Guest Column

OPINION: Being a student in SA means fighting the State, trying not to get murdered

2019-12-05 06:01
Protesters gathered to hand over a memorandum of grievances during a  demonstration outside Parliament, following the rape and murder of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana. (Gallo Images, Ziyaad Douglas, file)

Protesters gathered to hand over a memorandum of grievances during a demonstration outside Parliament, following the rape and murder of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana. (Gallo Images, Ziyaad Douglas, file)

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As we enter into festive mode and get ready for a season with our families, I’m reminded that some families will sit and regroup this December without a son, daughter, cousin, niece, nephew, brother or sister, writes Kamva Somdyala.

In 2015, Daily Maverick, after a year of all things "must fall" named higher education students as their "person of the year" and given the mood of the country, it came as no surprise.

Students across the higher education spectrum had been battered and bruised from a gruelling battle for access to higher education using the call #FeesMustFall. 

Students had gone up against intransigent citadels that are universities and TVET Colleges as we know them and were met with private security brutality of unspeakable measure.

Then, up against the State when the kicking and screaming by students hit the streets, government’s proclivity for violence on its people who demand that they account for their promises did not disappoint. 

To this day, we have students who are still carrying the wounds of that very struggle - a struggle Kanya Cekeshe continues to fight alone, behind bars, as a solitary reminder of the years 2015-2018.

Put this way: those years saw all and sundry quoting Steve Biko to defend all manner of reasoning of demands - from embracing being black, to the exclusionary nature of fees and by extension higher education institutions to the movement's favourite buzzword: decolonization. 

Think pieces were the order of the day and Twitter threads - still common today - were daily reads, all in the pursuit of living up to Frantz Fanon's exhortation: Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it.

Four years later, and while the struggles of the preceding years are still prevalent – think the administrative shambles that is NSFAS; exorbitant fees to the point where one has to think twice about even applying and a bloated "missing middle" that doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going – the students of today are facing a war on a grander scale: they are dying. They are being killed.

The present brings us to a juncture where students can’t seem to make it out of their first year – let alone their degree time - without being murdered either by men who have declared all manner of evil on women, or as a result of inadequate safety plans in and around our various campuses.

Of course the bigger picture would have been to focus this piece on the endemic that is violence against women and children generally (you’re likely to see a headline of yet another woman callously murdered by a man after reading this), but I have a vested interest in focusing on students specifically, having been one myself just 12 months ago.

Social commentary on social media - on the occasion that we get it right and the PC warriors take the back burner - put it aptly when one user said for her, her biggest heartache at the amount of students dying while at university is that parents send their kids, only for them to return in coffins.

Let that sink in (as our generation likes to put it).

At this stage, I’m not aware of any comprehensive list of the amount of deaths which have taken place at higher education institutions over, say, the past three years, but what I can say for certain is that this trend does not bode well for the society we want to live in - particularly students who are killed senselessly.

We remember Uyinene Mrwetyana. Jesse Hess. Natasha Conabeer. Aviwe Wellem. Sinethemba Ndlovu. Precious Ramabulana.

Murdered by men. 

We remember Sandile Ndlovu. Mlungisi Madonsela. Cebo Mbatha. Sibahle Mkiva. Shakira van Staden. Simukelo Ndlovu. And the 12 reported at Fort Hare University.

We remember too, the many who have gone unreported. And as we enter into festive mode and get ready for a season with our families, I’m reminded that some families will sit and regroup this December without a son, daughter, cousin, niece, nephew, brother or sister.

In that moment, the words of the popular gwijo-cum-remembrance song, "As'phelelanga"... 

What a distant memory the revolutionary fighting power of students seem to be now. 

- Kamva Somdyala is a Content Producer at News24

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.  

Read more on:    fees must fall protests  |  gender based violence  |  femicide
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