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.