Higher Education Crisis: Growing divisions in South Africa

2016-09-07 13:07

Higher Education is presenting itself to be rather a big challenge for South Africans and this difficulty is driving a further divide between them. The government is laying the problem at the feet of the institutions of higher learning while they have a poor track record at basic education which is one of the problem areas that needs serious attention to detail. The inequalities of the education system are there to observe, while we annually celebrate increasing matric pass rates there are students who still have to walk kilometres on an empty stomach to get an education. The apparent thing is that the government has endorsed policies that help the person that is already ahead as opposed to the one that has nothing; the recent “Afro” hair policies in Girls schools are such an example of unrevised governmental policies. With that mind-set adopted it then made it easier for other departments in the government to operate on those bases, thus the on-going crisis of service delivery taking place in South Africa. Not to say there are no departments that are fully functional or transformed but they are the cells in the body of South Africa that are facing a tough battle with a virus that seeks to benefit the privileged over the poor. This manifests itself into how the government has taken up an attitude of decreasing funding while evading their responsibility in the matter.

Universities are holding the students to be responsible for the crisis that is being experienced through Fees Must Fall. It is no foreign concept in an institution where thoughts are policed to be anti-government and pro-consumerism, after all the purpose of the university is to keep the functionality of an economic system as the professions are produced by them. The institutions of higher learning have been rather cowardly in their attempts to address the problem presented by the changing in times of university spaces. Court interdicts and increased private security have only increased the tensions boiling out on different campuses around the country. Universities do not carry the burden alone; but such responses to problems suggest a defensive approach to problem solving which is naïve of them. University management sit on a very dangerous fence as they are attempting to please as many stakeholders as they possibly can, something that won’t be possible by the look of things. What took place at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN) is due a proper investigation with speedy sanctions for the guilty parties. South Africa has enough to deal with as is; increased violence on either end serves nothing but further despair.

In the middle of the storm stands the various student leaders and students organizations they represent. It is good to applaud when the youth produce what is expected of future custodians of the country; however the same judgement must be cast on them. Withdrawn funding, resigning of lecturers, students being suspended, expelled and some arrested is the less spoken of aftermath of the Fees Must Fall. Expectedly challenges have been thrown at the various student bodies and some have coped with them in an exceptional manner while others used desperation methods which have seen students destroy what they will need to become future professionals. The reality is that many people have become split about the purpose of student bodies. They have annoyed the students they represent in some campuses whilst in others they are seen as necessary.

Parents are discouraging their children from being involved in protests as increased brutality has seen people choose “Peace” over “Violence”. Peace that maintains the violation of poor people in our society. The Same Apartheid Police Service (SAPS) have been a willing pawn alongside the media in how the issues have played out in campuses. The Acting National Police Commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane echoed something that has been an escalating factor in the violence in universities, the presence of the police. Police often act when it is not at the interest of the citizens and the use of teargas, rubber bullets and water tanks on students has not improved their perception in the public’s eyes. The media in its self-righteousness played the Devil’s advocate by running with what they want. Journalists in what is supposed to be respected media houses sat hours on end reducing the Fees Must Fall campaign to violent individuals. The same narrative has been spun since whenever a protest takes place in South Africa. Odd that people in media know exactly what is going on but fail to inform the citizens. Not so long ago people were protesting the censorship of protests by The SABC while the same happened of UKZN.  The media has served many masters but it too is a tool in the hands of the right people. Perhaps journalistic integrity will be resurrected when ethics in journalism is more than just a university module.

While this is all worrying from a bird’s eye view when you come closer we are presented with a wonderful opportunity to rethink the various strategies employed in seeking a solution. Firstly putting the blame on one group would be walking on clouds with the hope that we won’t fall through we co-exist and therefore we all take blame. Secondly dismissing other people’s struggles amounts to an escalation of the tensions that already exist, when a problem area has been identified in needs to be fixed like a hole in a ship. Eventually the ship will sink if it goes unattended. Thirdly misinformation by the media is something that needs serious attention; a regressive media will give the Media Appeals Tribunal a certain level of validity. Poor communication between the stakeholders has what has brought us to where we are. What is clear to rest of the world is that we cannot resolve our problems without violence; we discriminate the poor and have no ability to run a country alongside each other. If anything we as South Africans not working together brings everyone discomfort and prohibits our growth as a nation.  There is wealth in this country of the land and that of the brain the problems we face as a country are not beyond our comprehension but it requires patience, attention and understanding; things we are all capable of exercising and seeing through for the benefit of the nation.


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