriety backing the Defiance Campaign. He identified with the Africanists within the African National Congress (ANC) and in 1957 left the ANC to become Editor of The Africanist newspaper in Johannesburg and a lecturer of African Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.
He was a strong believer in an Africanist future for South Africa and encouraged Africans to stick together, support each other and work together to obtain liberation. He later left the ANC to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), and was elected its first President in 1959.
The quotes from Biko and Sobukwe summarize the objective of the students. They are not fighting for complete free education only; they are fighting to be given an equal and fair footing with the white students. For some black students it’s about sleeping in the library or streets, about worrying about fees, going o class on an empty stomach and lack of financial support.
Having suffered this for years, at the end of their studies they are told they cannot access their degrees because they owe the University money. It is a struggle for a black student to obtain Higher Education, yet is expected to compete with a race that was propelled by the benefits of apartheid. They are tired of the struggle!
When the protests began in 2015 many thought the students will lose momentum and this will soon be over.
Students decided to tackle equality by starting with the fight to improve access to tertiary education.
The #FeesMustFall protest began with support from all races but now the white faces have dwindled as the realization has come that this is not just about fees must fall but about a fight against the farce that is the rainbow nation. It seems like they are saying, “We love the way things are in South Africa as long as we don’t have to beg on the streets for a job with our degrees in hand; as long as we don’t get to live in the townships or in shacks; as long as we earn more than our black counterparts and as long as we control the economy then the Rainbow Nation is just perfect..”
The faces that remain are saying “…We want change; we want what was promised; why is the unemployment rate so high; why are we treated inferior in our own country; where is our freedom that was promised to us and why is the economy in the hands of the minority?….”
Until these questions are answered any form of “solution” or negotiations will fall through….because no one is really listening. What is being said here is that our leaders have betrayed us. To those who have not been following the #FeesMustFall protests, here is how it all began.
Students from Universities across the country came together in one voice calling out to leaders to reduce the financial, racial and class barriers to accessing university education. SRC leaders and students would meet at what the students renamed the Solomon Mahlangu House to pave the way forward for the Fees Must Fall campaign.
The list of demands also includes to fight student exclusion; clearing debt, which prevents students from graduating and registering; and ensuring no one who qualifies academically to study at Wits is turned away. The university is allowing students to sign up for a payment plan, which allows them to pay their registration by the end of March, but the SRC wants an assurance that even students who cannot pay by then are not excluded from their studies.
As the #FeesMustFall protests intensified President Jacob Zuma announced that fees would not increase at tertiary institutions in 2016 and engagements were held between students and the State. Meanwhile, Higher Education and Training Minister, Blade Nzimande reiterated Zuma’s stance.
Government has committed an additional R6.9 billion to fund the university system above the R10 billion already marked for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, NSFAS. Of that increase, R2.3 billion is to cover the fee increase. The Minister emphasized NSFAS students do not need to pay upfront registration fees, but suggested a planned inquiry on the accessibility of tertiary education will look into the issue of students who don’t qualify for NSFAS but who still can’t afford their fees.
Many had thought the students would lose momentum but not a chance, fast forward to 2016 and the protests are still ongoing. With students demand not yet met, the destruction of property has increased; a ploy by the students to put pressure on the Government. Government is responding to the pressure through using the police to arrest top leaders of the protest as a way to deter other students from protesting.
This is reminiscent of the 1976 Soweto Uprisings where the Apartheid Government called for students to be arrested and for the police to end the protests.
As I type this, there are about 139 students that have been arrested, while Wits University student activist and former Student Representative Committee President Mcebo Dlamini made a court appearance and was denied bail. He has been charged with assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, public violence, theft and malicious damage to property. University of Cape Town student leader Masixole Mlandu has also been placed behind bars.
The students say their fight continues; the violence and destruction is not thuggery, it is anger. This is a call to South African leaders to explain this social and economic inequality that has remained years after apartheid.
South Africa needs a HERO. MA