Fees Must Fall’s Roots Are Part Of Society’s Broader Struggles

The gospel by the state that young people must be entrepreneurs is not a solution; it is an empty rhetoric. It is no longer fashionable to say go study, becoming an entrepreneur is an in thing.

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By Musawenkosi Cabe (7 mins read)

In the Wretched of the Earth, radical thinker Frantz Fanon writes, “Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”

In 2015, the South African youth in institutions of higher learning, as a generation, fulfilled their mission when they raised issues around the commercialisation of education, access and decolonisation of education.

However, for some reason, there was a deliberate attempt to misrepresent and distort student struggles for free decolonised education as merely a struggle for ‘free education’.

Some elders even assumed unsolicited adviser role because they thought we did not understand what we meant by decolonised education.

Despite writing and articulating how the curriculum rendered African thought and knowledge systems insignificant and consequently black students invisible, some students needed to be taught the real meaning of decolonisation.

Students questioned in essence the core foundations of global north pedagogy.

‘Problem people’ – no one asks why are you protesting? It is assumed that  it is about fees or service delivery in the case of a community protest. Protest protagonists –  whether in community protests, workers’ strikes or student protests – become the problem not people facing problems.

The  media (the academy) reproduces ‘problem people’ by asking the wrong questions. They have preconceived views of what the protest is about.

For students, it mattered who taught them – the marginalisation and lack of Africans, women in particular. The absence of women in lecture halls, for students, was an abnormality.

White mediocrity flourished; it was unchallenged in institutions of higher learning  because of entrenched institutional racism and patriarchy.

We know it is not a question of shortage or lack of African academics. Instead, due to inherent institutional racism and sexism, many are pushed into the margins despite working twice as hard as their white peers.

Students wanted to be armed with an education that will help them contribute in the upliftment of their communities and their continent.

Universities, particularly the ivory towers of whiteness, rendered black students invisible. These institutions reduced them to mere statistics with no substantial investment on their academic growth.

With a deeply alienating institutional culture, universities resisted to introspect and listen to young people. Some students, arrested during the education struggles of 2015/16, are still languishing in prisons. Calls for them to be pardoned have fallen on deaf ears.

Activism post-university paramount

With the heroics of students in 2015/16, political apathy amongst young people is worrisome. As the unemployment rate increased from 21.5% to 27.2% and affecting mostly young people, the real issue is what happens to activism post-university.

Yes, graduates form a small number of the unemployed. The lack of real solidarity post-university is precisely the failure to understand that our struggles as students are interconnected with struggles of the working-class youth outside university.

Racist exclusion from work

Law firms without shame advertise employment posts and say applicants must be in possession of a driver’s licence and own a vehicle. The requirement is absurd.

In a country that is the most unequal society in the world with a recorded history of racial exclusion, most black and working-class graduates in South Africa, like me, think of owning a vehicle after their first dream job.

It is unfair for them to be expected to own cars in order to be eligible or to be considered for employment.

In actual fact, the requirement that a graduate must own a car amounts to unfair discrimination on basis of race and class. It is a gross violation of the constitution, worse by the legal profession.

The law profession refuses to transform. Only whites and the black elite access these jobs whilst the majority are left toiling in villages and townships.

This systematic and racist exclusion of poor black graduates directly undermines the culture of learning and education in villages and townships characterised by illiteracy.

In these areas, those who looked up to a few with a chance of accessing institutions of higher learning start to question education as a means out of abject poverty.

‘If Musa has three university degrees but is unemployed and poor, what is the point of education? Why should I subject myself to this thing of education?’

High unemployment

The dynamic of exclusion through applications adds to already existing challenges for black and poor graduates’ spatial injustice.

The Siyakha Youth Assets for Employability Study, in collaboration with academics from the University of Johannesburg, recently found in a ground-breaking research that because of apartheid’s spatial planning, job seekers from the townships struggle to get employment. This is primarily a result of the costs of job searches.

The report further noted that young South Africans spend an average of R938 a month looking for work. Such a figure includes transport of R558 and an additional R380 for internet access, printing, application fees, agent’s fees and even money for bribes.

The report should have gone further to say it is expensive for black and poor job seekers to apply for jobs that have been predetermined to a certain class.

The injustice that young, poor blacks have to go through, when seeking employment, is too much. They spend money that is not there to apply for jobs that require them to be in possession of cars. This is nothing but criminal.

Unemployment on its own, numerous ‘we regret to inform you’ emails, family and societal expectations are enough to cause you severe depression, as they are a direct assault to your humanhood.

The job seeker starts to ask the dangerous question: ‘Why me?’, personalising the problem and thinking of him/herself as an issue. Whereas, the problem is structural and has nothing to do with the job seeker.

The job seeker is facing a structural problem that can be addressed, but there is no willingness to do so.

There has been no industrialisation programme by the state and no willingness to open up the industry by capital. Current and former students must mobilise themselves as a class and challenge this system of exclusion.

The gospel by the state that young people must be entrepreneurs is not a solution; it is an empty rhetoric. It is no longer fashionable to say go study, becoming an entrepreneur is an in-thing.

In a highly concentrated economy with anti-competitiveness and lack of funding, the language of ‘start a business’ is another convenient excuse from the state for failing to transform industries and create more jobs.

It is a perfect language that says you are the problem – you chose the wrong programme to study.

Interconnectedness of struggles

The solidarity between workers and students, during Fees Must Fall, is something to build on, creating real possibilities of struggle.

In one way or the other, shape or form, as a class, we must join or form movements that will advance the interest of the unemployed.

Issues are interconnected, so are the struggles of the working class. “Power concedes nothing without demand,” said Frederick Douglass. The 2015/16 generation knows this very well.

We cannot be what Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe called, “. . . fellows who, while at college, were radicals, as soon as they got outside became spineless stooges and screeching megaphones of ‘White Herrenvolkism’ or else became disgruntled and disillusioned objects of pity.” TOJ

The views expressed in this article are not of The Open Journal.

Writing by Musawenkosi Cabe; Editing by Valerie Mncube and Gaby Ndongo

Feature image: Historic Walk team at the Union Building in Pretoria on Sunday, 2nd January 2019.

Image courtesy to Gaby Ndongo.

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