Free Education: Generation Y has found its legitimate cause!

-Education must be freed from its privileged stance-

Unto each generation of people is given a mandate to fulfill. This is not new it was always this way and this era is no different.

In the last week we have seen flares of student unrest at tertiary institutions, which started at WITS University. In a sense it is not fair to say the last week because that would be discounting the very necessary Rhodes Must Fall campaign led by a student attached to UCT, which mushroomed into a campaign that visited other institutions. So in a sense what we see this week defined in campaign against fee increases is another form of #Rhodes must fall, articulated #Fees must fall.

When one argues that each generation is given the task and handed the mandate to fulfill for its season it is to understand the role of the youth in critical stages of the liberation struggle or emancipation.

This generation has been wrongly defined and castigated as bling-bling  gadget generation y, who makes up a bunch of spoilt brat, rudderless and absorbed with no presence of mind to identify a cause to fight for. Well those who wrote the youth off failed to understand that the youth was already identifying the cause for which it is prepared to lay down their lives no different to what we, as parents in another era were willing to do.

Violence, the destruction of infrastructure and the violation of others rights can never be condoned and must necessarily be rejected as criminal. Yet, peaceful protest and the using of human bodies to block off zones was never not part of legal student protest and picketing.

When the youth at UCT introduces us to the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, they were not oblivious of our collective history neither are they ill-informed of where we come from and what we have attained in the last two decades.

When Maxwele decided to take his disgust of an institution in racist praxis he identified the statue of Rhodes. He thus unequivocally said if we in democracy still have institutions known for its exclusivity that worship race ideology in which white privilege is entrenched and white arrogance on parade, it must be because Rhodes in more than statue presence lords over this institution. Maxwele knew that democracy has no place for these entrenched racist praxis at UCT that has seen less than 50 black academic staff in a compliment of over 1500. It is as one student said and I paraphrase, the historic colonial and apartheid past lives in the walls of this institution and it breathes yesterday which still silently but perpetually protests this is not a place for those of darker melanin.

So the cause of Maxwele and Rhodes Must Fall is to make a Constitution that endorses equality stand, he thus took his frustration to that proud statue of a racist Cecil john Rhodes and began a rolling mass campaign that saw this cemented effigy of Rhodes banished to obscurity and placed in history.

The Fees Must Fall, cause of the students at WITS, which has now gone to UCT, Rhodes, Stellenbosch, CPUT, NMU, and all others, is no different to that of Maxwele.

In fact the students at WITS with their campaign against fee increase of 10/11% for the new academic year, unambiguously says we know that the same constitution that advocates an equality of humanity also imbibes the right to education less as a privilege of those who are by the means.

The students at WITS is cognisant of the reality that 60 years ago the now historic gathering of South Africans in Kliptown articulated in its 8th visionary declaration ‘the doors of learning and culture shall be open’. The students therefore remonstrate that it cannot be that in a democratic state as envisaged by the Freedom Charter, inequality is growing in leaps and bounds, that the doors are being shut because of affordability.

The students at WITS fundamentally challenges the ruling party to give effect to its  52/53 National Conferences held in 2007/ 8 Resolutions  to work for free education for the poor. Yes, they challenge the fact that the ANC has not  according to them given effect to this whilst it advanced other policies. Thus the ANC must be held accountable to implement what it agreed to and cannot in this season be absent to give content to the call of a free education.The reality is the ANC’s resolution has given effect to establishment of a NSFAS, and can claim it is focussing on the poor. Yet in South Africa the middle class constitute a large group that easily can be categorized as poor.

The students at WITS take aim at the university management to challenge how they can approve a fee increase of 10/11% that is almost double the current inflation rate. Their campaign asks how the council of WITS and others could be so absent minded about the reality of a global stagnating economic outlook and a local economy that has shown a persistent truculence to grow beyond 1,5% evidenced in no-job-creation possibilities. This campaign asks why institutions like WITS and UCT, Stellenbosch and Rhodes can be so confident to approve these increases unless they remain institutions that caters for the elite as its true clients.

You hear this in the clearly emotional and teary student at Stellenbosch making the true cause of our youth emphatic when she addresses a white male staffer ‘why if the constitution of South Africa says education is a right, am I being denied to be educated”.   She goes on and said ‘I am free, I am free, but I am not free to study at this institution’. This is essential because she is not oblivious to that attained freedom, neither is it in arrogance but it’s a basic logic that freedom must translate to free education.

This is the proverbial eye of the needle, the students have identified their cause, they have identified their role, they have developed a campaign and this is nothing short of revolutionary. Their cause is not fee reduction, their cause is not fee restructuring their cause is not a percentage increase or not. Their unequivocal cause is and remains FREE EDUCATION. This is the evasive aspect for university management, this is the piece they can’t hear, or perhaps refuse to hear. This is the cry that government is awaking to in unpreparedness to answer this wave of flaring protest.

A critical aspect of any revolution is that the cause is beyond any natural boundaries defined in party ideological stances. groups or likeable It is therefore no surprise that those obsessed to find the orgnisors and leaders of this revolution is left confused as to who is leading this campaign. This is so typical of true revolutions. It reminded me of the mid 80’s in the Cape, when apartheid’ instrument shared their frustration with when they could not tell who were leading because control became impossible to contain for them. All they saw was solidarity.

I see that same solidarity on display, I guess the class of 2015 has technology advantages we did not have, they stand therefore as educated and ones who have taken full cognizance of what generations of youth before them engaged in.

One must not forget that this comes in the same month when the final exams are literally days away. No better time for their cause, yet no bigger time for this sacrifice. No worse time for those who failed to hear the students, no worse time for those who think they can blackmail the students back to the class in the hope of getting the academic year closed and a recess possible that will calm down the intensity over a festive season. Yet the students appear willing to sacrifice.

The campaign is not against NSFAS, which is primarily aimed at the most destitute. One placard carried by a female student proves very informative, ‘too rich for NSFAS support, to poor to pay fees, to black to get a bank loan’.

This is the cause for which the students in 2015 has lifted their hands. This is the cause that we as parents prove strangely insensitive to. Yes, as parents we fought for freedom in its totality, yet our children today fight for the gains we made in that freedom. They our children ask of us did you not fight for free education, where is that free education? Why are you not marching with us, we marched with you when you fought for our freedom, now today you who has to pay these fees want to analyse our cause.

Yet the students will take their cause to the political authorities on all front, this is a revolution, it says education must be un-shackled education must freed from a privilege of the elite, education must become the right the constitution articulates. Education is our key for a future that key cannot be exclusive for a handful as a privilege but must be a right that lives and is entrenched in practical sense.

I support this our students cause, freed education for all, for it stands in that tradition of a freedom my parents firstly fought for and later I also fought for.

Bishop Clyde N.S. Ramalaine


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