|Image from Daily Maverick|
What a week of turmoil! I've been glued to my twitter news feed, following the tide of student unrest sweeping across tertiary institutions around the country. Processing the shock of watching the police's brutal response to unarmed protesting students. Thinking how protest has such an uncomfortable history in South Africa and the response is a quick, often fatal, knee-jerk violence. Facing the inadequacy of the political response - at first the "this isn't a crisis" denial by Blade Nzimande (our minister of higher education), then his tired reflex to Struggle-rhetoric (an "Amandla" booed by the students) to scrambling opportunism by a range of parties (also rejected by the largely nonpartisan nature of the FeesMustFall movement). Having to acknowledge the reality that education does not liberate people from poverty if access is denied for financial reasons - that it just wedges them further into the crevice between no hope and a handful of faded "rainbow nation" dreams.
The state of higher education in South Africa is a puzzle with too many pieces and anyone who proclaims they can put it together in the aftermath of this week is misleading us. Each piece carries much weight and as one picks it up and considers it, that particular one seems to grow in proportion until one eventually puts it down again and considers another. Will no tertiary tuition fees mean equitable access? What about the disadvantages and inequalities bequeathed to tertiary institutions by a sick school system? What about the language mess? What about the reality that many first-generation students are grossly underprepared for university study? Unarguably, schooling is a universal right, but is access to university a right or a privilege? And who make up the privileged population who manage to exit with a degree? Will no fees bring about equity and stability to a system that is wracked by strikes and disruptions annually? Or will it simply usher in the sort of slow, crumbling decline that we see all too often in the postcolonial context? Will it polarize our education system further where the wealthy opt-out and flee to private institutions (a feature we have come to see as normal in our schools)? Will it bring in the sort of educated, free-thinking electorate that we need in a one-party democracy like ours?
By the end of the week students had won the victory of no increases in tuition fees for next year. Many breathed a sigh of relief, but for many more the same day-to-day struggles to survive still exist. The protests, I think, also whisper of a wider restlessness, a growing dissatisfaction with the complacency and corruption of the ANC. Too many pieces to hastily solve in one week, but at least the long-overdue debate has started.
|Image from Faces of FeesMustFall|