Forum must push for timeframes
The student activists of #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall have re-introduced to the National Agenda the issue of #FreeEducationInOurLifeTime. The National Question of #FreeEducation is neither new nor that of our own as contemporary student activists.
It is a well-known historical reality that the call for #FreeEducation has been made in the past by the ruling party allied student organization as early as the late 90s and early 2000’s.
This call went on to be adopted by the ruling part as its election slogan “vote for free education”.
The question that is standing now is: Is free education a ruling party policy position or not? Is there any political party that has free education as its policy position?
The #RhodesMustFall #FeesMusyFall generation, like the generation before it, re- introduces the call for #FreeEducation with deep rooted energy and hope that it might win the struggle for #FreeEducation sooner than later. It seems to me we are not too far from this possible reality.
The 9th March 2015 catalytic political act to question Cecil John Rhodes long standing statue in UCT’s upper camous re-opened old wounds of pain and suffering of Black students and Black workers in their native home. This catalytic political act gave birth to a long deferred #RhodesMustFall movement which subsequently gave birth to a long time awaited #FeesMustFall student Movement.
The #RhodesMustFall #FeesMustFall Student Movement has achieved a meaningful political and social mobilization power within local and national level. One of the basic tenets of any social Movement like #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall is to capture the psychological and political imagination of the ordinary people on the ground. This is an achievement for the Student Movement. If a movement achieves this, it is in fact “rediscovering the ordinary” as Prof Jabulo S. Ndebele put it. What #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall did was in fact to “rediscover the ordinary” in the age of great indifference from Eurocentric “south” African universities or universities in “south” African not necessarily belonging in “south” Africa or in Africa.
It took #RhodesmustFall and #FeesMustFall less than two years to “rediscover the ordinary” and thus re-introduce the question of #FreeEducation on the National Agenda. The political awareness and the psychological awareness are critically important in any revolutionary project. It took #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall less than two years to do this without any organizational budget machinery. The student movement did this because the 9th of March 2015 catalytic political art captured the psychological and political imagination of the “ordinary people” on the ground and thus assisted in “rediscovered the ordinary”. Normally, it takes well established NGOs, with fully funded budgets and other “movements” more than ten years to do what #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall has done in less than two years.
It was in 2016 when Wits University called on police to come on campus for what seemed would be a permanent state of police presents Wits campus given the resilient revolutionary spirit of student activists. The university was clearly being outsmarted by the student activists in terms of the political approach used by students in mobilizing other students. The inability of the university leadership to charm student activist led them into taking the easy route, that of calling the police to campus under the pretense that the general population of students was facing danger from the “hooligans”, “bokoharam” and the “township gangsters” who had neither sophistry nor willingness to engage.
Naturally, the “south” African Police service did what is known best which is to show a high level of brutal force with an aim to harm but not to keep the “law and order”. The police in “south” Africa are there to keep the interest of the White elite students and thus to brutally punish the Black poor students.
It was during this fight between Black students and Black police that Black parents and former student leaders during the 80s came on board to help find a lasting solution to what seemed to be a civil war between Black students and Black police.
Talking about the Black on Black violence and the interest of protecting White elite staff and students.
Since that day Black parents lead by Professor Pitika Ntuli, Advocate Dali Mpofu and Bishop Mpumlwana started to get publicly and openly involved. It must be said that many parents have been helping students in many ways behind the back doors, in their struggle for #FreeEducation in “south” Africa. The main aim of the parents was to find a lasting solution to what seemed to be a civil war. In many ways what happened in Wits and UCT between Black students and Black police or Black private securities gave us a glimpse of what might happen when there is a full blown civil war and there is a great possibility that this country one day will face its own civil war. This predicted civil war will be led by the poorest of the poor who are at the periphery of our society, who have been waiting there for the promise of total freedom made by those who have political power.
Late last year the former Deputy Chief Justice Ndate Moseneke joined what was already existing support of Black parents for the call of #FreeEducation through the South African Council of Churches. During the time when he and others joined, there was already a growing parental involvement in the student struggle and worker’s struggle. He approached other equally eminent “south” Africans to help him to Convene what was to be known as The National Education Crisis Forum better known as The Forum.
The eminent Co-Convenors of The National Education Crisis Forum include: Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, Professor Pitika Ntuli, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Mr Jabu Mabuza, Mr Sello Hatang, Justice Yvonne Mokgoro, Mr Jay Naidoo, Ms Mary Metcalfe and Ms Santie Botha. Naturally, student activists at the onset questioned the openly involvement of these eminent “south” Africans after almost two years of student and workers struggles without openly public help.
Other student activists within #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall questioned student leaders who have showed a positive welcome of this initiative by the former Chief Justice Ndate Moseneke. It was during these times that the warnings of “iizicima mlilo” of the “dangerous Black Middle” and their pacifying and derailing tactics under the banner of “finding lasting solutions” only to push toward the very status quo that we seek fundamentally change from.
Within Western Cape #FeesMustFall, student leaders who were positive about the initiative of The National Education Crisis Forum had to listen to these warnings lest they are seen as collaborators with the forces that do not want to “see change” in our universities and in our society. The Western Cape #FeesMustFall collective leadership requested a meeting with former Deputy Chief Justice Ndate Moseneke and he positively agreed to meet with student leadership. It was during that meeting that those who had fears and skepticism about The Forum, their fears where lay to rest by the charming passion of the former Deputy Chief Justice Ndate Moseneke.
During the weekend of the 10th -11th of December 2016, student leaders met with other stakeholders of The National Education Crisis Forum. It was agreed that there will be a National Education Convention and in that gathering almost all #FeesMustFall National representatives where present and as a result student leaders somehow agreed on the fundamental issues that collectively needed to dealt with before The National Convention. Part, of the agreement was that the Co-Conveners will help to mediate and solve all #FeesMustFall related challenges that students and workers were facing at the university level due to #FeesMustFall protest because of student and worker challenges at universities. These challenges included #FreeEducation question, #EndOutSourcing question, financial and academic exclusions of students and legal issues that relate to #FreeMustFall protests internal and external.
The question is, will The National Education Crisis Forum and its stakeholders bring about #FreeEducation post this coming weekend sitting? Of course, The Forum will not bring about the #FreeEducation post its sitting this coming weekend nor will The Forum and its shareholders solve major challenges that students and workers such as the 144 UWC dismissed workers. If the Forum will not answer the students call for #FreeEducation what is it that it seeks to achieve in this sitting?
From #FeesMustFall position it seems that The Forum is a platform for consolidation of civil society so that it can rally behind the banner of #FeesMustFall so that we can collectively fight for #FreeEducation as a society.
In fact, it has been a position of the Student Movement that the call for #FreeEducation does not assume that, in reality #FreeEducation will not be delivered right now and right here. The primary expectation was indeed
#FreeEducation now, however if not now when then? What is the time frame? The #FreeMustFall student Movement expected that the President will give the student Movement a time frame as to when will the State introduce #FreeEducation at an undergraduate level and when will the State introduce #FreeEducation to all? When will that take place? Time frames! Can the Forum lobby the State to give the time frames?
The students Movement has reservations about the ability of The Forum to solve their problems that relate to their #FeesMustFall student protest since last year. The Forum has promised students that their problems will be resolved and now there are students in Rhodes University who are being refused their results and thus unable to register. And the are other students from other universities who are facing the similar challenges and The Forum appears to be unable to solves these issues and there is the issue of 144 UWC workers who are dismissed since last year December. The Forum has not helped to solve these challenges and we hope over time The Forum will help us!
Chumani Maxwele is a student activist based at the University of Cape Town