Amidst the lashback from people around the #FeesMustFall movement by members, observers, parents, students and security forces the real original reasons for the rise of the movement are being clouded by opportunistic violence. When it comes to the media there is only one rule; “If it bleeds, it leads.” This is an unfortunate truism that ensures the public will read an article even if readers protest most vociferously that good news is their preferred diet.
With that as a background the following article by ‘Inside Men’ and NMMU students Nqobizwe ‘Q’ Ngubane (a 3rd year Information Systems student) and Bongani Mazibuko (a 3rd year Law Student) is recommended reading:
Much has been said about the #FeesMustFall (FMF) movement, most of which has been against the movement. Unfortunately, most people’s perception especially those who are highly opinionated against the movement, is conditioned by the mainstream media’s portrayal of the movement, one which is dead wrong.
The general notion is that the FMF movement is built and managed by struggling students, who are hooligan in nature, and that they have failed to provide solutions, which is again not true.
The situation is at a deadlock, because those clearly advantaged by the system can’t be bothered to empathise, understand and support the movement. While also, those of the disadvantaged position fail to remain composed long enough to explain the reasoning behind why they are taking the root they are taking. The poor expect the rich to understand poverty and also support sharing what they have with them, all by themselves, something that will in all likelihood not happen in the atmosphere created by the lack of engagement and association across classes. The rich can’t be bothered, they expect the poor to make an effort with them, completely ignoring the fact that their economic and inherent social positions, dictates that they instigate relations that will lead to the required engagement necessary to bring about the required change.
What the fight is about
During the euphoria of attaining Freedom, the older generation had as a higher priority Free housing and other forms of Government support such as child support grants, which were later extended to other Black Economic Empowerment(BEE) techniques like tenders and Affirmative Action policies. All these, have over the years proven themselves to be more than anything else ineffective (proven themselves to be ineffective due to their poor implementation or is it because they are inherently flawed?), and furthermore highly corruptible as Government has to spend large amounts in administering these techniques, most of which ends up in the pocket of some strong party affiliate and other corrupt souls.
The call for Free Education is firstly, the acknowledgement of Free Education as one of the least corruptible forms of societal reform which may explain why it has been met with complete rejection by Government. Beyond that, Free Education is the best request that has ever been made by a people who seek to be free, which reveals a generation focusing on the epicentre of the solution, which while lacking instant gratification, has great long term returns. What has stopped Government and the rest of the country from seeing Free Education that way, is the fact that it is not seen as what it is, an Investment. Many make the mistake of seeing this as ordinary Government spending, with instant rewards and possibly an impact on the vote.
An overwhelming number of South Africans, believe that FMF is about the youth cashing in on promises made by the African National Congress (ANC) and the Freedom Charter (FC), which is where they are wrong. While it is true that the fact that the ANC and the FC’s promise has a significant influence on students’ stance on their claim, the real drive behind the movement is the fact that students have identified education as what Nelson Mandela identified it as, the single most powerful way to change a society, and want this to become a Public Good accessible to all.
While there is a great deal of opposition to the measures employed by students to have their voices heard, the fact remains; this is a better generation, tired of Government support, systematic oppression, and wanting to carry their own weight and be a functioning and contributing member of society in future. They are not asking for free housing, unemployment support or tenders, they are asking for free education. Regardless of whether or not there are enough jobs for these students, a society with an educated people, whether employed or not, is a better society.
Why disrupt University
Either way you look at it, the disruption of University Academic programme is going to have serious reparations for the country, and this is the point of departure. Many of those who support counter FMF movements as #OpenNMMU and #TakeWitsBack, claim to be for FMF but not at the cost of academic activity disruption. While these people believe themselves to have valid arguments, they make the mistake of thinking the FMF movement is unaware of said costs, and furthermore fail to understand why the FMF movement follows this strategy. In providing alternatives, they suggest that FMF protesters must go protest in parliament or the ANC offices.
The FMF movement protesters disrupt Universities for two reasons. The first is to call on University Management and the counsel to join the students in shutting down all Universities and to have a united voice that calls on Government to take action, and do so immediately. As evident from recent history, as long as there is divide between students, academia, management and the University counsel, the Government will take longer to respond. The sooner we have a united voice between these different spheres of the Universities, the sooner we can get a reply from Government. The second reason is that Universities are at the heart of the country, they are the microcosm of broader society and acutely reflect the socio-economic realities which ravage our societies. Furthermore, they are most convenient place to cause disruption on grounds that the people starting the revolution are University students displaced in closer proximity to University.
The call to march to parliament or the ANC offices is not a clearly reasoned idea, firstly because of simple things like accommodation, food and such other basic needs and resources. These are all the things students discuss and agree on in their mass meetings, held regularly, and that cover issues beyond just the call for Free Education but also societal issues as rape, decolonization of education and such. Beyond just the convenience of protesting at University, one needs to remember that the ANC is made of people majority of whom are a direct product of apartheid error brain wash and deprivation. Poor service delivery and detachment by the ANC Government should not be a shock to anyone. If one study’s basic human psychology and what happens when people are deprived of something and finally exposed to such power and resources. These were revealed in a study run by Stanford University in 1971, formally known as The Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE). The very same dynamics are also discussed in more detail in the book ‘Influence – The Art of Persuasion’ by Dr Cialdini. This is not to absolve the ANC, but to point out the flaws in the proposed alternatives.
Regardless of the opinion one holds of the protesting students’ strategy, it is genius. Something straight out of ‘The Art of War’, and because of the Government and class divide they are dealing with, this is the best strategy possible. They agitate the space where many come for the first time face to face with the object of their continued oppression: financial and academic exclusion, and its pervasive nature.
Movement political affiliation & hijack
The ongoing criticism on FMF is that of political affiliation and hijack by unruly hooligans, committed to violence and arson as the primary form of vandalism. This is a high possibility in all movements, just like Islam and Christianity have been hijacked by religious extremism, in the form of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) respectively. This is not to equate FMF to a religion, but to highlight the susceptibility of perceptions and views held beyond logical reasoning.
The true problem lies in the double standards, sponsored by mainstream media, which is the lens that many have come to know the FMF movement through. When South Africa went through a rampage of racial slurs in the recent past, the notion was not that those individuals represented the groups with which they identify. This is despite the overwhelming numbers of racial slurs, magnified by the growing use of social media. An unofficial statistic suggests that only 10% of FMF protesters are actually violent, a number which is apparently way less than the apparent racial divide in our country, and yet FMF is held to an entirely different standard. This portrayal fails to recognise that every FMF protest was never violent in the first instance. The State and University management introduced an element of violence through its riot police and private security creating a highly volatile environment; they lit the fire and place the match in the hands of the students.
Another largely discussed point in FMF meetings, is that of political party affiliation and hijack. The FMF movement last year, was ruined by the hijack by the ANC, and this year also runs the same risk, this time by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which was shown by the presence of Advocate Dali Mpofu at the Wits University protest on Tuesday the 4 th of October. Students are well aware of this, and from sitting down on meetings and reading through social media threads, have confidence they will not fall for the trap again. This is not to lay blame on Adv. Dali Mpofu, who knows, maybe he was playing his role as a concerned parent, but then again, only time will tell.
Many suggest that students march to the ANC offices, on the basis that they are seen wearing regalia revealing membership and allegiance to the party. It is no secret that some students have political party affiliation. In fact, regardless of where they stand regarding the movement, some students simply won’t participate if the student societies to which they belong to are not well represented in the movement. This being said, it is important to note that the leadership of the movement is built of representation from different student societies, from the political to human rights formations such as LGBT. In a discussion initiated with the aim of banning regalia from FMF protests, affiliated students revealed their reason for wearing regalia. To them, this is about sending a message to their parent institutions that they do not agree with the position they have taken regarding Free Education. Who else is in a better position to tell the Government they are at fault than its own people?
The FMF movement has taken a strong stand against violence, hatred and vandalism, but the nature of the movement in itself makes it hard to both control people’s emotions and also to filter who can become part of the movement. It is important not to confuse what FMF leaders’ roles are. They are simply there to help provide some form of organization and to try weed out the bad influence and violent voices. They do not drive the movement’s direction. The misguided thinking that taking the leaders out will somehow neutralize the movement is dangerous. If anything, this will cause more chaos as the real perpetrators of violence and criminal activity, will take center stage of the movement. Events that transpire as a result of the introduction of private security and riot police, requires to be debated and discussed from a whole different perspective.
The Open University lie
One of the biggest lies that the likes of #TakeWitsBack and #OpenNMMU tell themselves, is that the protesting will end once Universities open, regardless of whether the goal of the FMF movement has been reached. What clearly hasn’t sunk into many heads is that students are willing to place their bodies on the line for the protection of the future of the coming generation. They are well aware that many of them will not benefit from this, but the coming generation will. I have, to date, not met any student that has been willing to vacate the comfort of privilege and place their bodies on line to keep University open, especially not if that sacrifice is not for the direct benefit to self. Whether University opens or not, students will keep coming back again and again, until their voices are heard. After all the sabotage by the media and shooting by rubber bullets, their mandate stands:
FREE EDUCATION FOR ALL, OR NO EDUCATION FOR ANYONE
The second mistake many pro Open University silent protestors make is to not question the underlying intention of the said movement. Many of them start every engagement by saying they are pro FMF, and continue to further state that they will be contributing to ensuring the successful outcome of the FMF movement, which is obviously not true in the eyes of the FMF movement. Considering South Africa’s history, especially that of 1994 and how SA gained its freedom, one would expect one group to be really dedicated in creating a level academic and economic playing field, but clearly that has not been the case. This is the fact from which the FMF movement builds its reasoning that pro Open University movement supporters lie when they say “they understand” or that they will be dedicated in helping them realizing Free Education once Universities are open.
One tweet calls on people to take facial portraits of the FMF ‘hoolings’, and set up a website to make them all unemployable. This is exactly the kind of suppression students are fighting against. This together with the tag #TakeWitsBack and others, by themselves say a lot about the thinking and heartfelt drive of the majority of the people that make up the opposing movements.
The third mistake made, this time not only by the Open University students, but by South Africa as a society, is that this will end like 1994 did, around a table, and with some people getting away easily. From what I understand, the FMF students have made it clear they are not Nelson Mandela or Desmond Tutu for that matter. While many have much respect for these figures and their methods and roles in society, they also acknowledge and remain wary of the flaws of their methods in facilitating the building of the rainbow nation. Their methods clearly only painted over the problem instead of providing a progressive solution, and that is becoming harder and harder to deny as the ramifications of the negotiated democracy resurface.
Finding a way forward
While many argue that there are different sides to the coin, it is important to remind ourselves that the truth is singular. The mistake people make is try to reason the case of University closure outside of the socio-economic realities that persist in our society and the history from which they stem. When one begins to factor all the internal and external factors into the debate, the debate against FMF comes up short.
1994 brought about a romanticised and false idea of revolution to many South Africans. Those that lost out the most from the compromise look at the significance of Nelson Mandela’s sacrifice which represented all black South Africans at the time, and ask themselves whether they can say the White community of South Africa has reciprocated in a manner remotely significant as that, and the quick answer is NO. The growing numbers of black professionals, students and academia that see Mandela as a traitor and sell out, do so as a feeling that the desired outcome was not reached, but only one side had to compromise and continues to do so, but this time with their lives.
In conclusion, the students are asking for FREE EDUCATION, not free housing, social support or tenders. This is a sign of progress, and an investment into the future of the country, one which should have been met with warm hands from day one. Ask yourself why Government could easily provide the free housing, child support and other things that were requested by society. My answer is that all these provide a channel for Government officials and their allies to pocket billions, and furthermore have had a very low return for the wellbeing of the country. Yes, the solution is not fully formulated, and yes not everyone will get a job, but this is about levelling the playing field at developmental level, and building a society of critical thinkers, whether employed or not. The fact that the current system is not working, alone is grounds enough for radical change, and no, this is not an overnight request. But even if it were, Government and the country is well capable of making the change overnight. What Government lacks, is an incentive to care and political will.
It is no secret, the entire country needs fixing, not just University. Our health system, our army, and our primary and high schools; the list goes on. However, the University space remains the best starting point, as it is the only central point from which people can be deployed in different direction; that is to say some University graduates go up the chain into the corporate world, and into Government, while others go down the chain into preparatory education and society at large as teachers, social workers and doctors, while a few will occupy the middle of the spectrum in NGOs and Social Entrepreneurship. These are some of the things continuously discussed by FMF protesters, their desire for a better South Africa and how they aim to play a role.
But you’ll never see that on your TV, just the kids throwing stones …
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