SA is at a tipping point

2016-10-02 06:03
A group of Wits students at a rally to protest against university fees.

A group of Wits students at a rally to protest against university fees.

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Our country is reeling from the shocks of so many crises and problems.

Nkandla, the SABC, SAA, the nuclear build, the SA Revenue Service “rogue unit”, the recent ANC defeat in key metros and, once again, #FeesMustFall.

We seem to totter from one debacle to another. These crises are not unrelated.

While their actions appear selfish to some, the demand of the students is a legitimate one.

Their tactics are questionable and, in some respects, unacceptable – there can be no excuse for vandalism.

The response – from government, the universities, the public and parents – is supine at best and pathetic at worst.

There is no vision, no leadership, no responsibility and even no compassion with regard to the plight of these future leaders.

Everyone is playing pass the parcel on this one. Our people are our most precious resource. Our students are the future of the country and, therefore, a resource we need to invest in.

It’s about time we stepped up to the plate and accepted responsibility.

As with other issues, the fudging, the lying and the blaming of others just won’t cut it any more. The Freedom Charter provides an answer, but, clearly, the leadership is not listening.

As we reflect on the state of our country – the scandals, the crises, the seeming lunacy of it all – it surely must occur to even the most bourgeois among us that these matters are not unrelated.

Demands for the Constitution to be changed, the collapse of various components of the national liberation movement, a government that appears leaderless at best and rapacious at worst, and the civil unrest in our townships, workplaces and at universities, point to a crisis that Italian neo-Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci would have defined as organic.

While everyone in a position of leadership blames the CIA, white monopoly capital and Thuli Madonsela – sometimes all three at the same time – no one in the leadership, with a few persecuted exceptions, seems willing or able to stand up and reflect honestly on the state we are in.

These crises are all an expression of the unfinished business of the democratic breakthrough of 1990 to 1994, and the codification of the political settlement of the national liberation struggle enshrined in the Constitution, which was adopted in 1996.

The democratic breakthrough and the Constitution saw a political deal that ushered in democracy.

But it did not ensure the transformation of our society or economy. The vision of a nonracial, nonsexist, united and prosperous South Africa was not realised in those moments. It was only promised.

The task of ensuring the realisation of this vision rests with the ANC and its allies, the SA Communist Party and Cosatu.

All evidence to date shows that while progress was made in realising this vision under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, the current administration is wanting. The underlying contradictions – of class, nation, gender and generation – are fit to burst. Hence, these effects of the dissatisfaction of workers, students and the poor.

The demand for free education by students is, of course, a misnomer.

Somebody must pay for the attendance of students at university.

Given the history of our country, the systematic undereducation and underdevelopment of the majority, the fact that no economic charge has been levied on the wealthy and mainly white minority since 1994, despite all the colonial, apartheid and capitalist plunder and rape of our people, the idea that students should be charged for any education, be it at preschool, primary school, high school or at tertiary level, is grotesque.

While land is an issue, mineral rights are controversial and BEE is contentious, it boggles the mind that investing in human capital should even be a debate.

Even if we had not experienced colonialism and apartheid, education should be a right and nobody should be denied it on the grounds of a lack of income.

The reality we face, however, is that our capitalist-mixed economy and our half-won state mean that the majority must still struggle for their right to be educated.

They must fight for a principle that all South Africans should embrace, that, as part of addressing the legacy of the past – of Bantu mis-education, of the lack of basic nutrition to ensure a child could even concentrate at school, of a system that has been designed to teach black people that they are inferior – redress must start with the investment in human capital by all in our society.

The modalities of this can be worked out, whether in the form of proportional taxes and even levies on graduates, but the principle must be accepted and the failure to have addressed it until now must be acknowledged.

Nothing is for free, but who pays is a matter of political economy. If capital, if the wealthy, the privileged and the few haves will not accept that government must pay, they must accept the consequences.

This single-issue campaign will become the focal point for a broad-based coalition of students, workers, the poor, the landless and many others for radical change.

The local government elections showed clearly that the ANC and its allies cannot rely on the loyalty vote any more.

It is time the leadership of our country stopped, took a deep breath, considered the lie of the land and accepted responsibility for both the successes of the ANC and its failures.

It is time we ensured that we have a new social compact that changes the reality of the majority.

The ANC has realised some of the vision set out in the Freedom Charter. We have relative peace.

We have democracy.

The people can govern. For the most part, we have the rule of law and some equality before the law. We have progress towards nonracialism, nonsexism and we have, for now, a stable economy.

We have less and less homelessness.

But the land does not belong to those who work it. The wealth is not even remotely shared. There is not enough work and security.

These are all challenges we can work on. But the doors of learning are not open to all. Let’s start there, for the sake of our children and the future.

Dexter is an ANC member


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