South Africa’s students are on the frontline of battle, engaging with university management and administrators of the country they live in, contesting and challenging the exhorbitant and ridiculously high cost of tertiary education in South Africa.
Except for pockets of voices besides the student ones, here and there, much of the country is seemingly in denial, unsupportive, yet critical of the student resistance and challenge.
Why is this happening? Why this silence when it comes to supporting legitimate demands and grievances of the students, most of whom can barely afford the extravagant costs to attain a tertiary education.
One would think that the student struggle is isolated; there exist no other struggles, no need to challenge government provision and management of an unequal society.
Very much correctly described and saluted as brave, fearless, fierce and sharp, the current era of student struggle and battle underway in South Africa tares at the core network of our society; that of a severely harsh, fragmented and unequal society that favours and supports elite, wealthy, middle class, rich, urban factions of society while suffocating and strangling the existence of the working class and those who have little to survive an indeed hard life.
But where are the black voices, those who were oppressed just over 20 years ago, who were revolutionaries and on the frontline of resistance against the apartheid regime? Yes, today, you are nicely placed in that vacillating middle class group, nicely taken up with salary, house and middle class comforts.
Why are you seemingly quiet, some of you popping up here and there on social media, never quite indicating whether you support the student struggles. Why are you neither here nor there? Where do you stand in times of battle against government and management and administrators, those who earn very, very high salaries while mostly black students, those of parents and families oppressed during apartheid and with no money or wealthy inheritance from apartheid, struggle to survive?
Why do middle class voices only speak when they want to condemn the violence and make as if the violence is what student struggles are all about? Why do you act as if your life is liberated, that you have ‘freedom’?
Are you satisfied with your government, with neo-liberalism, with capitalist and white capital control of the economy, with white privilege and white ownership of the land? And what about the state of the working class? All of this says NO you are not satisfied and can’t accept this state of rule in South Africa, that you want to challenge and resist. So the students have found their voice, because they have had enough.
It was Martin Luther King who said ‘there comes a time when your silence is betrayal’. And that is how best the SA middle class, rich and wealthy can best be described. The revolution was never over when we got our chance to vote in 1994. No, it was still ongoing. Fierce, bigger, more challenging and demanding.
The student struggles are not isolated from all other struggles in our country South Africa, a society dominated and propped up by capitalism, patriarchy, and male-domination and supported actively by the partners of white wealth and privilege, by abusers and rapists, an accepting middle class and a crushing, brutal security apparatus.
The students are young, most of them not older than 25 but they are battling police and security brutality. Yes, there are horrific moments, emanating from anger like buildings on fire and torching of buildings and tertiary institution property and books. Never forget that the great leader, most people admire and respect Nelson Mandela also became impatient with the pace of struggle demands and also looked at armed struggle.
Out on the frontline, voicing their demands are the students with their student issues and struggle. Civil society has much struggle to engage in, demands to publicise. We should be together in struggle with the students, calling out unemployment, capitalism, neo- liberalism, ruling party corruption, white ownership of the land, white privilege and its inherited apartheid wealth, abuse, rape and patriarchy. But no, we are not doing this. Instead the most we do is talk about ‘the violence’, about the disruptive and violent students, especially those who disrupt lectures. And this is mostly done on social media, as we take up our armchair seats and start with our viewpoints.
Where is the revolutionary fervour of just over 20 years ago? Why have we allowed it to be crushed? Was it not the young learners and young students who protested and boycotted apartheid education, taking us nearer to freedom? Why are we not out there on the streets, in our neighbourhoods and communities, on the factory floor, organising and demonstrating about all that is wrong with our unequal society?
These fierce student struggles have given all who believe in freedom, all the at-one-time oppressed people, a chance to again find their voice and protest. No, the student struggles are not single or isolated struggles. They are interlinked with and part of all other struggles; they are very much aimed at disrupting the elite, male hegemonic and patriarchal, capitalist control of South Africa.
Supporting our student struggles will help us regain our revolutionary voice and will take us forward to that juncture where we unpack, dismantle, disrupt and eliminate all that we don’t want in the society we want to live in.
Stop condemning student resistance and galvanise yourselves into action!