Racism and priv­i­lege stoke S Africa stu­dent protests

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Weeks of protests at South African uni­ver­si­ties have tar­geted tu­ition fees-but stu­dents say they are also about racism and in­equal­ity in a so­ci­ety still plagued by the legacy of apartheid. The demon­stra­tions have tapped into deep prob­lems in the coun­try, where many black peo­ple are un­able to get de­cent ed­u­ca­tion, jobs or hous­ing de­spite white mi­nor­ity rule ending more than 20 years ago.

At a meet­ing at the pres­ti­gious Wits Univer­sity in Jo­han­nes­burg last week, Mcebo Dlamini, one of the stu­dent lead­ers, was greeted with thun­der­ous ap­plause when he tack­led the touch­stone sub­ject of race. “We are ea­ger to re­store the dig­nity of black chil­dren,” he told the au­di­ence of about 1,000, which in­cluded only a hand­ful of white peo­ple. “We want a free and de­col­o­nized ed­u­ca­tion. We are not equal in this univer­sity,” he said. Over the last three weeks, cam­puses across South Africa have been gripped by the protests against tu­ition fees, which could rise by up to eight per­cent next year. The pro­test­ers have de­manded free ed­u­ca­tion, say­ing that poorer black stu­dents are be­ing de­nied ac­cess to uni­ver­si­ties and good ca­reers. With sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties forced to close for weeks, the demon­stra­tions have of­ten de­vel­oped into vi­o­lent run­ning bat­tles as stu­dents hurl rocks, and po­lice fire rub­ber bul­lets, tear gas and stun grenades.

“Free ed­u­ca­tion is a way to achieve equal­ity, to re­pair what peo­ple had to go through in the past,” Tau­riq, a stu­dent pro­tester, told AFP. “It is about chal­leng­ing the norms of so­ci­ety, chal­leng­ing what peo­ple con­sider as nor­mal. If you are not black, you can­not as­so­ci­ate with this prob­lem. “They (white peo­ple) don’t un­der­stand what it feels like to be in a mall and stand in a corner, and peo­ple as­sume you are go­ing to steal.”

Tau­riq’s mother, who is sin­gle, has four chil­dren and earns $450 (400 eu­ros) a month. Without a grant that cov­ers his tu­ition fees, he would not be able to at­tend univer­sity-but many oth­ers don’t have the same sup­port. The African Na­tional Congress (ANC) govern­ment has vowed to pro­vide fur­ther fi­nan­cial help for all stu­dents from poor back­grounds, and said its aim is to pro­vide free univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion in the long term. But it has also warned that pub­lic funds are des­per­ately needed else­where, and has con­demned stu­dents who have forced cam­puses to shut down or been in­volved in vi­o­lence.

The protests “should be ex­pected in a so­ci­ety where ev­ery­thing was de­signed in a way to sup­port and le­git­imise white supremacy,” Mcebisi Ndletyana, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg, told AFP. An in­ter­net poll con­ducted by Wits Univer­sity sug­gested most stu­dents wanted classes to re­sume, while a small num­ber of mainly white stu­dents have launched a “Keep Wits Open” cam­paign. “We agree with the move­ment but are un­happy with in­tim­i­da­tion and the bul­ly­ing from some of the pro­test­ers to stop stu­dents en­ter­ing cam­pus and be­ing chased out of lec­tures,” said its leader Stu­art Young in a video message. “We are speak­ing not for the priv­i­leged but for stu­dents who are try­ing to grad­u­ate this year.”

On Mon­day, Wits again tried to re­sume lec­tures but vi­cious clashes erupted amid clouds of tear­gas and a hail of rocks on the steps of the colon­naded Great Hall au­di­to­rium. The govern­ment has set up a com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate fund­ing of higher ed­u­ca­tion, but South Africa’s cam­puses look set for fur­ther tur­moil be­fore it delivers rec­om­men­da­tions some­time next year. —AFP

JO­HAN­NES­BURG: Riot po­lice fire rub­ber bul­lets at protest­ing stu­dents, at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand. — AP

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