In the year 1976, my mother was nine years old, my aunt was sixteen and my uncle was twelve. The three of them were put into a bus heading to Hammanskraal on the outskirts of Gauteng so that they might get protected due to the on-going protests. My mother has faint memories of that day; she wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but she knew it was not right. She knew, from my grandfather’s tone and expression that her life and that of her siblings were in jeopardy. My aunt, on the other hand, was already in high school; she had to fight. If you really know her, you know she is a stern warrior. She did not want to remain in the village-like neighborhood their parents tried to hide them in. Although my grandparents had their best interests at heart, this compromised their education. Being in Hammanskraal almost crippled my aunt’s revolutionary spirit. She wanted to fight. Without anyone noticing, she climbed on the first bus back to Soweto. As she explained it, the streets were in shambles. Burnt tyres covered the streets; you’d swear the roads were made with ash. Shops were looted. At the surface of the fight was to ensure that black students don’t use Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. But the fundamental fight was against the inequality that existed within the apartheid education system. Black students were still not being afforded their right to fair and accessible education.
Almost forty years ago, the young black people of this country looted buildings because they demanded access to education. Then, the barrier was in the form of an oppressive system. A system that we are all, in one way or the other products and victims of. Today, university fees are exorbitant. In a country where the average university fees are around $7000 and 95% of the population cannot afford to pay, why are the fees still increasing? The numbers are outrageous. These are numbers that our grandparents, parents and our bank accounts have never witnessed in their bank accounts. Numbers that our president fails to even read out.
When the Tsietsi Mashinini’s and the likes took on the streets from Naledi High School to Morris Isaacson, they fought with the interests of all black students at heart. That march claimed the lives of many people such as Hector Pieterson. He was one of the first killed by the police that day. Today, horrifying pictures are going viral over the net showing police brutality when students demand what is rightfully theirs.
The songs are the same, the chants are the same, and the attitude by the government is still the same. The same government that fought for equality and freedom of speech, is the same government that is refusing to listen to its young people. In South Africa young people are seen and not heard. Young people are only regarded as citizens when we need to put them in power. The only time young people are heard is when they are needed to tick the ballot paper.
I remember I was in Grade 7 when my mother reminded me that I needed to work twice as hard as any white or privileged black kid to ensure that I get into university. She knew that academically, I have the potential to qualify. She was confident that I would get in. She also knew, without a doubt, that she had no means possible to take me to university. This is every black child’s tale, who has been in a not-so-rich or poor family: no matter how HARD we work, succeeding in university is an incredible struggle.
The government did not fail us today, they have failed us from the onset; we have been failed since the dawn of democracy. We have been failed since we were showered with the erroneous “Rainbow Nation” ideal. Mandela and his ANC told black people that education is the ONLY key to success but they continued to change the lock combinations of that door.
The audacity that Blade Nzimande has to cap the increment at 6% is an insult. It is an insult to the struggle that many young people who are constantly academically excluded in universities go through.
It means that apartheid ended in vain if we still have systems that constantly exclude those who cannot access what is supposed to liberate them. If your universities’ fees are still getting hiked at such outrageous rates, then lets train more domestic workers, garden boys, drivers and tea girls because that is what apartheid did to us. That is what the system wants to do to us.
It is ironic that the same government whose leaders were trialed for treason, are charging young people who want nothing else but to have access to tertiary education with treason.
Educating a black and poor man has always been a crime in this country. In 1976 prison cells packed with young people who were hungry for education and were willing to fight for it. Today, students across major universities are being treated like criminals because of their desire to get education. To rub salt into this decaying wound, a cold blooded murderer walks around in the comfort of his home under “house arrest” yet innocent young men and women sleep in prison cells because of their desire to be educated. This is not different from government of Verwoerd, Botha and De Klerk. The ANC’s apple doesn’t fall far from the National Party’s tree. The same party that killed our parents in ’76.