Where has leadership gone?
Blame the government for problems
IGHER education is not a basic right, but a secondary right. Therefore, government cannot pay for it alone,” says the Department of Higher Education amid all the stun grenades, rubber bullets and upheaval.
I am an alumnus of a university that excels in protests. I am a Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) graduate.
I spent four years (2010-2014) at Soshanguve, the headquarters of student strikes, toyi-toyis and protests. There was never a year without student protests.
Interestingly, the strikes were about the welfare of the students. They were about ensuring students got National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding, proper accommodation, meal cards and books, and that there was no academic exclusion. The protesters were champions of student rights.
As students, we were always divided on whether to resume classes or not. We had our own valid reasons for choosing to join the strike or strongly oppose it – that’s democracy.
Two years later, things have intensified.
Education is one of the pivotal tools for success, but it is definitely not the only priority in our country. Today, the youth are up in arms; those who were fortunate enough to get accepted at universities are fighting for their right to education. But sadly, as educated as they are, they still vandalise and burn and only resort to around-the-table discussions when much damage has been done – costing taxpayers millions of rand.
Education is a priority, but housing, health and policing, for instance, are too. At the moment, one would think education is the only priority for our coming-of-age democracy.
Whether classes should resume or not, everyone has a right to their own opinion. There are two groups: those who want free quality education at all costs, and those who want to resume academic activities at all costs.
What is at stake? I would like to say to those who seek free quality education:
The autonomy of our universities allows them to fairly and reasonably adjust fee increments yearly. Sadly, the universities are not governmentrun, they are only subsidised.
This means your demands, no matter how valid they are, should not affect the normal running of these institutions.
No university in the country has promised anyone free quality education. However, education is a constitutional right and at times comes at a cost. Who promised free quality education? The government.
All the grievances should be directed to the government because it sold the dream of free education in the country. And it did not commit to a deadline.
We all know the government wastes ridiculous amounts of money. Think SAA, Eskom, Nkandla and other platforms where the public purse is misused.
In essence, the government does have money that could be directed to aid poor and destitute students to get access to higher education. However, it cannot ignore other urgent matters in the country.
To those who want to return to school, I know how you feel. My beloved aunt (my mom’s sister) paid every cent for me to study for four years to obtain a diploma and BTech in journalism at TUT.
I felt betrayed by the protesters. Each time the protest halted classes for two or more weeks, the academic year was threatened. My aunt’s money was slowly becoming a bad investment.
I am from a village. My family believed if I obtained a qualification, I would get a job and help them financially. Every day that passed, I felt helpless.
I went to TUT to study and better my life. I was raised to believe it is the parent or guardian who deals with tuition. I was wrong. Time is of the essence for you. You know higher education is not a basic right in our country. You understand poverty is rife.
You are racing against time; you want to obtain a qualification that will hopefully help you to get a job in a country where unemployment is extremely high. That is what we will be fighting very soon
You too have a point. You do not want the loan money to go down the drain.
But where is leadership in all these vicissitudes we are facing as a country?
Retired American business executive Jack Welch summed it up when he said: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.
“When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
Sadly, in South Africa, when people become leaders, success is about getting as much money as possible while in power, while those who voted them into power continue to suffer.
Whether classes resume uninterrupted or we lose out on the 2016 academic year by continuing to protest, there will be no winner.
Unfortunately, the lack of good leadership is our worst enemy, and that makes our leaders the worst losers in this battle.
I did not only graduate in journalism, I also graduated in the study of protests. I have learnt that as budding academics the boardroom should always be the place where we fight our battles.
Former president and world icon Nelson Mandela would tell you: “We will listen to reason, not be humiliated and vulnerable enough to resort to protesting half-naked. The highest standard, the fundamental right of human dignity, will be preserved, as we strive for equality and freedom.”
Students from Wits University are thrown to the ground after a stun grenade exploded near them during running battles on the campus as ongoing protests continued against the cost of higher education.