16 Nov #FeesMustFall is not just about fees

#FeesMustFall is not just about fees

In 1994 we celebrated the successful liberation struggle that brought down the apartheid system and ushered in the dawn of democracy.  We recalled the Freedom Charter developed in Kliptown Soweto in 1955 and announced one of the best Constitutions in the world, guaranteeing a range of rights, including the right to education. Sitting on the lawn of Union buildings in Pretoria, watching the inauguration of the first black President in South Africa, we imagined that our hard struggle days were over, and that we would be moving towards a South Africa in which we would all have access to quality basic services and live a life of dignity.

We imagined a country that was content with the progress made to reverse the negative impacts of colonisation and apartheid. We envisioned a country in which inequality was on a rapid path of decline, based on productive assets being shared more equally and people having access to quality health and education. We conceived of a country where women would not bear the brunt of violence and poverty.

Our post-apartheid reality has however unfolded with massive disconnects between the provision of the rights enshrined in our much-lauded Constitution and the realities on the ground. The growing discontent of people living in poverty is being expressed through different forms of mobilisations and protests, with South Africa earning the dubious title of protest capital of the world’ with an average of 35 protests every day!

People are organising and mobilising to protest against the horrendous living conditions with no proper housing; lack of safety; electricity; water supply; and sanitation. Despite being a middle income country, as many as one in four South Africans go hungry to bed each night. Families continue to struggle to survive as the economy continues to plummet and unemployment continues to surge, especially amongst the youth.

It is under these conditions that poor black students are meant to study and pass their exams. Many families struggle to even buy food, it is almost impossible for the poor to afford the school fees required to access quality education. The result is a reproduction of the apartheid-structure of poverty, power and privilege.

Some of their parents work in the mines— the same mines where workers continue to protest, demanding a living wage to provide for their children and themselves. Some of these miners were among those shot down by the police— 34 losing their lives because they dared to push for a decent salary that would put food on their table and contribute towards a decent education for their children.

The current wave of student protests across all universities in South Africa is a clear indication that students are fed up with not being able to afford exorbitant fees; with the conditions they live in; the poor prospects of employment after studying; and with state money being wasted through corruption. Historically, student uprisings have denoted pivotal moments in the struggle for freedom in South Africa.

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