Students engage in post-apartheid decolonisation

ONLY people profiting from public service corruption will deny that the government has, like Franz Fanon’s black bourgeoisie, become a company of impatient profiteers who have neglected engagements on bread and land issues.

Fortunately for those negatively affected, the #FeesMustFall movement has removed any speculation about the capacity of society to resist and form multi-sectorial alliances towards transformative social change.

Earlier this year, Tshwane University of Technology student protests against unfair allocations of National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) loans rose to the national agenda.

In May, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande instituted a forensic investigation premised on evidence of corruption regarding NSFAS loans. But before a report had been issued, tertiary fee increases were announced.

In response, students throughout the country have risen under the #FeesMustFall movement and with youthful bravado asked the government: “are you not c****ing on us perhaps?” in the vernacular.

Most of these students were not yet born when Nelson Mandela occupied the high office at the Union Buildings to deliver the promised “better life for all”. Their call is for the government to deliver to their parents the promise of free quality education.

They are in effect refusing to be indebted before they attain the education promised to them, like their counterparts in the US, where student loan debt is the only form of consumer debt that has grown since the 2008 global crisis.

Sadly, the students affected most by high tertiary fees in SA come from either squalid urban ghettos, rural areas or the precarious, debt-sustained black middle class.

Most of them have struggled under impossible economic, social and household conditions to matriculate from high school with university exemption.

Those who succeed are faced with the reality of exorbitant higher education fees, for which they depend on either NSFAS, private bank loans or bursaries.

Most tertiary funds for poor students are administered by the corruptible NSFAS, whose capacity to recover student loan debt decreased from R636m in 2010 to R247.5m this year.

The #FeesMustFall movement’s peculiarity is its intersectionality. Suddenly, students who drive to campus in the latest German cars and those who endure days without food are in solidarity against classist and exclusive demands of higher education. For the first time since 1994, South Africans across race, class and gendered social positions are united against a condition affecting black students the most. The capacity of this moment strategically to transform society depends solely on the ability of the student movement and its sympathisers to realise that the struggle against race-based access to education is but an aspect of the broader decolonisation project.

Reason follows that if the basis of the colonial project was resource-exploitation by means of racial segregation, the logic of the decolonisation project must be that the redistribution of land and other resources in a racially equitable manner is primary.

As in Fanon’s “wretched of the earth”, for the South African black majority “the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity …”

If the student movement will have strategic effect, it must interrogate the relationship between post-apartheid resource-redistribution patterns and the government’s failure to provide free quality higher education.

SA is the site of the biggest global platinum production, and one of the richest nations in gold, diamonds, coal and base metals. The country is estimated to have the fifth-largest mining sector.

One of the results is that black families are unable to afford quality education for themselves and their children.

Another is that the parents and relatives of the majority within the #FeesMustFall movement continue to live in Bantustans with little to no structural power to resist the continued exploitation of national resources at their doorsteps.

Post-apartheid Bantustans are the sites of multibillion-rand mining that expose black communities to diseases, drought, forced relocations, excavations of ancestral graves, and sometimes death threats for those who resist.

SA’s national resources, if equitably managed and distributed, are not just adequate to provide free quality education, but the abundance can ensure the delivery of “a better life for all” as promised by the African National Congress in 1994.

The #FeesMustFall movement may have the country and the world’s attention now. But, history will define it by the questions it asked, the demands it made, and the strategic effect of those demands on the citizens’s lives.

This article first appeared on Business Day on 28 October 2015

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