I was there when a group of 60 students occupied the University of Stellenbosch’s Admin B building in the Spring of 2015. I was there seated on the ground next to the staircase when the Men in Black stormed in through the building’s back doors, singing Senzenina while black comrades were being dragged out and walked over by private security. I was there as I was trying, and believed, that I was helping to build a better South Africa.
It is then difficult to answer the question “what must rise?” without disregarding a prolific movement in South Africa’s modern history. We all heard the elitist talk of taxes that should rise, the overall broken education system and the frustration from several commentators who said that #FeesMustFall was directed towards the wrong people. We listened to these hours of debate and, while I certainly don’t agree with the vandalism within the movement, I believe we still failed to really hear the pleas of our students.
With that in mind, I want to start off by saying that the very issue surrounding the Fallist movement is born out of a country that has failed to address past inequalities and speaks to both apartheid’s legacy and our current government’s inadequacy. Twenty years of democracy has done little to improve the lives of the majority, while the wealthy are “secure in comfort”, much like our president.
The #FeesMustFall question and the increasing popular call for “the land” are not agendas against white capitalism, but instead quite reasonable remarks that the current status quo cannot continue. For South Africa to survive, radical reforms “must rise” to equal the playing field. I say this with a sense of frustration, as I’ve seen no political movement or party providing any sign of a roadmap to achieve the required reforms (something even the National Development Plan has failed to achieve).
Modern capitalism, which was sold as a beacon of hope to broken nations ruined by colonialism, has created unprecedented inequality, immense wealth for the West and gross human rights abuses in the East as Asian countries struggle to gain an edge. And no, this does not mean I advocate for the removal of capitalism, nor am I close to suggesting communism, but I do argue that we as a South African society need to do immense introspection about whether the current pathway will provide the gateway towards opportunity for all. A new economic system “must rise” to replace the current one stuck in apartheid nostalgia.
Furthermore, an African bias “must rise” in both our academic and economic spheres as we reject Africa’s dependence on the West. Our global outlook should always be formed by how we can advantage our own continent first, strengthening partnerships and networks along the way. A divided West, stuck in a perpetual leadership crisis, provides the global south with the pristine opportunity to realign the centres of power. Now is the time to invest in the African Union, invest in an African investment bank and empower our BRICS partnership, as we have a very real opportunity to exit a Western-centred economic climate.
Carrying over this African bias to our academia, African independent thought “must rise”. It is simply impossible for any university to argue that it can succeed in fulfilling both the needs of being African, while succumbing to the requirements of the international community. South Africa, and indeed Africa, should come to grips with the reality that the cards are stacked against us. Global rankings are not designed to create a fair comparison for the world’s universities, but are rather carefully curated according to European ideals. If we truly wanted to be “rooted in Africa”, as the newly created international centre at Stellenbosch University claims, we should reject global rankings as Eurocentric in nature and rather judge ourselves based on our African mandate of producing African excellence.
Years of colonialism and foreign aid has created an immense dependence on the West for our economic and academic survival. Our curriculum should, in the overwhelming majority, feature African voices while we invest heavily in the development of home-grown literature for the use in our education system. The very idea of a university should be reconsidered, transforming these institutions from structures that resemble those in Europe to spaces that are distinctly African with an innovative approach to education.
With this said, I find the current rhetoric in many South African households that the transformation and Africanisation of our institutions will lead to a demise in academic standards extremely offensive. This is a slap the face of African intellect and I would go so far as to call it racist in nature. The call for Africanisation is not a call for the removal of excellence, but rather a call for imagining an alternative Africa-first curriculum instead of the current Western one. We should not be disillusioned by #ScienceMustFall YouTube videos that happen in a context that we have no understanding of, but we should rather ask ourselves how it is possible that our economic classes still only use American examples in teaching.
Finally, as South Africa has proven itself capable of the past few weeks, citizen activism “must rise” as we keep our institutions and government accountable. When last did we utilise our constitutionally provided right to comment on municipal policies and budgets? It is certainly not love for your country when you just page past the advertisements for public comment in newspapers. Furthermore, as we have successfully done with the likes of Penny Sparrow, our society should continue to silence those racist voices as we truly smother the longing for the return to apartheid in the hearts of our people.
This is what I believe should “rise” to create a better South Africa. These beliefs of being African first are part of my own personal journey of trying and trying again to find solutions. It is my way, just as I sat next to the stairs of Admin B singing Senzenina in an effort to cross the divide, to risk it all in an attempt to listen and understand. To achieve change asks bravery for mistakes made, in the same way I’ve made many in the past year, all in the best interest of this great nation.