Lest we forget 2012

2016-10-23 06:01
Gwede Mantashe (City Press).

Gwede Mantashe (City Press).

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Most people are honest, loyal, law-abiding citizens, concerned with making a living, contributing to society and raising a family in a fair and just world. Others, though, are more selfish, concerned only for themselves, with little regard for fairness and equity.

Certain individuals in the political and business spheres allow the responsibilities of leadership and the perks of power – or their proximity to these – to override their sense of morality. As a result, they often become impervious to the plight of the less fortunate.

Confronted by the interplay of class, politics and ambition on the one side, and the pursuit of justice and unfulfilled electoral promises on the other, the ANC-led government has failed to provide leadership in response to students’ legitimate demands for no-fee education.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe tried to cast aspersions on former leaders of the Black Students’ Society at the University of the Witwatersrand when he questioned their motives for getting involved in negotiating with student bodies. Their “sin” was to try to ameliorate what has now morphed into a national conundrum with no end in sight.

Not to be outdone by militant bluster by some young student leaders, Mantashe elected to join the fray, but with now infamous ripostes such as, “If I don’t have money, I sell cattle and pay.” This was followed by his assertion that the ANC had never promised “free education for all”.

The problem with the latter comment in particular is that it is at variance with the ANC’s public electoral campaign records, passed at many of its conferences since its unbanning. Lest Mantashe should forget, through Resolution 74 – passed at the 53rd ANC national conference, held in Mangaung in the Free State in December 2012 – the ANC resolved the following: “The policy for free higher education to all undergraduate-level students will be finalised for adoption before the end of 2013.”

The aim of this resolution was to uplift the personal circumstances of the poor through education.

If only Mantashe had ensured that his office had implemented it with even a fraction of the speed and zeal with which he processed the resolution disbanding the Scorpions – decided at the ANC’s Polokwane conference in Limpopo back in December 2007 – South Africa would have averted the emergence of the #FeesMustFall movement and the current debacle.

In any event, section 29(1)(b) of our Constitution reads: “Everyone has a right to further education, which the state – through reasonable measures – must make progressively available and accessible.”

Analysts would agree that Resolution 74 had intended to make “further education progressively available and accessible” to the poor by implementing free higher education. Already, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, the former vice-chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and other eminent persons have established that free tertiary education for all can be realised.

South Africa amassed irregular expenditure of more than R25 billion across national and provincial departments and public entities last financial year. This figure alone would be sufficient to cover combined annual university council budgets for all of its 17 public universities.

To state the obvious, government could lead the way by ensuring more efficient management of available resources by trimming its public sector wage bill – one of the highest per capita bills in the world – which includes a bloated Cabinet. It could stem wanton graft and mothball unjustifiable procurement, such as that of additional nuclear energy.

It is difficult for citizens to reconcile the state’s claims that it cannot afford free tertiary education in the absence of its failure to prudently manage our limited resources.

Save for criminal conduct by some of the protesting students, it was remiss for Mantashe to castigate the whole group for advancing a legitimate struggle which their parents – and the ANC, in particular – failed to execute.

Mantashe and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande need reminding that the time for “elder men to rule and the younger to submit” ended with the Soweto Uprising by the Class of 1976, ably led by a young student, Tsietsi Mashinini.

The ANC’s focus on gerontocracy – regardless of quality of leadership – has become a point of contention for the youth and been given political resonance by populist Fallist movements.

Wits university alumni appear to be driven by a desire to help resolve the impasse at universities. Mantashe ought to encourage these tried and tested student leaders, as well as patriots and other stakeholders, to jointly explore solutions.

The secretary-general’s public utterances in response to the fees debacle came across as arrogant and irrelevant – and therefore offensive and indefensible.

If there ever was an opportune moment for Mantashe and the ANC to be contrite and treat the public with uncharacteristic candour, this was it. But it was missed.

Then again, what do we expect from a liberation movement that has become obsessed with protecting its embattled leader and has lost touch with its constituency?

In the end, surely the most honest, loyal and law-abiding ANC member, or sympathiser, would be forgiven for concluding that, even at its lowest point, the ANC was undeserving of their compassion as it had long ceased to care and behaved in a manner that was beyond redemption.

Khaas is branch secretary of ANC Greater Johannesburg Ward 117. Follow him on Twitter @tebogokhaas

Read more on:    anc  |  blade nzimande  |  gwede mantashe  |  education

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