Unless you have been living under a tree, you would know that South African Universities are in crisis at the moment as students are demanding that #feesmustfall, NOW! This has come with mixed views (as many people feel that both the students’ approach and demand are unrealistic) and unfortunately has again split the country into racial lines… Where the poorer students (mostly blacks) want wider opportunities to access Ivy League Universities through limited and/or zero fees. Like any protests, things have turned violent,property damaged and for many universities, classes were interrupted.
I decided to blog about this as my view on the 2016 #feesmustfall protests is blurred at the moment and I am not sure I support this wholeheartedly anymore (check out the article I wrote on this in favor of the movement last year : https://africanstudentsabroad.com/2016/04/05/on-student-activism-my-thoughts-of-feesmustfall-movement-in-south-african-universities/ ). See below my response to one of my friend in favor of 2016 #feesmustfall protests.
“I agree with you re-not accepting naively the media coverage of the protests and must confess that I have not followed this year’s protests closely… So perhaps,my view is skewed re-extent of violence and/or even understanding of the clear goals of this year’s protests. However, today I feel the message is confused…It ranges from “Africanise” institutions (i.e. from including more African lecturers, to changing the curriculum, removing statues and changing names of buildings); eliminating discrimination-which even in the US is still not resolved 50 odd years later, zero increase to zero fees. Assuming it is fees (i.e. zero university fees) we are talking about, I have not seen a proposed plan from the students in how we go from paying what we are currently to zero fees based on the current tax payers base South Africa has? Where is the money coming from? SA has HUGE demons to fight, should the money used for the basic human rights (i.e. housing, sanitation, electricity, health) be redirected towards the elite (i.e. any person in a tertiary institution in Africa if you check the WorldBank figures on tertiary education)?
It is not just fees that cripple students because as a foreign student on a tiny budget (and for many non-Cape Townians SAns) fees were probably only 30-40% of the total costs of my stay in SA. Our rent and living expenses were by far our biggest worry and kept us awake a few times. For me, taking to court those ruthless landlords who overcharge and prey on the innocence and helplessness of university students is also something that would make a HUGE difference to people’s pockets in the end.
Do not get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree that if “zero fees” indeed became a reality, it changes the future opportunities of the SA majority forever (my article last year emphasizes that). (i) Getting a good high school education becomes a motivation, and (ii) dreaming of studying at a prestigious institution becomes a reality-all would be in the students’ camp is to indeed work hard and get straight As to be admitted. I understand as well that students have resorted to being disruptive to be heard and that you need courage, you need to be bold…any change (e.g. end of colonization, apartheid, slavery, accepting women in the workplace, etc etc) came with a strong statement. HOWEVER, why can’t this be a 5 year plan? Why NOW? Why must lectures stop?
Most of the students I have spoken to (black and white) while all agreeing that the cause is noble & MUST be pursued; want in fact to continue studying (whether supporting #feesmustfall or not) and #feesmustfall is currently not allowing that to happen(directly or indirectly).
You mentioned the “dropping out” rate of many students of colour which is high and heart breaking…BUT our friends dropping out (while the rest of us “suffered in silence” like you say) was not all because of funds. My bet is that probably only 30% only related to funds….and I can only speak from my experience as a foreign student-this would often happen when the bread winner in the family lost their income and as a foreign student, you could not access any loans/grants unless off course you had a rich uncle somewhere that took pity on you & helped carry you through the remaining years at Uni. If not, you had to stop and go home and/or get odd jobs to now send money home to your family.
If the problems faced by these students is not just limited to fees, I am just scared that students are using the #feesmustfall to express their anger at what is sometimes a discriminatory system (what you have called “injustices” that both you and me can recall if not experienced directly, at the very least heard of)…Because sadly, that “discrimination” does not start nor end at the fees; or university for that matter. My fear is that we end up having a generation of people that are rebellious by profession, and therefore cause more harm than the good they intend to create/build. The worst of it all is that at the end of the day as Africans, it is us (first), then our most loved ones (parents & siblings) which will ultimately suffer if these students do not graduate…the cycle of poverty will not be broken & it will be a HUGE loss!”
The above is my humble opinion, I hope you enjoyed reading it and would love to hear your thoughts. Do you support/not support #feesmustfall? Do you think it is possible/not possible? Can this be achieved in the short them i.e. NOW? Is the disruption justified? Leave your comment below and let’s get the debate going 😉