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Saturday, 24 October 2015

TAKING A STAND FOR THEMSELVES: #FeesMustFall

This past week has brought with it #student #protests against #tertiary #education fee hikes, the likes of which commentators say South Africa hasn't seen since the Soweto riots of #1976. My son Stefan, himself a student, suggested that protesting has become the only way anyone can get heard in this country. That certainly seems to be the trend.

In our day (admittedly some years ago), when 90% of us had sufficiently affluent parents to help us through university, the only thing we could think of against which to protest was the apartheid system of the day. The police were more pragmatic then, thrashing those of the students whom they could catch with sjamboks (a South African whip) and detaining the student leaders indefinitely without trial under the various security laws in force at the time. However, the thing with protesting white students in the 1970's and 1980's is that, for the most part, they weren't directly adversely affected by apartheid.

Today, the benefactors of our protests are faced with their own direct challenges: How do they pay for the tertiary education which offers the hope of escaping from the cycle of poverty in which their parents and grandparents found themselves? Truly, for many students coming from homes where their parents are cleaners and manual labourers, they simply have no access to funds, but see for themselves a way out of the poverty trap by getting a decent education. This has been an issue for children looking for an uplifting future ever since apartheid crumbled in 1994 under a promise by the new ANC government of free education. Some basic education is now free, but that's it.

Nearly 40 years after Soweto, students have once again courageously and decisively taken a stand for themselves. In the context of good old fashioned police brutality against unarmed students - rubber bullets, water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades - yesterday the ANC Government finally woke up, capitulated and agreed that there would be no fee increase for the 2016 academic year. Ironically, this morning on the radio I heard an ANC spokesman disingenuously saying on the radio that they had always supported the students' call for a zero fee increase! Quite frankly, the crisis arises because of the ANC Government's short-sightedness, failure to prioritise social issues properly and inability to contain corruption and abuse of public spending.  Now they have only themselves to blame for the quandary in which they find themselves: how to find the money to keep the tertiary education institutions going.

What's to be learned? 
  • If you want something badly enough, take a stand for yourself and make a noise
  • When no one's hearing for you, keep raising the volume of the noise until it is uncomfortably loud for the decision-makers
  • Understand that you are a decision-maker in your own future: only you can make it happen
  • Making it happen can require sacrifice (which word interestingly stems from two Latin words meaning "to make holy")
  • The youth of our country - in fact all countries - know what they want and at some level will always demonstrate what the future holds for the country, because they are the future leaders
Having witnessed their leadership of the past week, I feel hopeful that South Africa will one day be in sensible hands.

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