#FeesMustFall: Born Free Youth Understand Nothing

South Africa’s so-called “born-free” generation now accounts for some 40% of the population. Born since the country’s first fully democratic elections in 1994, they have grown up without apartheid and the struggles of South Africa’s older generation.

#FeesMustFall
University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College student Nathi Phetha carries injured fellow student Bongeka Mntaka

Richard Pithouse’s analysis of why the burning of buildings at universities is really a sign of a worthy struggle disintegrating due to the lack of a coherent strategy, Organization and a thoughtful understanding of what must happen for the true transformation of education is a must read.

The #FeesMustFall mass action put transformation and free education for the poor on the agenda but little to further fundamental changes in the political landscape that entrenches inequality. This was largely because the loosely organized leadership that made vocal the very real needs and demands of students were unable to extricate themselves, the messages from their own political ideologies and allegiances.

Education and the state of institutions, funding, inequality, the lack of transformation in teaching and learning are merely symptoms of an untransformed society. Unless young people can make the necessary connections between inequality and power, the nature of power and governments, government policy and its capitalistic driven imperatives…the fees must fall movement will be reduced to small groups of students rallying uselessly at power.

The most dangerous thread discernible on social media is the idea of “let it burn” often peddled by those with the most superficial understanding of Fanon, espousing violence against people, structures, institutions. Their “political” message is “let it burn so we can build again”.

My fear is “build what” since the impulse to destroy comes from the most crude and unformed place. There is a generation of us; some may call us products of an Apartheid colonial education, which find the burning of books and the destruction of infrastructure abhorrent. Labeling those who oppose the violence is sheer laziness and disregards the very nuanced challenges facing our country. What we (colonialist education and all) do understand is politics.

We were part of that generation that fought the government at every turn and when change came, used our colonial educations to restructure the organizations we boycotted and organized against.

Those who advocate “slash and burn ” will argue that we have failed completely to really change this society and that would be true. But real struggle is a continuum; it never stops and is about affecting change for all people.

Angela Davis said at the Steve Biko lecture…” education cannot be treated like a commodity”. But what we have to understand is that the burning of our institutions of learning is not the destruction of capitalism, of institutionalized power. It merely diverts attention and resources from the real goals to achieve an equal, transformed society.

Read Richard Pithouse’s column by clicking here


About Gita Pather

Gitanjali Pather is the Director of the Wits Theatre at the University of Witwatersrand.

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