By Tsikelelo Mbhejisana
Images by Katleho Sathekge
The 1976 students’ riots transformed and impelled a revolution in higher education. Over the years, the elements of history have reproduced themselves in a democratic South Africa. Take for instance the #Feesmustfall movement: the youth embarked on countrywide protests calling for free education.
In the process, the police unleashed violence on the students. Many were severely injured and others died. Yet again it was not enough as institutions of higher learning unleashed their own kind of violence to student leaders – academic exclusion, for instance.
Some believe black students are still suffering and faced with challenges that are similar to the generation of 1976. Yet, others believe that a lot has changed and there is still some hope.
The Student Representative Council (SRC) president at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), Mxolisi Manana, said: “I don’t think that in South Africa we had any other revolution post the 1976 Uprising. The youth of today must continue to remember and embrace what happened in 1976.”
No equal education
The youth of today is facing mounting challenges at tertiary institutions, particularly those coming from impoverished and disadvantaged communities. Manana is equally displeased with the education system. “There isn’t equal education. There are differences between the public and private schools; unfortunately, the disparities, owing to unequal exposure, continue to impact the students at tertiary level,” Manana said.
The urban-rural divide is also a factor. “We’re using technologies and most students are not used to technologies because they come from deep rural areas and they don’t know how to use electronics,” said a 20-year-old student who requested to speak on condition of anonymity.
The student added that the education system is too structured and limiting. “They cater more to academia than people who are creative.”
Sizwe Jele, 23, who is doing an advanced diploma in Transport Management at UJ, said: “The most basic of necessities are not the same. You find one school with no laboratory and the other with three laboratories. So, obviously, a qualitative measure will not be the same. Remember education is practical so you need to see what you are studying.”
A 20-year-old, first-year student, who enrolled for Management Services at UJ and has attended both private and government schools, said: “If you look at it very well, there is no equality whatsoever because if you get a white child in a government school, the child will feel like he/she doesn’t belong there and the child doesn’t fit in. As a black child [when] you go to attend model C schools, the society [will accuse you of] acting better.”
As for a female student studying Social Work at UJ, who also asked to be anonymous, today’s youth should continue the fight against languages of instruction. “We should also be able to express ourselves in other languages. In multiracial schools they use English and Afrikaans. I feel like they should also use other languages … because it is difficult to communicate with other learners because English and Afrikaans are not their mother tongues.”
The student also mentioned the importance of continuing with the financial struggles. “Most challenges that are faced by students are financial challenges,” she said. “You see when it comes to fees, most of us come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Right now, my challenge is fees.”
Stuck in their phones
Frantz Fanon aptly said, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” What are the differences between the current youth and the youth of 1976?
“I think the first thing that has dribbled our intellectual perspective is social media, we are so fond of useless stuff that if I were to put a comment on Twitter and say the youth must focus on politics, I will probably get three likes but if I were to speak about sex or girlfriends and alcohol, I will probably get 100 likes,” said Jele, adding: “We are concentrating on things that are not progressive. We are failing to take a stand against the ruling party. We are so ignorant as the youth and we think everything is about fun. We are not cognisant of the people who are stealing our future right in front of us.”
Jele’s views are in resonance with Manana. “The youth of today is rather caught up in what is called social media cocaine,” Manana said. “They are stuck and glued to their phones. For some of the youth of this country it is just vibes. If you speak about free education someone [would] just say, ‘It’s politics. I don’t want to entertain it [and] I am not interested’.”
Feature image is of the Student Representative Council (SRC)’s President, Mr Mxolisi Manana, sharing his thoughts on June 16 commemoration.