Re­mem­brance of things past

CityPress - - Voices - Du­misane Lu­bisi voices@ city­press. co. za

Azikhwelwa was one of those slo­gans that used to be shouted through a loud-hailer in the town­ships. It meant trou­ble for those go­ing to work the fol­low­ing morn­ing. It meant boy­cotts of buses and any other forms of trans­port fer­ry­ing work­ers from their dusty town­ships to the white men’s towns.

As part of their ef­forts to ex­ert pres­sure on the apartheid govern­ment to open up ne­go­ti­a­tions with banned political par­ties for a demo­cratic South Africa, com­mu­ni­ties boy­cotted white-owned busi­nesses, held back pay­ment for mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices and in some ex­treme cases, set alight build­ings as­so­ci­ated with the white govern­ment.

In their burn­ing of clin­ics, li­braries, schools and po­lice sta­tions, no build­ings were spared; they were all part of the de­fi­ance cam­paign call­ing for democ­racy and the free­ing of political pris­on­ers.

Th­ese acts and oth­ers, in­clud­ing pres­sure from across the globe to iso­late South Africa, even­tu­ally forced the govern­ment to start ne­go­ti­a­tions which, over time, led to the re­lease of political pris­on­ers in­clud­ing Nelson Man­dela, and the first demo­cratic elec­tion in 1994.

Since then, the ANC has oc­cu­pied the hot seat of govern­ment, run­ning the affairs of state that range from bud­get al­lo­ca­tion to spend­ing, to rev­enue col­lec­tion and ad­dress­ing past im­bal­ances.

Dur­ing the first decade of our democ­racy, the govern­ment pri­ori­tised hous­ing, education and so­cial grants as part of its re­dress for the pre­vi­ous regime’s racist poli­cies. This re­sulted in the build­ing of mil­lions of RDP houses for the poor, while many more dis­ad­van­taged cit­i­zens ben­e­fited from the so­cial grant sys­tem.

But over the years, a new phe­nom­e­non de­vel­oped in com­mu­ni­ties where the sense of en­ti­tle­ment be­came a norm. Peo­ple be­gan de­mand­ing more houses and faster de­liv­ery; more so­cial grant ben­e­fits and faster de­liv­ery.

When their de­mands were not met, so­ci­ety took to the streets to voice their dis­con­tent.

And when the protests did not work, we saw the coun­try start to burn once again as clin­ics, schools, li­braries, po­lice sta­tions and mu­nic­i­pal of­fices went up in smoke – in the demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion.

More than a phase in our coun­try’s short his­tory, this has be­come akin to a way of life. It con­tin­ues un­abated while lead­ers and coun­cil­lors keep play­ing pol­i­tics in­stead of ad­dress­ing the cause of such vi­o­lent up­ris­ings.

Fast for­ward to 2015, when stu­dents across the coun­try be­gan their out­cry over his­tor­i­cal names and stat­ues. Rhodes fell, but the stu­dents were just get­ting started.

The dust around the Rhodes statue had hardly set­tled when univer­si­ties pro­posed their in­creased tu­ition fee tar­iffs for the fol­low­ing year. Stu­dents, al­ready over­bur­dened by the pro­hib­i­tive cost of ter­tiary education, came to­gether in coun­try­wide protest marches and an un­prece­dented #FeesMustFall ral­ly­ing cry.

Late last year, govern­ment heeded their call and an in­crease in tu­ition fees for 2016 was scrapped. This, af­ter rel­a­tively peace­ful protests across cam­puses and pub­lic sup­port for their cause.

When univer­si­ties re­opened ear­lier this month, stu­dents took to the cam­pus grounds in protest again. This time, the is­sue was ad­mis­sion fees and some univer­si­ties were forced into lock­down. Soon af­ter, stu­dent dis­sent es­ca­lated to the abysmal state of ac­com­mo­da­tion at univer­si­ties.

The lat­ter sparked in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence across cam­puses, forc­ing a shut­down while man­age­ment tried to find so­lu­tions.

The con­tin­u­ing vi­o­lence mor­phed into stu­dent in-fight­ing as racial clashes were recorded at the Univer­sity of Free State this week, and Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria last week.

On Wed­nes­day at North-West Univer­sity’s Mahikeng cam­pus, the ad­min­is­tra­tion block, sci­ence lab­o­ra­tory and two cars were set alight fol­low­ing vi­o­lent clashes be­tween stu­dents and se­cu­rity guards. This, af­ter man­age­ment dis­banded the stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cil (SRC) and ap­pointed an­other one. Stu­dents went on a ram­page in fury at their uni­lat­er­ally dis­solv­ing the SRC. While man­age­ment had no right to dis­band a demo­crat­i­cally elected SRC and ap­point its own, stu­dents equally erred in by burn­ing univer­sity prop­erty.

This be­hav­iour takes us back­wards. Have to­day’s stu­dents learnt noth­ing from their pre­de­ces­sors? Vi­o­lence does not solve con­flict. On the con­trary, it fu­els more and re­v­erses gains hard won from ear­lier strug­gles.

Through di­a­logue the stu­dents could have en­gaged man­age­ment on trans­for­ma­tion and en­sured the restora­tion of the old SRC. If man­age­ment had iden­ti­fied in­di­vid­ual stu­dent lead­ers as hooli­gans, they should have been sus­pended and dis­ci­plined in­ter­nally. There was no need to change the en­tire lead­er­ship struc­ture.

Now here we sit with an es­ti­mated three months of no univer­sity and hun­dreds of poor stu­dents who have nowhere to go while classes re­main sus­pended.

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