Students who sacrificed for #FeesMustFall deserve recognition


Thirty-nine years after the events of June 16 1976, the #FeesMustFall movement, which began on October 12 2015, led to protests by university students about the high tuition fees at South African universities.

As much as we celebrate the youth of 1976, we also need to celebrate the #FeesMustFall generation and reflect on the current issues that affect young people in our schools, at our universities and in society.

These students sacrificed their time, energy and studies to fight for our right to free education. If they did not stand up to protest against high tuition fees, there would be many students out there still struggling to register, to finish their degrees and to graduate.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not implying that we should erase the events of 1976. I value and honour the youth of 1976 and the contribution they made towards the kind of education we enjoy now. But I believe that the youth of today lack similar support and recognition. We also need to celebrate them on June 16 and during Youth Month.

We are often told that we are “born-frees” but we are not free. As born-frees we are faced with the same problems of unemployment, inequality, poverty and hopelessness that our parents faced, if not worse.

We are constantly being asked what Youth Month means to us. And this time around it’s a question I struggle to answer.

READ MORE: #FeesMustFall: History of South African student protests reflects inequality’s grip

As new graduates, we are supposed to be celebrating and enjoying a new chapter in our lives. We are supposed to be celebrating the achievement of completing a degree and enjoying being employed in our preferred careers. We should be relishing the feeling of taking on the world, pushing boundaries and being game-changers.

There are so many of us out there with this piece of paper that claims we are qualified — and yet no private- or public-sector firms respond to our job applications.

We are constantly being told to rise above our circumstances, to study and to work hard. Yet we are not adequately prepared for the challenges we face. We end up being sidetracked by social circumstances: family problems, alcohol abuse, unplanned pregnancy, crime and difficulties with our studies.

Maybe we need a Youth Month and Youth Day that acknowledge our future leaders — young individuals who have done great things and are recognised for pushing boundaries. Youth Month should not only be about what happened in the past, but also about what has been achieved by the current generation.

Caroline Hlekiso is an intern with the sustained dialogue programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. She holds a BA honours in development studies from the University of the Western Cape, and calls herself a “social scientist in the making”

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