SA varsities maintain apartheid status quo – Irvin Jim

2014-08-15 08:47

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National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa secretary-general Irvin Jim has accused South African universities of victimising black students and perpetuating inequality 20 years into democracy.

Speaking at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg yesterday, Jim said the creation of a future black academic world was not a priority within the ranks of South Africa’s untransformed education system.

Jim was delivering the 13th Ruth First Memorial Lecture, a public commemoration of the former South African Communist Party member and journalist, hosted annually by Wits.

First was assassinated by the apartheid government for her political activism in 1982. She was killed by a letter bomb mailed to her in Maputo, Mozambique, where she had been living and working since 1977.

First, a 1946 sociology Wits graduate, was one of the organisers of the Congress of the People in June 1955 in Soweto, where liberation formations agreed on the Freedom Charter and its demands as a main document of the struggle of the oppressed.

Last night, Jim challenged the audience to download the document, read it and “ask yourself what is wrong with the Freedom Charter”.

The union’s leadership under Jim has been one of the vocal critics of the ANC, accusing the ruling party of betraying the Freedom Charter and adopting an opposing policy, the National Development Plan – the document that informs the government’s new public policy.

Jim believes a deviation from the 1955 agreement is to let the people down, emphasising that First and her generation of activists suffered for the ideals contained in it.

“Ruth First was killed for the Freedom Charter, today we are told the Freedom Charter is irrelevant. Is her death irrelevant?” asked Jim.

Jim emphasised that the pace that government has been keeping in the past two decades is unlikely to improve the lives of the poor any time soon.

He said even at at institutions of higher learning the status quo remains, making it seem hopeless for the future.

“Black students take longer to complete [their studies]. They are victims of exclusion, victimised in awarding of marks. They are not supported adequately to build a future black academia.”

Jim explained these as some of the reasons he has been arguing for trade federation Cosatu to break away from the ANC and the tripartite alliance.

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