TAXI STRIKE REVEALING THE VALUE SYSTEM OF OUR EDUCATION

2016-06-10 18:32

Taxi drivers this morning will be rolling out mass action shutting down the Republic in demand for permits and operating licenses from government which have been long overdue to them. Without these permits, taxi drivers operate on our roads illegally which makes them vulnerable to traffic fines and even possible arrest for a year. I must also add that at a macro-level, the weakening of the rand and economic downgrade in the past 18 months in the country has affected the price of the petrol they use daily which has possibly affected the real value of their income negatively and the prices they charge their customers are about to increase. Therefore, their demands are reasonable, understandable and legitimate.

Classical economists define the industry as an “informal economic sector” that is unregulated; and some who tend to agree with them paint the industry as a center of reckless driving and violence. However, one must be able to flip the same coin over to see that with the latest unemployment rate in South Africa released by Statistics South Africa standing at 26.7%, the taxi industry has been seen by some as the alternative business option for earning income.

Furthermore, the industry moves around 16 million people every day whom mostly are from the black working class, making it the backbone of the South African economy with an estimated annual revenue of R39.8 billion in 2014. It is this same taxi industry that attracts the attention of the “formal economy” in the sense that global conglomerates like Nissan have started selling taxis in South Africa trying to undo the decade long dominance of the industry by Toyota. The chief executive of the South Africa National Taxi Council Mr Nkululeko Buthelezi emphasizes my argument when he says “If the taxi industry were to stop completely, there’s no cleaner at your house, there’s no coffee at work, there’s no workers on the work floor and there are no students in class to be taught by teachers”.

What is outrageous to me is the reception that this mass action has received from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) community where I study. Yesterday afternoon (09 June 2016) an insensitive statement circulated publicly to all students and staff stating that “in the light of the planned public transport strike tomorrow, please consider making alternative arrangements to get to university”.

The author of this statement appears to be a person who does not pay careful attention to the possible reception his or her words will receive in the media space. It is also a statement that is clearly displaying to the public a university that is intolerant to disruption of its usual business no matter the gravity of the social difficulty facing its own students and workers. When the only source of transport that workers and students have to get to the university embarks on a legitimate cause, the author of the statement expects the poor and working class to wake up this morning without taxis but somehow create “an alternative arrangement” from thin air and fly to the university. We must be living in a strange country.

What is also outrageous are the comments of privileged students on this matter. For an example one student commenting on the Facebook page of the SRC wrote “I feel like those who can’t come tomorrow should be the ones writing the special as they live at home in PE and will already be in PE unlike those who will have to travel to PE for the special. So let the ones who stay close write so they can go home then the ones who live far from campus but in PE write later”. This atrocious comment was repeated by many others in the social network space and it received quite a number of likes.

Obviously this reaction by the author of the university statement that I have outlined above and the comment by the student are not value neutral. They are a reflection of the value system of the education curriculum offered by the university to the students whom go out to express these opinions in public. The education curriculum values individualism, efficiency and profit maximization over equitable, basic human needs. The narrative is “I as the individual, I act on my own, I make my own choices, I do not care about anybody else other than myself, I must be successful on my own no matter what, I must be rich and I do not care about the plight of others”.

Furthermore, the culture of NMMU for too long has been that of hostility towards anything that has to do with protests and disruptions to its “business as usual” whether legitimate or not. I recall instances where a protest called in the university would only be allowed to take place between 12-1pm under the surveillance of “booked” security.

The NMMU management allows protests to take place between 12-1pm because it is during lunchtime where teaching and learning in not taking place and after the protest classes are expected to resume. Basically, as our public relations lecturer Ms Brightness Mangolothi would put it, a student voicing out against injustice on the streets of the university is told by the system that “this is how you are supposed to feel the pain, you are not supposed to feel the pain this way, this is how you are supposed to define the pain and you must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you are feeling the pain”.

This institutional culture together with the individualistic curriculum the university is spreading in the classroom has given birth to the highest form of selfishness to some students and staff. Whenever a certain group of students or workers take to the streets, they never receive overwhelming support from their own. They get to be treated as rotten potatoes seeking to rotten the rest that is ‘clean’, ‘peaceful’, ‘educated’ and ‘civilized’. The “injury to one is an injury to all” working class solidarity slogan practiced by students in other universities like Fort Hare never sees the light of the day in NMMU. The popular phrase coined by Karl Marx which says “workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains” gets changed by some in NMMU into being “workers of the world don’t ever unite, you have everything to lose especially your privilege”.

Driving a taxi, whether in New York or Mdantsane, is a professional career that must be treated with sensitivity and respect. It is a skill executed intellectually by conscious human beings with needs. Taxi drivers are parents, grandparents, children and community members. They wake up early in the morning to sell their labour for income and come home late in the evening. They are victims of an exploitative system of capitalism which takes away a lot from them but gives little in return. The capitalist system frustrates them as much as it frustrates teachers, doctors, mine workers, pilots and students but to name a few. Therefore, they also have a right to rollout mass action like any other class conscious worker and demand justice from the status quo in an uncompromising language that it understands best.

The education system offered by an ignorant staff to an oblivious student population must be rescued from its neoliberal confine into emancipating literature in order for it to begin to see collective struggles for social change as spaces where there is a production of important theory that has intellectual depth taking place. Some in the current neoliberal education system are guilty of making a university managerial mistake of looking at a social movement as something shallow of knowledge of its own and are busy looking at whether the protest succeeds or not – and in the process, they are missing out on its other scholarship that it is trying to give us as is the case with the taxi strike currently.

A social movement, no matter how big or small it is, no matter if it is successful or not, there is a message that it is communicating with us which we must pay attention to. The people participating in the protest are not stupid or causing inconvenience as some commentators would like to make us believe. Instead, people participating in a protest are intellectuals of note. They are a group that is coming up with theory about their condition. If you take politics, history & context into consideration, only the ignorant would miss the fact that there is a serious intellectual statement being made by building a shack at the doorstep of an ivory tower university campus as we saw in UCT, shutting down of classes, organization of a mass number of people to demand justice.

Universities are spaces of debate and contestation of ideas and scholarship. They are not spaces of traditional learning and education only whereby the system of bank education is used – the downloading of my knowledge as a lecturer into your empty heads as students. Times for that have long passed in the academia. Education in universities in the modern democratic era takes place in a form of listening, doing, reading, engaging, action, organizing and protesting. A liberated education system would appreciate the beauty of this case and internalize the taxi strike in that manner in order to grow a wide range of understanding and solidarity with the plight of the taxi drivers. If that is not scholarship by this social movement, then nothing else ever will be.

The positive feedback given to the taxi drivers by the Premier of the Eastern Cape this afternoon about their plight is testament to the successful execution of their intellectual engagement both in the boardroom and on the streets. Also, the postponement of examinations in NMMU by the Acting Vice Chancellor Dr Sibongile Muthwa is an example of compassionate leadership by her towards university workers and students, taking nothing away from the pressure applied by the student leadership on her to take such a decision. This is all evidence to the fact that only the ignorant would fail to realize that there is a serious intellectual statement being made by shutting down of operations by taxi drivers, losing the income they would have received today for a greater good tomorrow.

Society must begin to be sensitive to the taxi industry and realize the significant role it is playing in the lives of the poor and the economy. Those seated in positions and sectors of privilege like the university should understand better in knowing that the taxi industry is one if not the only industry were the minority is not owning. It is functioning without any subsidy or empowerment contribution from government.

Taxi drivers are on their own and must guard their interests just like how investors guard their markets in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. We cannot, under any circumstances, be subjected every day to the same narratives that were being uttered under apartheid whereby mainstream messages carried out in mainstream media and social networks are only white stories, white suffering, white voices, white success, white bodies and white photographs. It cannot be in 2016.

PEDRO MZILENI

JOHANNESBURG

10 JUNE 2016

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