to face the reality. The “revolution” on our campuses is not primarily about
university fees any longer. Nor is it about the “decolonisation” of the
subtext, the unspoken agenda, is beginning to look more and more like an effort
to create a mini Arab Spring moment and to turn the entire post-1994
dispensation on its head.
At the very
least, what we’re seeing on our campuses reflect a deep anger and resentment with
the status quo, way beyond fees.
A cue that
this is not about fees any longer is the extreme race rhetoric we have
witnessed the last few weeks, unlike anything we have ever seen.
legitimate struggle against whiteness and white privilege is being overtaken by
a populist assault on white citizens. Some days #FeesMustFall sounds more like
Africans don’t determine university fees. Government does. One can blame them
for a lot of things, but not this.
If the cost
of university studies were really the central question, the leaders of the
protests would have channelled their energy towards the government rather than
towards vice-chancellors and fellow students. Universities are simply soft
have celebrated their significant gains, negotiated agreements for what should
happen in 2017/2018 and then allowed the academic calendar to continue.
would have been much tougher and less ambiguous about the violence and
destruction of public property.
thuggery in Braamfontein yesterday. The erudite Wits SRC spokesperson, Fasiha
Hassan, was on the phone with a TV reporter claiming the students were well
behaved and only reacted to “police brutality”, but when she was asked about
the stoning and burnings, she abruptly ended the conversation.
looting stores? Really?
the militants are in the process of destroying the system they claim they want
to improve; of damaging the future of the poor students whose interests they
claim to champion.
education without free education” is a slogan as destructive and reckless, but
far less legitimate, as the “liberation before education” of the apartheid era.
No, I’m not
suspecting a grand, evil conspiracy or foreign agents at work.
was lit in March last year when the #RhodesMustFall campaign was launched at
the University of Cape Town. The emphasis shifted to institutional racism at
campuses and the unwelcoming atmosphere experienced by black students.
year this morphed into #FeesMustFall. It had broad support among the public,
but some leadership elements misread this and turned more militant this year.
There is no
doubt in my mind that the majority of students reject the violence and
disruption of classes, but my interactions with students at three universities
tell me that most of this dissenting majority share much of the anger and
and struggles of students from poor households are very real. The feelings of
alienation, marginalisation and insecurity are as real.
more than that. Students are deeply unhappy with the post-1994 governments’
inability to address inequality. They are angry that 2016 South Africa doesn’t
look much different from apartheid South Africa.
believe that a small group of militant opportunists are fanning the flames and
perpetuating the conflict at all costs. Their behaviour and utterances tell us
that they are not democrats or true to the spirit of tolerance and openness
that are supposed to be associated with universities.
has been encouraged by the huge media coverage they are getting, by the weak
and strategically unsound reaction of university authorities and by the
bungling of the minister of higher education and his Cabinet colleagues.
these elements, like the Wits protest leader Mcebo Dlamini and UCT’s Chumani
Maxwele, are clearly narcissists playing revolution.
And as the divided,
incompetent government stumbles and stutters and the police act without a
proper strategy – and sometimes overreacts – the protest leaders’ power grew
and with that their ambition to trigger a full-blooded revolution.
guys are not taking into account that South Africa is a constitutional
democracy and an open society, not a dictatorship as was the case with the Arab
months ago we had yet another election, the tenth since 1994, and only eight
percent voted for the party propagating revolution. Extra-parliamentary
politics in a proper democracy have their limits.
progressive academic Achille Mbembe’s analysis on the weekend was interesting.
appears that one way of paralysing or defeating a system that has not been able
to crush protest in its incipient phase is to drag it into an endless process
of pseudo negotiations. Turning in circles becomes both a method and a goal in
itself, the best way to exhaust institutional power. Goalposts keep changing.
Commitments are made, but they are constantly reneged upon,” he writes.
demands have turned politics into a zero sum game, a deadly fight in a tunnel
that can only end with the capitulation and the humiliation of one of the
fight in a tunnel indeed.
events of the last weeks underscore clearly is that the revolutionary potential
in our society lies much more with the petite bourgeoisie than with the mass of
poor and unemployed. That is something we all need to take in.
shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the present political instability was
largely due to the dramatic implosion of our once powerful and proud liberation
movement, the ANC, and the resulting serious lack of vision, direction and
leadership. This process is continuing unabated.
suggests that one solution would be that universities closed down altogether,
because “such a move might force a radical clarification that long days and
nights of pseudo-negotiations and turning in circles have not produced”.
situation continues to deteriorate, that would surely be an option, but one
with far-reaching consequences.
think kragdadigheid, a state of emergency (that the churches seem to favour) or
arrests can be the only or preferred response.
We as a
society should try and marginalise, neutralise the pseudo-revolutionaries by
taking away their popular support.
we should urgently and decisively address the source of the unhappiness and
resentment prevalent in black South African society.
actually, the angry students are correct: we the people of South Africa will
have to transform the post-1994 order radically – but on our terms and without
the dictates of fascist pseudo-revolutionaries. And without violence.
- Follow Max on Twitter.
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