Why you have no right to judge students for protesting

Why you have no right to judge students for protesting

Yesterday, while waiting at the till in the Rondebosch Pick and Pay, this middle aged man turns to someone in the queue and says: “You know, for people who supposedly don’t have money, there sure are a lot of students in this shop right now.” Some really nice guy made the effort of explaining to the man that students have meal vouchers with which to purchase food because the dining halls are not operating at the moment, which is why the shop was so full.

This got me thinking about the misconceptions which exist regarding the student uprisings, so I am going to try and explain some of the issues simply because I am tired of being called lazy, stupid and a vandal.

I want you to think about the issues which currently face students. It is easy to sit at home and judge us for being fed up with a system which we do not deserve to be a part of. The people who are most affected by high university fees are the people who are in this situation not because they deserve to be in it, but because their parents were systematically oppressed and prevented from being anything more than a teacher or police officer (if they were lucky). In most cases, however, these are the children of farmers, gardeners and domestic workers. These parents did not choose to wake up at 04:30 every morning to take two taxis and a bus so that they can go and look after someone else’s children, they were forced into those positions because their skin colour differed from those who decided that black people were less than white people simply because. But these parents soldier on and they do their best because they believe that by sending their children to university, they can finally break out of the cycle of poverty.

So the children work hard at an underfunded government school with no textbooks and ill-qualified teachers, all whilst looking after younger siblings and family members because mommy and daddy work fourteen hour days in order to provide food, clothing and to pay the school fees in a country where transport prices increase on an almost monthly basis, not to mention electricity prices, if they are lucky enough to have electricity. Eventually this child manages to get into university, but now the real problem starts because how is she going to afford to study? Mommy and daddy obviously cannot pay because they earn less in a year than what tuition at a university costs (which is R35000 per annum on average), not to mention textbooks, food, transport and accommodation.

So the children apply for loans, scholarships and bursaries. Loans are a no-go because the parents have no assets to put down as security, so they try for scholarships and bursaries. Of course, coming from a school in Khayelitsha or in rural Eastern Cape, it is almost impossible to achieve the same matric marks as those coming from a Bishops, Hilton College or SACS. Besides that, employers want students who are likely to pass and excel at university and based on historical empirical evidence, black students are more likely to fail at least one course at university level for a number of different reasons, one being the change in culture, so employers overlook the black student and rather give the scholarship to a white, coloured or Indian student. So once again, the black student is left to fall through the cracks.

So students protest peacefully, they go through the correct channels, they ask the universities and government to think about the lasting effects of Apartheid on a generation that should not be affected by Apartheid in this manner anymore, but still is. No one listens. Students realise that the only way management listens is when they shut the universities down and burn libraries, so that’s what they do.

Whenever you read about a building being burnt down or drastic measures of protest being taken, I want you to stop and think about how frustrated someone must be to resort to such measures before you judge. No one WANTS to burn down a library, but often it is years and years of frustration which leads to such actions. Of course I am not condoning burning down a library, but I want you to understand that it is not done out of malice or stupidity, but out of pure frustration. I was one of the first people to condemn the faeces being chucked at the Rhodes statue in 2015 until someone explained to me that protestors went through all of the correct channels and hit dead end upon dead end. As soon as faeces was chucked at the statue, though, management listened and the statue was removed within two weeks. Instead of blaming students, blame the government and management who for years have silenced students and not taken their concerns seriously.

One other thing that crops up again and again is this idea that black people and especially black students are lazy and want handouts. (Because let’s face it: the people protesting are mostly black students because they are the ones who need funding the most). Stop telling us about how you had to work two jobs to put yourself through university. That is admirable and many of us do that, but the whole point of these protests is that no one should have to go to such extreme lengths just to get an education. The fact that we don’t want to work two jobs while studying surely doesn’t make us lazy and entitled? It makes us normal human beings who want the same ‘privileges’ as those students who do not have to work two jobs whilst studying. How can you call a black person entitled and lazy when all he/she wants is to be educated without the crippling burden of student debt in his/her own country? How can you judge someone for wanting to be more than a gardener in the country of their forefathers; for wanting to improve the lives of their parents and grandparents who did not have the opportunities which they as students now have because of an unfair system?

We are the most intelligent group of people in our age group. We are not stupid. If you listened to us every once in a while and understood our frustrations before shooting us down or labeling us as lazy and entitled, you would see that we have a lot more to offer than you think. You might even learn something.

Why Women’s Day Matters

Why Women’s Day Matters

I love Women’s Day. Actually, as you might know by now, I love commemorative days in general. Firstly, because introspection and reflection is always a good thing to do and secondly (and most importantly), because it gives me something to write about and writing makes me happy.

I have a soft spot for Women’s Day, though. I like to celebrate it by doing something I enjoy, so in previous years I have gone hiking and running on Women’s Day and this year I am eating an entire pizza in bed in my most comfortable pajamas while I read, stalk my ultimate crush (Barack Obama – *swoon*) and do some minor writing.

Today I want to focus on why Women’s Day exists. I often overhear or participate in conversations about why we have Women’s Day and they usually go something like this: “Why exactly do we have Women’s Day? Why no Men’s Day? Surely now that women are equal to men, Women’s Day should no longer exist?” Well, this is why:

Globally, Womens’s Day is actually celebrated on 8 March every year. What we celebrate in South Africa on 9 August is the commemoration of the march of approximately twenty thousand women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 9 August 1956. This year is the 60th anniversary of that march. These women marched in protest of the ‘Pass Laws’ which required all black South Africans to carry an internal passport known as a pass with them under the Apartheid regime. The women stood silently for 30 minutes and then sang a struggle song which was composed specially for the occasion: Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (Now you have touched a woman you have struck a rock.) The song title has since become the catch phrase of Women’s Day and the embodiment of the strength of the South African woman.

It is eerily fitting and ironic, then, that four women chose to exercise their right to protest peacefully at the IEC briefing on Saturday 6 August during president Jacob Zuma’s speech, just 3 days before Women’s Day. Unfortunately, 60 years after the peaceful march to the Union Buildings, these women appeared to have been roughly removed from the venue by the president’s security and had their placards (which read “Khanga”, “Remember Khwezi”, “10 yrs later” and “I am 1 in 3”) snatched from them. It is a sad state of affairs that we are able to applaud women for protesting peacefully in 1956, but when four women protest peacefully and silently about a matter which causes disrepute to the president, they are removed roughly by said president’s security cohort.

Which brings me to why we need Women’s Day. Women’s Day is not only a commemoration of the heroic actions of women like the Union Building 20 000 who helped bring about change to how women are perceived today, it is also a reminder that as far as we have come in the last few decades, women are still not equal counterparts to men in society.

Although women are able to pursue careers in any industry and in any field and are able to enlist in every branch of the military, women are still paid less than men in the workforce (and this wage gap disparity is even worse for black women). Inherent biases and ideas about women still run rampant in society today, one of which is the perception of sexually active men as opposed to sexually active women. When a teenage boy has had numerous sexual partners he is often congratulated and praised, but when a teenage girl has had the same number of sexual partners, she is shunned and slut-shamed.

Victim blaming, therefore, is still one of the reasons why Women’s Day and other reminders of the inequalities which still exist are so important.

Then there are the issues relating to sexual violence and the treatment of sexual violence victims and survivors. The justice system, in an attempt to ensure that no one is found guilty of a crime which he/she did not commit (sensibly so), often appears to favour the accused instead of protecting the victim and many times these victims are women. The Jacob Zuma rape case comes to mind here, where his accuser, known to the media as Khwezi, had her clothing choices questioned (she wore a traditional khanga) and had her entire sexual history recounted to the court in order to acquit Jacob Zuma of the charges against him.  Victim blaming, therefore, is still one of the reasons why Women’s Day and other reminders of the inequalities which still exist are so important.

The issue of having Women’s Day and not Men’s Day is like saying ‘All lives matter’ when someone says ‘Black lives matter’.

Lastly, the issue of having Women’s Day and not Men’s Day is like saying ‘All lives matter’ when someone says ‘Black lives matter’. We know that all lives matter, just as we know that men are valuable contributors to our societies. The point of Women’s Day, like ‘Black lives matter’, is not to say that men do not matter, but to celebrate the fact that women have had to fight an uphill battle to attain the freedoms and privileges which we now enjoy, as well as to point out the fact that there is still work to be done in creating a 100% equal society.

Some of the famous women who inspire me (hover over the picture to see the name):

For two comprehensive lists of women who are worth researching and looking up to, check out African Feminist’s blog posts entitled 15 Women Worth Looking Up To and 8 African Feminists of Note.

On Deciding Who To Vote For

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It is the evening before Election Day and I still don’t know who to vote for. I know that I will definitely vote, though. I have the privilege and responsibility of influencing the governance of my city in some small way and I cannot refrain from exercising that option (Accounting joke!). I don’t think that I would be able to forgive myself if I didn’t play a role in how this election turns out.

Living in Cape Town, it is pretty much a given that the Democratic Alliance (DA) will win, so it doesn’t really matter who I vote for, but it is still important to think through the issues and to think about who is best equipped to solve those issues.

I am an ANC (African National Congress) baby, like so many other people of colour. When I say ANC, I mean the heroic ANC. The ANC that fought for freedom from the Apartheid government, the ANC with the underground movements, the ANC of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela and The Freedom Charter. The ANC that had millions of people of colour lining up to vote for the first time on 27 April 1994 and had those same people proudly accept and adore Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black president. That ANC.

I am too young to know exactly what things were like in South Africa just before 1994 and during the ten or so years thereafter, but I do know that the ANC I read about from those years is the not the same ANC that I see now. The one I read about fought for the people; the middle class lady from Eldorado Park or Bo-Kaap could be assured that the president would not use her hard earned taxpayer money to build a homestead for himself and if he did, that the rest of the party would stand up for her, the electorate, instead of defending the president. The ANC I read about is one who would not allow its ministers to be offered ministerial appointments by an influential family and definitely would not allow its main broadcaster to be censored.

Don’t get me wrong: the ANC will always have a special place in my heart because I know how much it means to the uncles and aunties who lived through Apartheid, but I simply cannot reconcile the current ANC with the one I fell in love with.

Then there are two other options: The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the DA. It is ironic that the EFF has the word ‘economic’ in its name, because most of its ideas appear to be economically unfeasible. In principle it sounds lovely: the socialist ideals of sharing equally in the wealth of the nation and of the wealthy minority giving back to the poor majority is an ideal situation, but it is an unfeasible situation to say the least and therefore the EFF is an unfeasible voting choice.

That leaves the DA, then. I personally have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the DA. Fundamentally, I appreciate the fact that the DA is there to call the ANC out on its shortcomings and mistakes. That is what the opposition is for. However, the DA’s stance (or lack thereof) on Affirmative Action is worrisome because it is an indicator that the party either does not understand the economic disparities which still exist because of Apartheid, or that it chooses to ignore the issue and hope that it will go away. To me, the Affirmative Action issue is a major issue because it affects the majority of the population. From the student uprisings of 2015 one can clearly see that this issue will not go away, but that it will continue to fester until something gives and usually that is not a pretty sight.

However, I am also a strong believer in “If it doesn’t work, change it” and right now the ANC is not working for anyone but a select few. The DA has also been relatively successful in Cape Town –  keeping in mind that Cape Town is not entirely a reflection of the rest of South Africa as it is generally richer and more politically stable than other major cities in the country.

Of course, one has to keep in mind that it is a local election and that these are national issues, but I think that how a party intends to govern nationally is a reflection of how it will run a local municipality.

I think I know who I want to vote for tomorrow, but don’t even try to guess because I am not divulging that information. My vote is between myself and the ballot.