It’s more than seven years since the #FeesMustFall protests, where the youth of this country reminded us of their strength when they staged a protest against high fees at our tertiary institutions. It was a good fight, similar to an extent to the one staged by high school students in Soweto some 46 years ago, except that the class of Teboho Mashinini was facing a criminal and brutal apartheid regime. Both protests centred on better quality of education.
The more recent protests were a fight for access to higher education for the large majority that find it simply unaffordable. Despite our sensitivities to protest or the instinct to prescribe how it should be done, it was a worthy cause. One remembers that image of the higher education minister, Blade Ndzimande, standing behind parliamentary security and a fortified fence looking out at the protesting students. It best captured the disconnect.
Now depending on which lens you look at South Africa’s laundry list of problems, those protests were positive in the sense we had our young people fighting for better education in the hope that they will be able to participate fully in this economy. The operative word, “hope”.
Seven years after those days and weeks, what is the status of that hope?
For those who managed to graduate from that class and to the many that didn’t, it’s fast evaporating — or has already evaporated. There’s been no final solution to the funding conundrum, regardless of the former president’s populist play before the ANC’s 2017 elective conference. For the four out of 10 children that start grade one and make it to tertiary education, they still face the same barriers to entry.
This week we asked some of the Mail & Guardian’s interns to write about their lives and their experiences as we commemorate Youth Day. A clear focus for us has been their lives and the plight of women, particularly black women in the country as the most marginalised segment of society.
Their story is often told through economic data points without the raw emotion of what it is like to live through more than a decade of confidence sapping tales of “state capture” by a barren and hollowed-out ANC. On the global stage, it hasn’t been any prettier, with right-wing politics in the mould of former US president Donald Trump taking centre stage because of the many economic crises in the West compared to the continued rise of the East, in the main China.
Against this backdrop and a country that has been the “sick man” of emerging markets over the past 10 years, it should not be too surprising that we have, for the most part, disillusioned and depressed young people. Our bad brand of politics has exploited it and will continue to do so as we close in on the one-year anniversary of the July protests.What serves to only further depress the mood is social media platforms and the shortcuts to happiness that they promise in the posts of the most successful influencers. That push for them to want “impilo ntofontofo” or the soft life has eroded any patience that they may have otherwise had. The longer our economic malaise continues and our politics deteriorate, the deeper the hole becomes for our most precious cargo — our youth. So is it “happy Youth Day” for them?