On Student Activism… my thoughts on #Feesmustfall in South African Universities

I wrote this post last year and did not manage to post it as ASA was not live yet…. Found it in my files and decided to publish it anyways as still relevant…
At the time, my work engagements unfortunately did not allow me to follow very closely the students protests in South Africa-as such this piece can only be an expression of my partially informed self. Before going any further, I need to confess that I first associated #feesmustfall to #Rhodesmustfall which in my eyes did not achieve much to change the current status quo which frustrates the youth of today even after the statue was removed (a debate for another day).
A bit of background…like many other African immigrants, I came to South Africa to first get a better education and look for better economic opportunities. Knowing how much my parents earned was so scary because I knew how tight things were for them to give me the education they could not even dreaming of having in their youth. While my parents’ sacrifice was my main motivation, it was also quite a heavy burden as I knew that failing, fooling around was simply not an option…What else could I tell parents that spent more than 3/4 of their income on my school fees, rent and subsistence other than the fact that their efforts indeed were not in vain through good grades … So as a wannabe good child, I spent my uni days avoiding anything (and anyone) that would stand in the way of getting that degree, and ensure my parents’ efforts and sacrifices would be rewarded in Jameson Hall (UCT graduation hall) with those certificates… 8 painful years later, I graduated with both BSc and MSc in Chemical Engineering.
151022103058-south-africa-students-protest-tuition-irpt-large-169This post is about (i) redeeming myself for not giving the #feesmustfall campaign the credit it deserved at the beginning but also to (ii) salute the bravery of the thousands of students who decided to stand united for something dear to their heart and very important for SA’s future i.e. Good & affordable tertiary education.
A friend of mine asked on Facebook what is it about this generation that we didn’t have because none of us ever organised anything of this magnitude… it got me thinking long and hard as I am ashamed to admit that had these protests taken place during my time at uni, I would have definitely NOT taken part in them because in my head far too much was at stake… me and my family got ONE chance at chasing this UCT degree, I could not mess it up… I would have probably chosen me (or the degree for what it meant for my future life and family) sadly.
Gwede+Mantashe+Nompendulo+MkatshwaI therefore salute these students. Why? Because many of them come from families with far less than mine and could have walked away if they had my thoughts… they did not! They put their chance for a degree (and that job) on hold to fight for their younger peers and what they believe the educational system in SA should be… They understand that an exclusive education system will simply NEVER bring the change needed in the country to both develop it and address injustices of the past…
UCT-Fees-must-fall-MasixoleFeni-usilive-orgWhy was #feesmustfall important? For their future… Take me as an example: while, I am not even half of the woman I wish to become; I recognise that all I have achieved can be linked to God’s grace through the incredible people I have met in my life who have given me incredible support, the space to grow despite my failings and continuous efforts to invest in me (e.g. family, friends, master supervisor, former & current colleagues and bosses)…It is only natural for me to believe that there are many many “mes” out there with the potential to grow and participate actively in our society with a little help and support…Had it not been for having studied at UCT, I am not sure I would have still encountered these angels who changed my life: affordable quality education matters!
That fighting chance is exactly what the #feesmustfall students were asking for….first to study and second through a good university degree to build their careers, without which none of the doors that have been opened to me would not have been…The students’ protests for good & affordable education was nothing but a noble cause. The only thing to condone was the isolated thefts and acts of violence that took place along these protests as well as the very slow and ill response from the authorities….
Let us ALL at the very least salute those who had the courage to question a system that was not working and could be improved… Looking at this youth makes me believe that if the same youth works hard at achieving their goals/dreams post being given that fighting chance, Africa indeed does have a future… And what a bright one! Leave a comment down below, let me know your thoughts…were you among the brave students who demonstrated? I would love to hear from you! Stay well until my next post 😉

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