In South Africa an apartheid president who presided over the genocide of black people can walk free, while a student who is part of the generation that raised the old promise of free education sleeps and spends his days incarcerated in Leeuwkop prison, serving an eight-year sentence. He is not alone, many of us have to juggle the responsibility of attending lectures, writing tests and meeting deadlines, while frequenting court every two to three weeks. It was the French journalist Jacques Mallet du Pan (1749-1800) who wrote that: “Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.” The generation of #FeesMustFall student activists, like a tree falling in the woods, suffers in silence, as the country celebrates what is meant to be Free Education.
The struggle for Free Education in South Africa is not a 21st century accident. It has preoccupied not only the youth but many past movements in South Africa seeking to carry the popular mandate of the black poor majority. When the students struck the TV screens and all social media, radio and broadcasting outlets in 2015, it was as though the country had been interrupted from a deep sleep, as young people took to the streets demanding that education, as with health care, water, and shelter, be made free and accessible to all irrespective of their historical and economic background.
We understood that the majority of the students who could not afford to pay these exorbitant university fees in South Africa were black, and that the poverty of black people in South Africa was not some unlucky flip of a coin by Mother Nature, but a deliberate historical project, fuelled by violence and hatred, to exclude and keep a particular race at the outskirts of the economy and social progress. Therefore, it was not going to take an unstirred organic change for us to realise our liberation – our parents, the government and the rest of South Africa which was still hypnotised by the idea of a Rainbow Nation and a free and democratic South Africa, needed to be reminded that things were not as they seemed, and that it was (is) not yet Uhuru.
The aperiodic, though continuous, student unrest in the country from 2015 to 2017 saw horrific experiences for students across the country. From the private security brutality and harassment of female students, intimidation from white regressive lecturers and vice chancellors, sporadic arrests, tear gas, suspensions and expulsions and many losing their bursaries and or any form of financial assistance, big or small, they would have been receiving. O comfort-killing night, image of hell, Dim register and notary shame echoed in the student filled holding cells, trauma wretched residences and campuses across the country.
Today political parties are in competition over who brought about this, “Free Education for the Poor and Working Class”, a limping policy announced by the former president last year, 16 December 2017. What no one seems to be talking about is the suspension and expulsions of students as a result of the protests, lost funding, the ongoing court cases and even more alarming, Khaya (Cekeshe) who is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence. Are we really going to be made martyrs of Free Education in a democratic South Africa?
Not so long ago, foundations that were established by former national black leaders embarked on what they called “The National Dialogue”. Again our leaders, in the spirit of goodwill, restoration and reconciliation, were able to engage with FW de Klerk, who once presided over their oppression, and discussed the future of South Africa. In his book titled, No Future Without Forgiveness, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu writes,
“Thus to forgive is indeed the best form of self-interest since anger, resentment, and revenge are corrosive of that summum bonum, that greatest good, communal harmony that enhances the humanity and personhood of all in the community.”
Though it came with its many drawbacks, the principle which was adopted by post-apartheid South Africa, was the principle of restorative justice, under the banner of the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission). An anomalous occasion and national programme, where the oppressor and the oppressed could sit around the table and agree on a future for all, through remorse, closure and truth. Today I marvel at the sight of how our government was able to exercise this level of restraint in the presence of people who did not even recognise them as human beings, but are ready to lock up their children and throw away the keys for fighting for free education. Not the decrease of alcohol prices, not the increasing of public holidays or the scrapping of club entrance fees – free education.
Each day the river of dreams runs dry and we sing that the revolution will eat its children. We are many, in every university and college in the country there are students either suspended or expelled, spending full days in courts when they should be studying for tests or exams – and Khaya is serving in prison. DM
Sihle Lonzi is Former Head Boy of SACS High School. He is studying for a Bachelor of Commerce degree and is currently serving his second term on the UCT SRC. He is also the Western Cape Provincial Spokesperson of the EFF Students’ Command. @SihleLonzi