This is exactly one of the tasks we set forth as the ANC at the beginning of this term of office – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous country.
It is true that words on a parchment have never been enough to deliver on our promises, including that of free education. What would always be needed are South Africans in successive generations who are willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow the gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of the time.
The political compromise of 1994 was born of this concrete and historical reality, which signified both an historic and important advance and the definition of particular objective parameters within which the National Democratic Revolution would have to pursue its strategic objectives.
This in essence constituted a particular challenge to the ANC and its alliance partners as to how they must redefine the National Democratic Revolution within the context of post-94 political compromises.
In this context, we have no choice but to ask ourselves the vitally important question – what are we doing today, during these challenging times for the future of South Africa, to ensure that the strategic objectives of the National Democratic Revolution are pursued with greater vigour and determination.
The current efforts and means by students of speaking out against higher education inequality and injustice are however more than just a generation doing its part to give our country a generational leap forward. Instead, these efforts express a profoundly distorted view of this country.
These students have reduced our country to a sound bite of for or against – making governance no longer a matter of weighing trade-offs between competing goals.
This is why there is no country run by children because their naivete and uncompromising demands are incompatible with matters of state.
In politics, compromise is strategy, not weakness. Compromise may be hell, but it is still the right thing to do.
Currently, we have a failing economy, a chronic healthcare system and looming NHI, and costly but necessary projects around electricity, problems that are neither black or white but rather problems that confront us all.
These students’ constant challenge of government decision on higher education have spilled over into self-indulgence, where denunciation of government actions comes too easily without much processing of how significant these gains are.
Yes there is no doubt there are those who feel that the current measures taken by the government on education are not enough. We all do. But the truth is that challenges in education are not all that we know of government. This helps explain, perhaps, my own relationship with government. As imperfect as the government may be, with each day, this government has pumped life into this country without ceasing.
There is therefore no need for any student to simplify and amplify the university fee challenges to the point that it distorts reality.
Beyond this precious point of great achievements, the students risk a reversal of the gains. It takes wisdom to know when you have achieved all that is possible in a space of competing goals.
The task of student leaders today is to ensure that all eligible students continue their academic year with minimal disruption. It is the responsibility of student leaders to caution black students not to ignore the enormous progress that has been made on higher learning, both in funding and race relations, and we must all assure our young that if they could choose a time to be “young, gifted and black in this country, it would be right now”.
Students, along with all South Africans, must acknowledge and welcome the progress achieved to eradicate the legacy of that racist despotism in institutions of higher learning. This in no way means we must not point out the challenges ahead of us in terms of realising the goal of a free education.
Our firm statement must be that it is hope in the future, and not despair, that will determine the future of our country.
Students must then seize these gains and run with them. There will come a time when the economy has more space for more gains. That time is not now. DM
Yonela Diko is ANC Western Cape Spokesman