University Fees Must Fall
During the past week in South Africa the #FeesMustFall movement overshadowed all other news. Thousands of students, incited and supported by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) (the 3rd largest political party in SA), and other important institutions, took hands and demanded free higher education, forcing universities to suspend all activities. Although the students claim to protest peacefully, distancing themselves from the property damaging spree, labelling it “thuggery coming from rogue elements who wish to hijack their genuine struggle,” the public sees only aggression and violence on TV and social media.
This is a movement that started 20 years ago, when the ANC government, during their election campaign, promised free education to all. The fact that “free education” as described in South Africa’s Constitution doesn’t mean “cost-free”, but “available to all”, did not cross anyone's mind. The students, who were all babies or toddlers 20 years ago, demand cost-free education NOW. They call themselves ‘the generation fighting for free educations’ like their parents’ generation fought for demolishing of Apartheid.
Free education (as in cost-free) is something that the youth has been calling for over 20 years. "We want more black students to be able to attend university in order to have a better chance of participating in the economy," said Busisiwe Seabe, a leader of the Fees Must Fall movement at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).
"We want more black students to be able to attend university in order to have a better chance of participating in the economy," said Busisiwe Seabe, a leader of the Fees Must Fall movement at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).
Footage of the FeesMustFall protests, October 2016
Footage on television and social media displayed -
- Aggressive young protesters ignoring laws regarding demonstrations of protests. Marching down the corridors of universities, removing all who are working and studying from classes and offices, they violate the interdicts obtained by the universities in an effort to protect people and property. Some students are arrested and charged, but this enforcement of law and order only aggravate the crowd and send them marching to the nearest government quarters. As far as they go they leave a trail of burning tires, burning rubbish, looted shops, and even a burning public bus.
- An executive member of the University of the Western Cape being held hostage by protesting students.
- Students throwing stones and bricks at the police – stones and bricks they must have collected elsewhere and carried all the way to the university grounds with the intention to wreak havoc and to leave the police with no option but to respond forcefully with teargas, rubber bullets and stun grenades. Many of the students don’t look like intellectuals, but like thugs who were invited to participate in the protest in order to form an intimidating crowd. All of this looks like a war between students and the police.
- Topless female students showing their naked breasts to the police, trying to prove that they are vulnerable and merely participating in a humble course to the benefit of future generations.
- Injured and traumatized students and supportive adults, raging against police brutality.
- More tires, books, vehicles and buildings on fire, allegedly torched by thugs. Inside one of the buildings two security guards find themselves locked-up and, at last, rescued. As I am writing this, 3 fires at the University of the Witwatersrand are keeping the fire brigade busy.
- Petrol bombs discovered by the police in the quarters of protesting students, and two days later, police being attacked with petrol bombs by students hiding behind mattresses.
- Tremendous damages done by the end of the week - a bus of the SABC (South African Broadcast Corporation [national TV]), which carried most expensive equipment, completely burnt, and yet another public bus in flames.
- More students and non-students are arrested, among them a former leader of the Student Representative Council, Mcebo Dlamini.
This is but only some of the highly upsetting footage that was presented to the public by the media and individuals during the past week.
Thanks to this comment of one of my young friends, I managed to keep my judgmental mind open -
".... most of the students protesting in the #FeesMustFall movement are not the ones who went on to burn and destroy things. The media has highlighted the few radicals among the protesters and now that is all people see. Most of these black kids are the sons and daughters of parents juggling multiple minimum wage jobs so that they can afford their kids an education, so that their kids don't have to follow in their footsteps. Most of these kids also have part-time jobs. They're the youngsters at Mr. Price, Checkers, Exclusive Books, and Musica; working so that they can help afford themselves an education. A few thousand Rands, even a few hundred Rands, could mean the difference between affording to go back to varsity next year or not. It's a big deal!Meanwhile, the country's government spends their budget on obscenities. It is ridiculous!" said Maja Dežulović.
"Let's just be clear. Most of these kids are not imbeciles and reckless fools with a sense of entitlement. Most of them are intelligent, non-White youngsters who just want equality and access to higher education. Yes, there are reckless fools who behave atrociously among them, but they are the exception, they do not represent the whole!" - Maja Dežulović
Footage of the FeesMustFall protests, October 2016
Is the FeesMustFall movement in South Africa a racial issue?
Necessary to mention is the fact that 99.9% of the students participating in the protest are black. I don’t mention this to turn this into a racial issue, but to comprehend the absence of the expected number of white students. After all, they are supposed to represent 10% of the South African population.
Perhaps a fear of racial conflict keeps them away or perhaps feelings of anger and despair, as they are facing a wasted academic year and dare not air their true opinions.
The following statement of Verashni Pillay describes the difference between white and black students in South Africa –
“… most white South Africans’ parents or grandparents were able to buy and own property and businesses or shares in business (during Apartheid). They were able to pay off their properties or expand their businesses thanks to preferential treatment and employment.
They were then able to leave the proceeds of this wealth to their children, our contemporaries, as either an inheritance or a financial jump-start in life.
Most black South Africans have no such jump-start. They stand and fall on their own efforts alone and there is very little safety net if they don’t make it. Family wealth is already thinly spread to cover those who have nothing.
When my black friends say they’re broke, it means family debt, circling loan sharks and the horror of truly going under. When my white friends say they’re broke it usually means they may have to dip into their savings or swallow their pride and ask their parents for help.”
Not that white students are completely absent! During the previous protests in October 2015 they actually formed a human shield to protect black protesters from police. However, through the eyes of this white middle-aged woman and mother of two, those participating in demonstrations of this nature look like rebels indulging in dangerous adventures blissfully unaware or aware that they are torturing their parents or whomever guardians had filled them with grudges.
The Government’s response to the FeesMustFall movement -
Last year, after equal violent and devastating student protests, the government forbid universities to raise fees more than 8%. Last week, obliged to satisfy students threatening to close the doors of universities until free education is approved, the government simply distanced themselves from the issue and saddled universities with the responsibility.
Now, after experiencing the current protest, President Zuma announced the establishment of a ministerial task force comprising of eight ministers to find a solution to the crisis. Sadly, he didn’t include the Minister of Finance, and this silent rift between the president and the minister of finance is another upsetting phenomenon that will explode by the end of this very week, on Saturday, 16 October. (This will most certainly be next week's most upsetting news!)
President Zuma also stressed that free education for ALL is not fair, as those who can afford fees should help government to support the poor. He condemned the violent acts leading to the destruction of property and urged all students to return to class while “solutions are collectively sought to the challenges of higher education”.
In South Africa tertiary education is provided by universities, colleges, and technicons to students who have passed matric (Grade 12) with the required marks. Passing matric is rewarded with a National Senior Certificate, the basic requirement for admission to a bachelor's degree at any South African university. At present, however, it is the equivalent of finishing high school and GCSE exams in England, and of obtaining a GED certificate in the USA.
Basic education, comprising Pre-Primary School (Grade RR - R [4-6 years old]), Primary School (Grade 1-7 [7-13 years old]), and Secondary School (Grade 8-12 [14-18 years old]) are already free in all public schools (excluding private schools). However, all public schools may charge fees determined by their school's governing body, which is composed of elected parents of the school's students. This governing body has the right to sue parents for non-payment of school fees.
The government's current responsibility is to pay the salaries of teachers. Unfortunately they limit the number of teachers according to the number of students in the school, allowing for most of the subjects in the curriculum only one teacher per 42 students, and so they compel a school's governing body to appoint more teachers in order to deliver quality education. The government also provides handbooks, but also limited and often delayed, forcing a school's governing body to spend a large percentage of their budget on legal and illegal teacher's resources. An extra monetarily grant to cover running costs like electricity and telephone depends on school fees. The higher the school fees, the less the grant from government.
At present the South African government spend only 21% of the national budget on education, of which only 10% goes for tertiary education.
Since 1996 children of poor parents are legally exempt from some or all school fees. This enables a poor student to attend any school of their choice. No poor student may be refused by a so-called 'rich' school. Middle-class families don’t benefit at all from this law. Their income simply exceeds the government's definition of 'significant income'. Considering the outrageous salaries earned by members of the government, this matter has become a grievance ready to explode.
Higher education could be five times higher than school fees.
And just for the record - a poor white student is, like all whites in South Africa, considered to be 'privileged' and will by hook or by crook NOT qualify for a government's grant or a bursary provided by one or another trust.
This comment of one of my friends justifies the grievance of many whites, coloureds, and blacks with "white" surnames -
"Yes, there are bursaries, but you won't believe how rigged the system is. Last year my sister was denied a bursary because her name wasn't "black enough". She's a top student, leader in her community, and non-White. But because she happens to have my dad's white Eastern European name and not my mother's black name, she was denied any help from the State or sponsors." - Maja Dezulovic
Fact is, in spite of grants and bursaries offered to the poor by government and other institutions, and in spite of student loans at a low interest, school fees as well as university fees are an enormous challenge to meet for the better part of South Africa's citizens.
Nevertheless, according to the outdated statistics of 2011 among the South African population, 41.7% of the total population has completed an education of high school or higher, whereas 8.6% of the population aged 20 years and older has not completed any schooling. I am still searching for statistics of only higher education, while suspecting that only 10% of the 41,7% who has completed education of high and higher, has obtained a degree at a university.
The humble opinion of an owfma-sa
Sadly, I have to mention the color of my skin, as this really matters in South Africa. Being a privileged product of Apartheid, I have perspectives and perceptions that prevent me from comprehending many of the current happenings in my country. In order to keep my mind intact and open, I have to air my opinions, and hear and ponder the opinions of others.
Of course, I would love to live in a country where quality education is free of charge to all from pre-primary to tertiary level. In spite of the fact that educated people don’t necessarily have respectable and admirable characters and personalities, I believe that life in South Africa would be much better if all citizens possessed significant knowledge and skills.
Although I do not agree with some of the points students provide as justification for this FeesMustFall movement, I admire their vision and efforts to bring the government and all stakeholders to the point where the importance of education and the fact that the majority can't afford it have to be acknowledged and addressed.
I do believe that the government has an obligation to make education, including higher education, AFFORDABLE to all. Providing even more bursaries and loans to students on the condition that students pay it back either with money or by working as a fully paid employee for a certain number of years for the company/institution who had granted the loan, could be a solution. This was, in fact, what happened in my time. Police, nurses, teachers, technicians and many others obtained diplomas at colleges that were sustained by the specific institutions. However, a diploma has a lower academic value than a degree, and the latter can only be obtained at a university.
I do NOT admire the students’ modus operandi. Their promise to protest peacefully, and their claims that they are peaceful, are not honest. Their true intention is to 'fight' for what they want comes hell or high water. The aggressive nature of their protest, and the violence incited by their protest, are repulsive and very upsetting. Disappointing, too, is their incapability to realize that their goal of 100% cost-free education is irrational and not feasible in the current economic status of South Africa. I mean, Germany, where tertiary education is cost-free, is the world’s 4th largest economy, while South Africa is the 30th largest and currently only one notch above Junk status. (Thanks, Leon, for reminding me of this.)
Another human tendency to be considered: Attitudes of entitlement, ingratitude, and an insufficient sense of value, are often the result of getting precious assets, including intellectual assets, without paying for it. Okay, I hear those screams: “But we are going to pay a lot for cost-free education. With our precious time, physical and emotional energy, and brain-power, we will surely pay, and then by investing our knowledge back into South Africa, we will pay for the rest of our lives.” So, I guess I don’t have to fear spoiled future generations.
Also bothering me is the fact that black students, and in particularly the EFF, call the universities in South Africa “colonialist institutions”. Their demand that universities be “decolonized” and changed into “African knowledge centers” is still beyond my comprehension. What exactly entails "African Knowledge"? This report by a formidable developer of universities, R.W. Johnson, scares the living daylight out of me.
Fortunately, and thanks to technology, hundreds of online courses from top international universities are available to anyone who wants to learn whatever they want to learn.
By the way, an owfma-sa is an ordinary white, female, middle-aged South African.
In addition to the FeesMustFall protests
While the #FeestMustFall movement gave thugs the opportunity to destroy not only property, but also the general public's sympathy with the current batch of students, the highly respected Public Protector of the past 7 years, Thuli Madonsela, reached the end of her term. Apparently she is not at all surprised that President Zuma as well as Minister van Rooyen obtained (or still have to in the case of President Zuma) interdicts preventing her from releasing her last report - an extremely interesting and important report about the Gupta family alleged ”Capturing of President Zuma cum Capturing of the State”. This entire issue explodes on Saturday, 15 October when the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, opens the can of worms that contains the truth about the politically powerful family Gupta, their doings of the past 4 years, and their relationship with President Zuma.
The opening of this can of worms was clearly the result of ordering the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, in the beginning of this week, or was it at the end of last week, to appear in court over allegations of fraud he allegedly committed 6 years ago while he was the Commissioner of the South African Revenue Service. Behind all of this one detects a cunning effort of President Zuma to get rid of this important minister in order to prevent him from opening the Gupta-can-of-worms. Nevertheless, all of this immediately inspired investors all over the world to again lose their confidence in the political and economic management of South Africa and, for the umpteenth time, South Africa’s currency, the Rand, dropped steeply against the American dollar.
Never a boring moment in South Africa!
During the past week Julius Malema, leader of the EFF, got himself arrested (again) and charged for inciting crime by encouraging his followers to grab the land that was “stolen” by whites.
Twins were born joined at the chest and at the abdomen in Durban, while the twins in New York, who were conjoined to the head, were successfully separated.
Hurricane Matthew killed almost a thousand people in Haiti, and completely destroyed some regions in Haiti. After forcing millions of people to evacuate the coastal areas of southern USA, it also damaged parts of Florida.
The debates of the candidate-presidents of the USA, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, continued to arouse fear and disgust all over the world while King Bhumibol Aduly of Thailand died at the age of 88.
And, at last, 21 of the 275 girls/woman kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 were released after a series of negotiations between the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Swiss government, Boko Haram and the Nigerian government.
Oh, and this is so terribly sad, the devastating war in Syria is still going on, and now labelled as a Russian-American conflict.
Hooked on news – history of the future – this ordinary white, middle-aged, female South African compares herself to a sport-fanatic hooked on a ball and its players. But while a sport-fanatic follows only one ball and a couple of players at a time, the balls in politics are like pouring hail, and players are trying to keep a lot of them at the same time in the air.
So, what's going to happen next week?