In the wake of last year’s stu­dent protests, SANDISO NGUBANE won­ders if the fairy tale is over

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE - @San­dis­o_N

FORTY YEARS AGO, young peo­ple took to the streets of Soweto to protest against Afrikaans as a medium of in­struc­tion in schools. An estimated 20 000 took part in the demon­stra­tions that be­gan on the morning of 16 June 1976, march­ing from their schools to Or­lando Sta­dium. By night­fall, dozens would be dead; shot by po­lice, their deaths never prop­erly recorded.

This day is recog­nised by many as the int that sparked the de­cline of the apartheid state. Sam Nz­ima’s pho­to­graph of a dy­ing 13-year-old Hec­tor Pi­eter­son car­ried by Mbuy­isa Makhubo was pub­lished around the world, lead­ing to wide­spread con­dem­na­tion and strength­ened in­ter­na­tional boy­cotts. The gov­ern­ment was in cri­sis.

While re­cent stu­dent move­ments have not been fa­tal, it’s hard not to draw sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween what hap­pened then and what started in Oc­to­ber last year, with stu­dent move­ments like #Afrikaan­sMustFall, #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall. These are move­ments born out of frus­tra­tion with the slow­ness of trans­for­ma­tion. Many peo­ple have been left un­able to en­joy the gains of what we were told would be a ‘rain­bow na­tion’. That dream, em­a­nat­ing from the vic­to­ries

‘A lot was pa­pered over in favour of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion’

of Nel­son Man­dela’s gen­er­a­tion, has slowly been with­er­ing away. To­day’s youth feel change can no longer be de­ferred.

We’ve been pa­tient for much too long with the plod­ding pace of change, and I felt ev­ery bit as an­gry as the stu­dents who marched to Par­lia­ment in Cape Town in Oc­to­ber last year de­mand­ing to be ad­dressed by gov­ern­ment on the is­sue of the cost of ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion. Many of us – young black peo­ple – don’t have the op­por­tu­ni­ties that our white, more priv­i­leged peers have.

We’ve grown weary of what of­ten comes across as ar­ro­gance and a lack of sym­pa­thy from white South Africans who don’t ac­knowl­edge that their priv­i­lege came at the cost of our dis­ad­van­tage; that mon­u­ments such as that of Ce­cil John Rhodes, which stu­dents suc­cess­fully de­manded be taken down, are a painful re­minder of how black pain is of­ten met with care­less re­torts, such as, ‘Get over it, apartheid is gone.’ It is as if Man­dela’s rain­bow na­tion mag­i­cally did away with the in­equal­i­ties and harm en­trenched by 400 years of colo­nial­ism and apartheid.

Rhodes may have fallen, but the cost of higher ed­u­ca­tion re­mains pro­hib­i­tively high for most stu­dents. These are not the only is­sues faced by my gen­er­a­tion, as we keep seek­ing change. I spoke to three young voices who agree we are over the rain­bow, and while there are many chal­lenges, one thing is very clear: the sta­tus quo must fall.

SHAEERA KALLA, 22, for­mer pres­i­dent of the Stu­dents’ Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil at The Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand Shaeera was part of the stu­dent lead­er­ship that drove #FeesMustFall coun­try­wide. She says the de­ci­sion to shut down the univer­sity was made by the Wits stu­dent body as ‘a sym­bolic act to dis­play our anger and frus­tra­tion at the elit­ist, ex­clu­sion­ary anti-black and anti-poor univer­sity sys­tem in South Africa’. She re­mains a mem­ber of the Wits Pro­gres­sive Youth Al­liance and in par­tic­u­lar identi es with the prin­ci­ples of the ANC-a li­ated South African Stu­dents Congress.

‘I be­lieve the #FeesMustFall cam­paign owes its suc­cess to the de­ci­sion we made as stu­dents to re­main non-par­ti­san,’ she says. ‘This does not mean we were blind to our po­lit­i­cal a li­a­tions but that we worked to­gether and re­spected each other for a com­mon goal de­spite those di er­ences.’

She feels that, in spite of the 0% in­crease vic­tory, the stu­dent move­ment is cur­rently at its weak­est. ‘This is due to both po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal di er­ences, high se­cu­ri­ti­sa­tion and in­tim­i­da­tion of stu­dents who are po­lit­i­cally ac­tive.’

Is there a way for­ward? ‘We have to ask why it is that the Con­sti­tu­tion only be­comes rel­e­vant when white priv­i­lege is be­ing chal­lenged,’ she says. PANASHE CHIGUMADZI, 24, au­thor and for­mer Ruth First Fel­low ‘A lot was pa­pered over in favour of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,’ Panashe says. ‘We didn’t get to ex­press our dis­con­tent after al­most 400 years of slav­ery, coloni­sa­tion and apartheid.’ In ad­dress­ing this, Panashe says time can­not be seen as a healer of the pain that black South Africans con­tinue to face, more than two decades after Man­dela be­came the coun­try’s rst demo­crat­i­cally elected pres­i­dent.

I ask what the so­lu­tion is when ex­pres­sions of that pain are met with dis­missal. She states that the prob­lem with the pos­tra­cialised rain­bow na­tion ideal is that it is ‘of­ten de­ployed to si­lence our an­guish’.

‘Racism is di­vi­sive. If peo­ple are se­ri­ous about ad­dress­ing di­vi­sion, they must stop be­ing racist.’ Is po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship the an­swer? ‘I’m not con­vinced by the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship,’ she says. ‘The ANC, for in­stance, is a na­tion­al­ist move­ment. They preach non-racial­ism, and given their pol­i­tics, that is ul­ti­mately in­ad­e­quate. It would be great if there was a party that could ad­vance what is be­ing called for.

‘There’s no ideal way of han­dling de­coloni­sa­tion,’ she says. ‘Wealth and land re­dis­tri­bu­tion is a painful process, for ex­am­ple. We will face con­se­quences from global white­ness, but we have to be ready to con­front those chal­lenges.’

KYLA PHIL, 25, film-maker While she is not a stu­dent, Kyla par­tic­i­pated in the #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall demon­stra­tions in Cape Town. ‘I felt em­braced by the peo­ple, and by the move­ment, and I also felt very aware of my pres­ence not as a non-stu­dent, but as a South African par­tic­i­pat­ing in a move­ment for de­coloni­sa­tion. It was a bit band­wagon-y, but also very nec­es­sary.’

Kyla re­calls hold­ing on to a friend’s hand as she stood in the crowd that pushed back against po­lice­men try­ing to keep the march­ing crowds out of the Par­lia­ment precinct. She re­calls the State’s vi­o­lence, their water can­nons and stun guns, and the in­ter­nal di­a­logue she had in the midst of ev­ery­thing: ‘Am I will­ing to die to­day?’

But be­yond the marches, and the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in that vi­o­lent space, there’s much to learn. ‘The more time you spend in the space, the more you re­alise the dy­nam­ics, the is­sues, and my time there made me very aware of my po­si­tion­al­ity, and the fact that I, too, can be a vi­o­lent body. I’m a cis­gen­der woman with light-skin priv­i­lege, and you start to see whose nar­ra­tive is placed at the fore­front, ver­sus those that need to and should be heard.’

In spite of the chal­lenges that re­main, the one thing that is abun­dantly clear is that to­day’s youth are driv­ing a na­tional dis­course for change. We are not fooled by the ide­al­ism that, for a long time, has kept us hope­ful that change is com­ing.

It was en­cour­ag­ing, for one, that in spite of the cracks that have be­come ap­par­ent, many black and white stu­dents stood to­gether. The rain­bow-na­tion dream may have faded, but what the youth move­ment of to­day has achieved, as the gen­er­a­tion of 1976 did, is to set the tone for change. We must look be­yond the rain­bow and em­brace the chal­lenges that abound.

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