Culminating in a march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on October 23, the students were victorious in their battle for a 0% fee increase. However, as made evident by the harrowing stories expressed during the protests, the war on inequality has not even begun yet. And as with all wars, there will be victories and defeats, along with casualties, heroes and enemies.
Were the actions of the students the beginning of the end, or the beginning of the long road towards equality?
We asked you, our readers, to tell us what you would say – good, or bad – to the students of this momentous movement.
Sindi-Leigh McBride, writer and researcher:
“As a student and a worker, I salute you. I believe that what you have started is going to free up more than bank accounts, but impetus and imagination too.
They said that this generation is lazy, ungrateful and politically inert. Something about a hashtag generation that is more concerned with “likes” than lives.
“My experience is that financing an education is more stressful than graduating, or making a living. I have degrees from [the University of the Witwatersrand] (with the help of a scholarship and my parents breaking their backs) and the University of Cape Town (with the help of a student loan). I have been jobless and employed, by both the public and private sectors.
“The labour conditions in South Africa are as appalling as the education crisis. Many believe that we should feel lucky to get an education or a job, that oppressive situations should be endured with a grateful brave face. F*ck that.
“Inequality, as it exists in our world at large, is barbaric.
“As we learn and labour, our individual and collective imaginative faculties will strengthen and flex to ’create the pathways to give hope to our youth that they can have the opportunity through education and hard work to escape the trap of poverty.’
“The chasms between rich and poor, powerful and vulnerable are not irreconcilable. This modern age is a struggle between the forces of an unequal society and the drive by people for greater democracy in their lives.
“Thank you for fighting for economic democracy in our universities.
“Voorspoed for the future, aluta continua.
“All the blessings,
Doreen, 72-year-old retiree and former secretary.
“What can be said of your achievements other than meaningless congratulations and a sincere pat on the back?
“We were all very proud of you as you gathered so peacefully and decided that ’enough is enough‘. What the hell took you so long?
“Please continue your efforts to make affordable education a reality in South Africa, your children depend on it.
Mpumelelo Mfula, RHTC (Returning Home To Create) founder, entrepreneur and politics graduate.
“Frantz Fanon said: ‘Each generation must out of relative obscurity define its mission, betray or fulfil it.’
“The youth of 2015 is currently branded as the youth that opened up the nation to the progressive realisation of free education in our lifetime, just as the youth of 1976? was branded as those that fought against the colonisation of the black child’s education. The common denominator is the progressive fight against the colonisation of education.
“What we then saw post-1994 is the same youth of 1976 sending their children to the hands of the former colonisers in the form of model C schools in towns without investing in decolonising these schools thus carelessly handing their offspring to those who once intended to colonise their education. Of course, this argument is over-simplified and that’s due to the word restrictions of this piece (perhaps my ideas are also colonised by this publication).
“What I am getting at is that the struggle to decolonise our society begins with the personal. Let us be aware of our actions post graduation in all settings and professions we pursue, let us learn from our parents’ shortfalls and raise a youth that understands what it means to be African in any setting. For if we do not engage in the practice of self-criticism and decolonising ourselves, we are left with the option of being contributors to our colonisation or rather its cousin, imperialism.
Kagiso Motlanthe, student and aspiring social businessman.
“How do you express gratitude to your saviour?
“It’s a difficult thing to form the exact words with which to convey the necessary sincerity. This year has been one of immense importance for South African students and youth. Your lived experience has been brought to bear on a nation which is all too fond of pretending you don’t exist. You’ve been called, and carried the burden of a number of colloquialisms and non-sequiturs such as Generation DGAF [what does this stand for?], Generation YOLO [and this?] and *drum roll* Generation Born Free. Yes, April 27 1994 was the end of your suffering and all you would have to worry about was if there was enough sugar in your Oros.
“You would never have to protest again because mom and dad took care of all that for you. But that hasn’t represented your reality. The same racist, exclusionary and sexist structures are in place at universities. Indeed to be born free has meant to be born of no agency with which to equitably change your life. To be born free has meant finishing matric with a B average, but no money with which to pursue higher education. A crime against human rights and a sign of the false hope of 1994, well you’ve saved us. You’ve saved us from the indignity of unwarranted colloquialisms and written your own history.
“You’ve personally saved me the indignity of having to look at my own children years from now with angst and regret. Regret about where I was when students marched on Parliament and the Union Buildings. When students claimed their destiny and freed us from commodified education. Surely this isn’t over and you have more to come, but in the meantime, thank you, kea leboga, ngiyabonga, ndiyabulela my saviours.
Rosina Ramakgolo, student and writer.
“Our caregivers send us to higher educational institute to acquire education in order for us to be able to face the world. You do what is required just to maintain the faith they have in you and you take pride in your work.
“Authority tries to bring change and you don’t accept it too well. Armed with nothing but your good intentions, you and your friends decide to take to the streets and fight for what you believe in, education at an affordable rate. I mean who wouldn’t fight when all we are told is that education is the key to our future.
“Your movement was successful, [it] even got compared to the Soweto uprising, only with fewer casualties. But to my surprise, violence emerged from your friends, they weren’t satisfied. They wanted more. But with that desire came many consequences. You destroyed infrastructure, you brought shame to your movement. You created a setback, in your own life! So why behave in a manner that is going to affect your near future?
“Let me analyse the situation for you, because of your actions the time that was set to complete your qualification has now been added to, and now what? See where the rage has led you. Perhaps an opportunity was awaiting you when you completed your qualification but, unfortunately, you’re late.
“And now things fall apart, starting with our educational system. Don’t let what could potentially be the best thing be destroyed by a situation that could be handled better.
Join the conversation: tweet us @AfropolitanMag with #DearStudents.