Mr President, your national address missed the real issue: Education

President Cyril Ramaphosa during his second state of the nation address. Picture: Gallo Images
President Cyril Ramaphosa during his second state of the nation address. Picture: Gallo Images

Mr President,

There is a pressing issue affecting the real state of the nation that I feel was not adequately dealt with at last week’s state of the nation address (Sona) – the unnecessary, tragic death of Durban student Mlungisi Madonsela and the state of our education system.

As I listened to your speech on radio (I do not have a TV set) I waited to hear you speak about education.

I expected the state of education would be brought up when you mentioned the death of Mlungisi, shot by private security during protests at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and who died in hospital days before the Sona. That moment came. I held my breath to make sure that I did not miss anything as you spoke. You read through the lines, Mr President. You announced that due to the unfortunate protests at our institutions of higher learning, an incident had occurred in which a young student, Mlungisi Madonsela, was shot and killed.

You said Police Minister Bheki Cele and Minister of Higher Education and Training Naledi Pandor and the university’s administration were investigating. Then you expressed your condolences to Madonsela’s family.

Mr President, you then moved on to another issue in the script. This is when I felt the “real state of the nation” was not addressed the way it should have been.

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I expected you, as a parent, as a father, to imagine for a second, what the parents of Mlungisi must be going through. I wish your advisers had asked you: “Sir, when you get to that part, please speak from the heart, show some real sympathy so that Mlungisi’s family, if they are watching, can feel your empathy.”

As a parent, Mlungisi’s death has left me shattered. Last year Katlego Monareng, also a third-year student at Tshwane University of Technology, was killed under similar circumstances. It is no consolation for me that the police who killed him have finally been arrested.

If I were you, Mr President, I would have said: “These two deaths must be the very last we experience at our universities. One death is one too many. We have now experienced two such tragic deaths. Everything must come to a standstill to make sure that whatever is happening at universities is addressed and resolved once and for all. University chancellors and their teams and student leaders must meet Pandor, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and any other relevant minister in the coming week to resolve problems at universities urgently. I am accessible if needed.”

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I would have then continued: “While we are at it, I have thought deeply about the future of young people who have been jailed, appeared in court, whose cases are still pending, such as Mcebo Dlamini and others, as per the list provided to me, and Bonginkosi Khanyile, who was recently sentenced to three years’ house arrest after graduating cum laude, having finished his studies while in custody, I hereby pronounce a presidential pardon to all these students. May we as a nation hold hands, contribute and find out what we can do to achieve free, quality, decolonised education.”

Had you said this, Mr President, I feel you would have spoken to me and millions of other parents and their children who are at universities. The words of DUT’s student representative council leader, Sesiyande Godlimpi, have cut very deeply into my heart and will ring in my head for a long time to come. He said after Madonsela’s killing: “Students are being arrested, shot and killed by their own parents who are security guards and police. We are being killed by people who are supposed to protect us, the very people who cannot afford this education we want.”

It is important, Mr President, to be made aware that the struggle for free education has taken a serious toll, not only on the lives of the #FeesMustFall movement activists, but on their parents as well. I learnt recently about the death of Dlamini’s mother. Mcebo said his mother was buried in May last year. When I last saw her, we had come from the Palm Springs High Court, where Mcebo was released on R2 000 bail. To date, he has been through 31 court sittings. It must have been the worry and stress that affected her, leading to her death. The revolution has taken another life – rest in peace, MaDlamini.

Mr President, I have a 17-year-old daughter who is in matric this year. I have friends and family whose daughters and sons are going to university this year; some have historical debts; others were kicked out of accommodation. The children are stressed and in despair. I find myself asking this question all the time: “Free education for all” was supposedly announced and promised by previous president Jacob Zuma. How is it then that police go to campuses with guns to shoot and kill children? No one seems to explain this beyond a promise to investigate when there has been a death.

I have, for the past two weeks, been having sleepless nights when I think about Mlungisi’s parents getting a call to say their child was shot and badly injured, and later, as his uncle said at the memorial service, was turned away from a private hospital and eventually died in a public hospital.

This being yet another sad reality of working-class parents who cannot afford the best health services. Could Mlungisi’s life have been saved if he was admitted immediately? I ask myself.

Mr President, you and millions of parents in our country are in the same position as those who witnessed and participated in the June 1976 protests against Afrikaans. It pains me that today’s parents condemn the students’ struggle and some simply see them as hooligans.

I appeal to you, as an ordinary citizen who has the interests of the children at heart, a community and education activist, that you find it in your heart to please pardon the students who have been convicted and arrested for protests at campuses so that they can enjoy normal working lives as free citizens in future.

I thank you.

Molatoli is head of enterprise development incubation at Funda Community College in Pimville, Soweto

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