‘There must be a com­pro­mise in ev­ery ne­go­ti­a­tion’

CityPress - - Voices & Careers -

The pri­or­ity for many young peo­ple who get into univer­sity is to get their qual­i­fi­ca­tions and make strate­gic con­nec­tions to carry into their ca­reers. But Than­deka Tsha­bal­ala (23), a fourth-year Bach­e­lor of Com­merce in ac­count­ing stu­dent at the Nel­son Man­dela Metropoli­tan Univer­sity (NMMU), is no or­di­nary young per­son.

She comes from a highly po­lit­i­cal fam­ily. Her mother and close fam­ily friends, ex­plains Tsha­bal­ala, have al­ways been loyal sup­port­ers of the ANC. Her mother’s mem­ber­ship opened the door for Tsha­bal­ala and her sib­lings to un­der­stand the in­ner work­ings of pol­i­tics from a young age.

“To us it has been in­ter­est­ing to be ex­posed to the ANC Youth League from such a young age, at­tend­ing po­lit­i­cal meet­ings and un­der­stand­ing so­ci­etal is­sues,” she said.

The sec­ond of four chil­dren, Tsha­bal­ala was born in Katle­hong, Ekurhu­leni. She went to a Model C school in Pre­to­ria, an ex­pe­ri­ence that al­ways re­minded her that she was not only black, but also a woman.

“Hav­ing gone to a Model C school you get to re­alise that the class ques­tion plays a ma­jor role to you as a black child and as a fe­male,” she says. “It was al­ways about try­ing to up­lift women or try­ing to up­lift a black child.”

Race and gen­der were built into how op­por­tu­ni­ties were al­lo­cated in her high school.

“What I have re­alised is that when I was in high school, most of the op­por­tu­ni­ties I re­ceived were ei­ther be­cause of my skin colour or be­cause of my gen­der,” she said.

But Tsha­bal­ala was deter­mined to change this out­look when she got to univer­sity. Her plan was to con­trib­ute to the al­le­vi­a­tion of the plight of her fel­low stu­dents through her in­volve­ment in stu­dent pol­i­tics.

When the time for univer­sity came, NMMU was the only choice for Tsha­bal­ala. It of­fered some­thing that other uni­ver­si­ties in Gaut­eng could not give her, de­spite their close prox­im­ity to home.

“One of the rea­sons I came to the East­ern Cape is be­cause Gaut­eng is a fairly de­vel­oped prov­ince and I wanted to see the other side of life,” she said. “I wanted to meet peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds, peo­ple from ru­ral ar­eas and peo­ple who are deeply rooted in cul­ture and learn things I couldn’t learn as a teenager grow­ing up in the town­ship and the sub­urbs.”

She de­cided to join the SA Stu­dent Congress (Sasco) to get in­volved in stu­dent pol­i­tics. She is now the East­ern Cape pro­vin­cial deputy sec­re­tary of Sasco and a for­mer stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cil mem­ber.

Tsha­bal­ala was part of the first na­tional #FeesMustFall protest in 2015. She ex­plains that free ed­u­ca­tion has al­ways been a Sasco project. “The is­sue of fees that must fall has al­ways been a his­tor­i­cal call by us,” said Tsha­bal­ala. “If you look back in his­tory, we [Sasco] have al­ways spo­ken about free ed­u­ca­tion, since 1991, but other or­gan­i­sa­tions were re­luc­tant to be­lieve that it was pos­si­ble.”

She ex­plains that the cam­paign was im­por­tant to en­sure that go­ing to univer­sity was not a priv­i­lege and that any South African, ir­re­spec­tive of their fi­nan­cial sta­tus, can go to univer­sity.

Tsha­bal­ala was ar­rested at the height of the #FeesMustFall protest for in­volve­ment in an il­le­gal protest, a case which was later struck off the court roll. When she got to the po­lice sta­tion fol­low­ing her ar­rest, Tsha­bal­ala used her one phone call to in­form her mother.

“That night my mother did not sleep, she was so de­pressed,” she said. “She said she was re­liv­ing apartheid again...” But the ex­pe­ri­ence was just as scary for Tsha­bal­ala. “I saw the re­al­ity of my life when I was sit­ting in the cell, alone,” said Tsha­bal­ala. “It was one of the scari­est mo­ments of my life, it was de­press­ing, actually.”

Tsha­bal­ala also pointed out that it was not jus­ti­fi­able to burn univer­sity prop­erty in the name of free ed­u­ca­tion.

Tsha­bal­ala ac­knowl­edges that if she had had it her way, she would have done things dif­fer­ently.

“I don’t nec­es­sar­ily have re­grets, but I would have wished for us to have a more prag­matic ap­proach than we did in 2015,” she said. “In ev­ery ne­go­ti­a­tion, there must be a com­pro­mise.

“We had a suc­cess­ful me­di­a­tion process and I wish that we were able to con­vince more stu­dents to take what was given to us at that me­di­a­tion to mit­i­gate things that came later,” she said.

When the me­di­a­tion process failed, the univer­sity adopted e-learn­ing for stu­dents to make up for all the lost time and to com­plete the aca­demic year. This sys­tem of learn­ing meant that stu­dents had to com­plete the rest of their cur­ricu­lums on their own, a sit­u­a­tion that could have been avoided.

“If we had a prag­matic ap­proach, we would have been a voice of rea­son.”

PRAG­MATIC Than­deka Tsha­bal­ala

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