Should #fallists get time of day?

2016-02-29 12:09

After a short holiday break, #fallists are back in full swing on South African campuses. What we mostly hear about in the media and social platforms are the repercussions of their campaigns, including the tearing down of statues; the burning of art; clashing with private security, police and rival groups; the burning of vehicles and buildings; and the closing down of campuses. What we hear about less is what drives them, what their demands are, what their ultimate goals are and what will make them stop their disruptive activities. The key questions asked by many ordinary South Africans is whether #fallists should get the time of day or whether universities, the police and government should simply crack down aggressively so that normality can return to our centres of higher learning.

Although many people believe that there is a political force behind the #fallist movements, it is my view that this is a grassroots movement, born from frustration with the state of higher education in SA and spilling over to address inequalities in the wider SA. As a grassroots movement, without clear leadership, there is a distinct anarchist dimension to the #fallist movements. They lack discipline, co-ordination, clear singular goals and organisational structures. This makes them a difficult group to negotiate with.

However, dialogue and negotiation is key not just to address the concerns of these movements, but to ensure that we can get back to the business of education, creating employment, growing the economy and making SA a better place for all. A crackdown is likely to lead to the more radical elements in the #fallist movements gaining prominence and power, whilst dialogue and engagement is more likely to favour the more pragmatic elements within the movements. It is vital that pragmatism reigns over chaos. Hence, we must give #fallists the time of day.

The demands of #Fallist movements are wide and varied and in some cases extremely radical. At the most radical end, many #fallist movements are calling for decolonisation, not just of higher learning institutions, but of the country in general. The implication here is that they want to get rid of all vestiges of British colonialism and apartheid. This is a very dangerous aim in my opinion, which risks destabilising the economy, alienating large swathes of the country and destroying higher learning institutions, exactly the institutions that the #fallists want to gain more access to. This ideological aim has to be nipped in the bud and banished to the intellectual fringes where it belongs.

Other demands of the #fallists are more reasonable, but still difficult to achieve, especially considering the current financial constraints on the country and universities. These include free tertiary education, free accommodation, the cessation of outsourcing, the removal of Afrikaans as a medium of education, etc. These are areas for dialogue, discussion and negotiation, but pragmatism is required. #fallist movements should not be allowed to use disruption and violence to extract concessions that are not economically viable; fair and equitable; and good for education and the country as a whole. At the same time, these valid and deep seated concerns cannot simply be dismissed. These movements must be listened to and engaged with open minds and empathy, pencils have to be sharpened, wallets have to be opened and solutions have to be found that can address these issues or at least put a process in place that will address them over time.

At the same time that higher learning institutions and broader society opens their ears and minds to the concerns of #fallists, they should also have demands of their own. Disruption and violence must stop, #fallists across the country must put in place organisational structures and commit to a negotiation process; and #fallists must commit to the necessary building process required to improve higher education for all. It is one thing to simply demand concessions from the establishment, but there are many areas where #fallists can contribute.

At institutions of higher learning, they can contribute to the academic process (while at the same time addressing diversity) by becoming tutors, lab assistants etc. #fallists who graduate, should seriously consider staying on at universities to teach and do research. #fallists can become involved in fund-raising to help fund tuition and accommodation for students in financial need.

#fallists are also in a strong position to address the elephant in the room, which is the poor quality of education in general in SA. Despite their protestations, #fallists are in fact privileged in the context of the overall education system in SA. They are in an elite group of only 1/3rd of their grade 1 classmates that passed matric and only 12% of their grade 1 classmates that made it to university. There is significant room for #fallists to become more magnanimous in their approach and to contribute to the broader improvement in education in SA. There are many things that they can do. They could volunteer at underperforming schools in their communities as tutors, sports coaches, etc. They could use the momentum created through the #fallist movements to demand higher standards at schools, reduced absenteeism and improved teaching techniques. Once they find themselves in the professional world, they can become involved with NGOs who are active in improving underperforming schools, like Partners for Possibility.

It is my view that despite the havoc created at higher learning institutions and the bad reputation that #fallist organisations have with the broader SA population, that these are important movements that cannot be ignored. We must give #fallists the time of day. We must listen to their concerns. We must use their energy to improve education in this country and to move us towards a more prosperous and equitable future. I therefore appeal to universities, private security and the police for restraint. At the same time, I appeal to #fallist organisations for pragmatism. It is time for you to take the energy created by your movements and apply it to the building of institutions. The best way for you to ensure sustained change, is to become involved.

What do you think of the #fallist movements at our campuses? Do you know what their demands are? Do you think that their demands are reasonable? Would you support dialogue and discussions? Do you think #fallists can become a valuable force in building up our society? I would love to hear your feedback. Comments are welcome on my website.

In the mean time, keep your talking straight!

#fallists #fallist #FeesMustFall #RhodesMustFall

Marius Strydom is the CEO of MLAX Consulting

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