“Leadership. Commitment. Impact” so the slogan for the World Aids Day 2016 which the world will celebrate coming week. Signs are already visible – newspapers and magazines are publishing more and more stories about HIV and AIDS, marketing prescribes for many products and messages the red ribbon – and as always on the 2nd of December some reviews will end the frenzy and hype around the pandemic. The world is getting quiet again till next year same time.
“Leadership. Commitment. Impact” – when I look around the world in our days – there is neither responsible leadership nor commitment prominently visible. The global village is rather falling apart in nations of own interest again, in the USA a racist and misogynist is elected president, in Turkey there is a dictator in the making and right-wing politicians worldwide gain popularity by only looking to create walls and distances between people. In South Africa President Zuma and the ruling party miss the boat of leadership completely and run the country into the ground if it continues like this.
Maybe we expect leadership and commitment from the wrong people and parties. Looking at the AIDS pandemic we can learn that leadership did not come from those in power. US President Reagan did everything possible to ignore the pandemic, church leaders – and some until today – were calling it the punishment of God – no, leadership came from those who were at the margins of society – in this case the gay people who organized in a committed way resistance against ignorance, demanded public attention and at the same time cared with passion and compassion about those about to lose their lives in mainly young age. Those, who were criminalized, ostracized, punished and outlawed fought the fight and brought at the end even a global political body like the UN to dedicate a meeting on a pandemic – a first in the history of the entity.
HIV and Aids brought so the attention of the global village not only to its own plight, but other sicknesses torturing those living in Africa and other far away areas as seen from Europe and the USA came under the spotlight. Even a global fond was established – another first in this regard. Maybe it needs a drama of that magnitude to bring people together – to let them forget about their own interests only and to realize the interconnections of human mankind and creation as such.
HIV and Aids are not sexy anymore – medication has stopped the immediate carnage and prolonged life in theory for all, in practice mainly for those able to afford it. Looking at the figures we see that too many people don’t have access to treatment and the infection rates are climbing disturbingly in some countries again while others – like South Africa – remain stuck on a high level. The Global Fund is struggling to maintain its impact as countries don’t honor their commitments or paying less and less believing the pandemic is under control. Looking at other viral and bacterial diseases we know that this is false hope. Life is a bitch – and evolution at work and if we don’t watch out, chances are high that we see reruns of battles we thought we have won long ago.
I wish that World Aids Day 2016 is more than just a reminder of the plight of HIV positive people. I hope that this day also serves as a beacon of hope that leadership is coming back, commitment is not only pledged but practiced – and not only in handing out medication or testing people, but also to create a surroundings and environment that let people living with HIV live without discrimination and with proper access to treatment and care in a peaceful setting. The global village needs an urgent reminder in our days that we respectfully need each other to create a future where diseases are healed, pandemics are maintained, not only those of the body but also of the hearts and souls and minds of people.
Times are moving fast and arriving in Dresden attending the 11th HOPE Gala it is time to reflect on all what is happening in the world around us.
In South Africa, times are getting more and more tough – students are trying to force the state into submission of free education with turmoil, violence and militant language – not seeing that their initially good cause is meanwhile compromised for many reasons. President Zuma survived another non-confidence vote as the ANC is still not ready to acknowledge the magnitude of corruption and damage done to the country.
In the USA a womanizer and liar with a very limited world view is elected president via a system which assembles only a shadow of democracy. In Germany right-wing thoughts are popular again and the populist AfD seems to win the hearts and minds of more and more people.
Black and white, simple solutions, believing in simple answers, following a gut feeling of fear and anxiety seems to govern most people in this global village. And the systems holding societies together are fading away in the challenges of today; the vast amount of information available at any given time seems to be so indigestible to most global village inhabitants so that they seek refuge in those mentioned simple answers.
Churches seemed to be too much self-absorbed to have the time to really take note and actively work against this trend of time – when you look to the USA, most Catholic Bishops were so occupied with certain topics that the social Catholic teaching faded away in the judgements given before the elections.
Well, life turns in circles and therefore there is always hope that the wheels are turning again and reason will prevail. There is no need to get lost in desperation, but this is a time to watchfully and carefully observe the situation and to actively try to correct the turns of society and their leadership into a direction towards humanity, charity, tolerance and compassion at heart.
The HOPE Gala in Dresden shows me that people still care, that people still go the extra mile to assist and help and reach out to people far away; those living on the margins of the wealthy spots in our global village. There is hope as events like this are happening not only in Dresden but also for many good causes around the globe. As long as there are some lights in the darkness of todays social and political developments, as long as there are people not giving up on trying to better all lives instead only their own ones – as long as there is resistance to let go those unfortunate living in the wrong places or born at the wrong times there is a reason to fight for a global village which is compassionate about everybody equally.
I guess we also have to learn to strive a balance between information flows possible and the ability of people to digest those info. Again we have to learn that human minds and brains and hearts have a limited capacity of in-take. And that fear and anxiety are bad advisers when it comes to develop our future as a human family.
As always life goes on and there is light at the end of the tunnel – faith, love and hope remain as the bible tells us rightly.
Whole universities are pitted against one another – the “Wits option” vs the “UCT option”. Some academics are accused of being blindly supportive of “the innocent students” and parading their colours as the immaculate left; while others are seen as blindly securocrat, unreconstructed racists, or terminally bewildered.
So let’s (try to) agree on a modicum of common ground. Remarkably, there is a lot of it about. No-one can reasonably argue that universities are not underfunded. No-one can reasonably argue that the impact of underfunding has been transferred to fee increases, and that in turn, black (primarily African and coloured) students bear the burden. Given the failure of the post-apartheid economy to sufficiently redistribute wealth and the abject failure of trickle-down economics, “black debt” is a reality.
Let’s also accept that for many students, much of the academy is an alienating, overwhelmingly white, Eurocentric space and experience. Students arrive and are expected to meet imported norms, seminar room sarcasm, unknown customs, foreign authors, hard marking and plain hard slog of tertiary education, while being young and going through their own life transitions, and doing so in “othered” spaces, out of vernacular, and so on.
Let us also agree that virtually no university or further education college has genuinely grappled (institutionally, not at the level of the individual) with what it means to decolonise, beyond (at best) looking around quickly for some black/African authors. This is not true at school level, where many advances have been made – but these are islands in an ocean. Students swim in the ocean.
Let’s also accept the dangers of commodified knowledge and universities, and the fact that the system is slowly becoming a sausage machine for lawyers, accountants, MBAs and others deemed economically necessary for the economy. Those schools and faculties seen to add no “dollar value” are discriminated against locally and globally.
I say “let’s agree” because these issues have all been agreed to by both protesters and university management. There may be quibbles over the severity of this or that issue in this or that part of the sector, but the central issues are undisputed.
Divided we fall
So what divides us, and with such vehemence? For the immaculate left, it is ultimately a capitalist state that has no interest in the poor emerging from poverty; overlapping with black people in a society dominated by whiteliness; creating an unreconstructed racial capitalism that needs to be toppled. Students in this view lack agency, and are in every context victims of external forces. Every action is the response of victim to oppressor.
“Senior management” is seen to lead with security, follow up with more security, and have no interest in negotiation or compromise. Students just want a free, decolonised education in a transformed institution and are shot for daring to ask for it – and they remain innocent, brutalised “black bodies”.
For those who are not in this group, there is a basic commitment to teach, and to getting students to complete the academic year. They are disregarded as “liberals”, the ultimate South African insult. Security is regarded as a necessary evil – but since many academics have personally been assaulted and/or abused and/or disrupted, and many targeted for hiding students desperate to learn and/or shielding them from protesters, security seems a basic necessity. The pleas from students for support to finish the year have been incessant.
Returning to class
What is at fault with all these views is the assumption that if protesters win enough compromises – such as sector-wide agreement on free, quality, decolonised education and the need to plan, design and cost it so that it can be an implementable reality not a slogan (being self-evidently not swiftly realised) – they will return to class. And they will do so as victors. We know that the vast majority of non-protesters also want to be back in class – and a great many are there already. But this core assumption is wrong.
It is increasingly difficult to retreat from the notion that this is an incipient insurrection. While some protesters are undoubtedly idealistic and brave fighters for free quality education, the movement of 2015 has been colonised by political parties and anarchist movements in 2016. A movement without prominent leaders of 2015 has become leaderless in 2016.
Acts of bravery and camaraderie in 2015 have become acts of racist abuse and thuggish violence in 2016. Burning has replaced marching; destruction of university infrastructure is a key goal. This is no longer #FeesMustFall as we knew it – it has become #StateMustFall.
Universities are being used for testing the potential for broader insurrection –- if you can bring down universities you can bring down cities, if you can bring down cities, you can collapse and take control of the state. No compromise will get the core protesters back into class, or satisfy their academic or political mentors, because their goal is so much larger: state capture. It has allegedly been done once under democracy, so why not again?
Who is to blame?
Politics hates a vacuum, more than nature. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is morally compromised on every front. Seemingly all courts in the land are packed with lawyers attempting to stop good governance and allow uninterrupted bingeing at the trough. The brazen moves to cover various political derrieres are breathtaking – but create space for any other party to claim the moral high ground.
In 1976 during the Soweto youth uprising, protesting students were given political education by mainly the Black Consciousness Movement. Those students went into exile got their education from the liberation movement organisations, the ANC and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC). Whether they were Africanist – closer to the PAC – or Charterist – aligned with the ANC – they were taught about the democratic state that had to be built and the principles on which it was to be built. Who now provides political education for protesting students?
The ANC is utterly compromised and cannot claim the moral authority to “lead”. The Democratic Alliance and ANC student wings, DASO and Sasco respectively, were loud in proclaiming their various Student Representative Council victories earlier in the year but have vanished from the scene. The prominence of Economic Freedom Fighters leaders – at national and student level – may or may not be relevant. So too the various incarnations of Black First Land First, pan-Africanist student movements and others. We are reduced to using student leaders of the 1980s as mediators, still on the faulty assumption that protesters want to return to class. They don’t. They are far more ambitious than that.
We have to call the bluff of those who keep moving the goalposts. Universities have agreed to free, quality, decolonised education in a transformed institution. Exam dates have been changed. Exam content is being modified to accommodate lost classes. But then the demands shift – we want this fully legislated now, or we won’t return to class. Or, we want amnesty for students suspended after due process regardless of what they did. Or, we want students arrested by police released. And so on and so on. These are patently not demands that the academy has the legal mandate to meet, even if we assume it had the will so to do.
If we do not call this for what it is, we face the danger of realising apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd’s dream – the man who advised us:
There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour … What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd.
If, as seems likely, for the second year in a row, university students in South Africa are going to complete only part of their annual curriculum, and will be examined on only part of their curriculum, the result is that every subsequent year is divided between “catching up” on what was missed and squeezing a year of teaching into less time – we face the danger of ensuring that no student will receive even a quality colonised education (an oxymoron for some, of course). We are not educating our students to compete locally or globally. We are crippling them. They are being sacrificed for the few who see state capture as tantalisingly close.
Disclosure statement: David Everatt does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
It is amazing for me to hear again and again about “free education for all” as this slogan misses completely the point. Listening to some of the students commenting on this drama unfolding in South Africa in the moment, I have to ask myself whether they are indeed students. Students should have at least an initial ability of how to understand and analyze a problem which seems to be non-existing in most statements. They sound learned, repeated, memorized like a matric exam. No own thinking needed.
Education is never free – even if tuition fees are falling there are always people picking up the bill for the studies – it will be the taxpayer having this role. To be able to do so for those students not to effort a study, there should be enough taxpayers and less corruption to begin with. So if students want to bring change, they should demand from those in political power to demand circumstances allowing for this dialogue to happen. Burning libraries, burning history and collective memories, destroying facilities only add to the impossibility affording fee free studies.
I also wonder seeing the pictures of violent clashes on campus – where are the parents in this unfortunate battle? Are they silent because they feel the youngster express also their anger against state, society and all the other entities one feels left out? Is the “demand” of the students not rather also silently bolstered protest of those still hurt from Apartheid times and left alone in this pain by the present government?
Another question I ponder: Even if the studies themselves are free – there are other costs for housing, transport, books etc – also all free? Or bursaries which in the moment seemed to be a free for all as not a lot care to pay back and the government allows for it to happen. Watching a report on this topic recently I was quite taken back by a former student explaining in front of a camera that he does not dare to pay 100 Rand back as per loan agreement – even earning a decent salary now himself after having a bursary throughout his studies. No shame, no guilt – he simply did not care – and once again the question: What did parents tell him how to conduct himself in an ethical manner?
Last but not least: I hear students have on their lips: “decolonization of the universities” . Universities are indeed a colonial institution brought to South Africa. My question would be: do we want to get rid of the universities or what is the aim of the decolonization? I really believe a bit more academic maturity is in this discussion the order of today.
Students have the right to protest, they have the right to be unreasonable in demands, but they don’t have the right to destruction, violence, disturbance – and maybe it is time for the parents to reign in and for the students to concentrate their anger and rightful questions onto those who at the end are responsible for a climate of appropriate and affordable studies: our politicians who are seemingly more interested in their own powers and privileges while wasting the money which could be used for a meaningful compromise in this matter.