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.